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Martha Graham, Where Are
You Now That We Need You?

December 29, 2011

By Alan Sklar
Voice Actor

Click below to hear the inspiring audio version of this article, read by the author ...

At my talent agency's recent holiday bash, I was chatting with the agency's head bookkeeper, when I blurted out:

"Boy! I would love to have a list of all the signed agency VO talent and their gross earnings for 2011."

My comment was half serious, half in jest.

But there was nothing jocular about her response. Her reply was serious, professional, ladylike but right in my face.

I loved her candor. She looked me squarely in the eyes and said that was privileged information - never to be shared with clients.

Realizing my request was both outrageous and probably illegal, I replied:

"I know that, Judy. But I would so enjoy having that information."


I'm such a competitive bastard. I'm dying to know which guys are earning 300, 400, 500 thousand bucks a year.

But peering deeply down into my heart, my true motivation isn't just curiosity or jealousy.

What I really want to know is what these guys are doing right!
  • What do they know that I do not know?
  • What's missing from my career and work?

Don't get me wrong. It's not like my ego isn't sufficiently stroked. Colleagues and clients often praise my work. By most standards, I am reasonably successful.

The problem is that I don't feel successful. And I'm haunted by what I might be missing.


Later that evening Martha Graham popped into my head.

When I was a 22-year old acting student, I took over a year of modern dance classes at The Graham School on East 63rd Street.

I vividly remember an elderly "Miss Graham" (as she was called) floating into class one afternoon, wearing a sheer, diaphanous black thing (it certainly was not a dress) and commanding all 20 of us students:

"Look at the dancer on your right! Now look at the dancer on your left! Now look straight ahead and never look at them again. Dance is not a competitive sport! You compete only with the self you are capable of becoming."

For decades I've tried to follow her advice.

The moral of this tale? Voice over is not a competitive sport.


Alan Sklar has been a freelance voice actor for more than 20 years, voicing radio/TV commercials and VNRs - and narrating everything from audiobooks and documentaries to thousands of corporate and medical video projects. An award-winning narrator of more than 150 audiobooks - including A Civil Action and Black Hawk Down, he is also an on-camera and in-person spokesperson for major corporations.


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Comments (9)
Ken Budka
1/4/2012 at 11:51 AM
Fantastic message Alan, complete with fireside-chat audio track. I feel as if we had this conversation personally...
12/29/2011 at 2:02 PM
Damn, Alan ... I was sure there was going to be some pearls of wisdom ... some helpful hints ... that "magical thing" we should all do!

Alas, only a memorable thought wrapped around a wonderfully simple axiom. And, maybe that's what life is all about. But it WAS enjoyable! Thanx.
Rick Lance
12/29/2011 at 1:16 PM
A great little message from Alan!
We are what we make of ourselves.
Don't blame the competition.
We should all keep reminding ourselves of this.

And thanks for THIS reminder!
Tom Score
12/29/2011 at 10:35 AM
Articulate and straight to the point - that's Alan. Competitiveness is a trait all actors need to be successful and Alan uses that trait not only to his advantage, but to the client/project he's working on. Alan never stops until he is satisfied with the work he did - then he mutters on the way out, "I could do it again if you'd like."
Paul J. Warwick
12/29/2011 at 9:42 AM
Great article! Interesting how many times the question we ask is not the one we need answered!
All the Best,
"Well read in the 21st Century"
Roy Wells
12/29/2011 at 7:05 AM
Good article Alan. Back in the late fifties I was going to the old original NYC HS of Performing Arts on W. 46th Street and we had to take dance classes along with our drama classes. I remember there was always something said about the way Martha Graham's school would do things, and that was always the standard to which we must aspire.
Donna Coney Island
12/28/2011 at 9:55 PM
Right on, Alan!
And I'd also love to know how much those guys are making! ;)
Alan Sklar
12/28/2011 at 7:44 PM
Heather Henderson is a wise young woman and everyone should listen to her comments.
Heather Henderson
12/28/2011 at 5:23 PM
Wow -- what a quotation, Alan -- and from Martha Graham herself! Amazing. Thanks for the wise reminders.
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