Realigning Work and Priorities
Thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, TV and film production (and nearly every other industry) came to an abrupt halt in March 2020 in an unprecedented worldwide economic shutdown. Social distancing restrictions halted work on all levels, from major studios down to film student projects. Actors, crew members, and support personnel were suddenly out of work and without a paycheck for the unforeseeable future.
Fortunately for voice actors, the work is by nature compliant with social distancing. You can’t get much more isolated than by working alone in a 4x4 recording booth for hours at a time. And for production houses able to work from home offices, many projects are still going forward. So, while voiceover work may have slowed, it certainly hasn’t stopped, and in some genres – especially medical narration and eLearning – the work is picking up dramatically.
As both an on-camera actress and voice talent, my time previously had been split more or less evenly between the two. Bookings pretty much decided where my time was allocated. Priority was given first to awarded jobs, with preparation for those jobs, paperwork and administration in support of those jobs, auditions, and marketing/social media work scheduled around those important client commitments. Once the quarantine hit, half of that activity immediately evaporated.
Too many other actors, however, saw all of their professional momentum hit a brick wall. Even more painful, those working in the service industry as waiters and bartenders had their income safety nets yanked out from under them. Some are just trying to hold out until the industry shutdowns are over, but others with special skills are showing ingenuity by offering their services online in new creative ways, such as teaching design for social media platforms or leading group fitness classes from their homes. I have nothing but admiration for those folks and their resourcefulness.
In my case, I’ve shifted my focus to voice over, fully investing in my business by launching a new and better website, updating my demos, and upgrading my ability to service clients with better connectivity options. But the on-camera side has not been ignored; actors have to continually work at their craft lest they become rusty. Like many others, I am also taking advantage of online workshops, coaching, and Q&A sessions with casting directors, as well as open casting calls generously offered nationally by many respected casting directors to consider new talent. The smartest actors are using this time to create original content, practice their monologues, or learn new skills, readying themselves for when productions will resume casting.
Not surprisingly, voice over is attracting a lot more attention from the on-camera talent. I’ve been fielding many questions from actors interested in learning the basics and the steps to developing their own VO business. Aside from helping them get started, I like to remind them that VO practice will also help them keep their on-camera acting skills sharp; the foundational training, which is the script analysis and character study, is the same. It doesn’t matter if the actor is in front of the camera or out of sight behind a microphone. The actor is still telling a story, whether it’s from a character’s perspective within a crime drama or as an experienced medical worker explaining how to properly use a COVID-19 test kit. And a commercial voice over script often requires the actor to tell the whole story within 30 seconds or less. Excellent training material for the on-camera actor trying to convey intent and purpose in a longer-lasting scene.
Life never stands still and we’re always called upon to pivot in response to unexpected events. Repositioning ourselves and our careers in especially uncertain times like these … well, it can seem more like we’d been unceremoniously thrown off a tower than just being pushed down to the ground. We can sit at the bottom of that tower and nurse our grievances, but most of us would prefer instead to check for broken bones, scramble to our feet, and dust ourselves off (probably with a curse or two) before looking for a way back up into that tower. Or maybe we’d decide to invest our days inside a nearby, more structurally stable building instead. Either way, the repositioning begins with a positive thought that there is a way out, followed by a goal-setting mindset that these new objectives can and will be achieved.
Priorities are certainly changed by these major events. People are appreciating good health in ways few stopped to consider much before. Family, loved ones, and friends are top of mind, whereas career may have once occupied most waking thoughts. And while we may not be able to control the causes of these unwelcome changes, we can manage our personal outlook, responses, and new priorities and do our best to mitigate the damages. We can shift our time, attention, and resources to make the most of what we have and can do for ourselves. Perhaps best of all, we can keep a cool head so that we can assess a changing situation and position ourselves as best we can to make lemonade out of lemons. We may not have enough sugar to sweeten the result to our liking, but it’s better than just sucking on the lemons and feeling sorry for ourselves.