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The author, Paul Ruben, and his wife - casting professional Paula Parker - at The Audies Gala.
Audiobooks: Casting The Perfect
Voice Is A 'Measured' Leap Of Faith  
(Note: This enlightening article about the voice-over casting process is reprinted with permission from AudioFile magazine.)
By Paul Ruben
Producer, Director, Casting Professional & Teacher
Tribeca Audio
Audiofile’s review of Laurent Gaude’s The House of Scorta (June/July ‘06) described the program’s main narrator as follows:
"Dan Oreskes has a commanding presence. He has the voice of a peasant, a frightened child, a rogue, a formidable priest. There is a rough dignity in his voice, which is precisely what the story of a family of Italian peasants calls for.”
Please note that "... the sweet-voiced Barbara Caruso ...” appears throughout the story, as well.
Audiofile’s reviewer, M.S., may or may not be the definitive word on audiobook narration or Dan Oreskes’ talent, for that matter. Listeners and other reviewers may reasonably disagree with M.S.’s praise for Dan’s virtuoso performance.
Nevertheless, I echo M.S.’s sentiment, and would further argue that, from my perspective, Dan Oreskes was the perfect casting choice for this highly praised work of literary fiction.
Having produced and directed audiobooks since 1987, I’ve had similar, albeit few, casting opportunities that left me uttering what so many of my colleagues must feel when they get really, really ... really fortunate:
"I just got the perfect actor for this audiobook.”
Looking back at casting Dan and other "perfect" voices begs the question: just how does one cast the perfect voice?
Additionally, what is a "perfect voice"?
And, how can you be certain before the recording begins that you’ve got the "perfect voice"?
The glibly laconic rejoinder: luck!
I buy that, sort of. Because casting - more art than science – is, at least in part, decision making predicated on a host of impossible-to-quantify, concomitant perceptions.
These perceptions are predicated on equally imponderable notions of what’s good and what isn’t.
Based on nearly two decades of casting people I just knew would be great, and weren’t - or, hoped would be acceptable and were wonderful - a more suitable answer, for me, would be:
Rely on the casting process, its fundamental efficacy. Take a measured leap of faith, and hope for the best.
Casting well, then, can be an acquired skill.
So, if it isn’t just luck, what process have I employed that, after auditioning 10 talented actors I’ve never heard before, finds me saying – fingers crossed - Dan Oreskes is the perfect voice?
The House of Scorta arrives at my studio.
I begin reading, but not for enjoyment or even necessarily total comprehension. That comes later.
I am trying to:
  • understand the author’s tone;
  • hear in my mind’s eye an actor’s voice that best serves the author’s intention;
  • determine the narrator’s age and gender;
  • look for accents or particularly difficult characters to depict - like maybe an eighty-year-old deaf woman who speaks like Hulk Hogan.
I see lots of Italian and remember that I must cast someone who can believably create this dialect.
I keep reading.
In my head I hear a narrator whose power and intensity, whether vocally subdued, breathy, or unexpectedly explosive and volatile, must capture the tragic consequences of the Scorta’s lives and this sweeping chronology.
I’m reading while simultaneously thinking,
"OK, the master is due back to the publisher pretty quickly and, well, OK, I see two roles: the larger male narrator and smaller, female character, who speaks in the first person.
"I’ll ask Barbara Caruso to be the woman. I’ve worked with Barbara many times. She’s wonderful. This is a no brainer.
"But the main storyteller who bears the major narrative responsibility? I just don’t hear the voice of an actor I know."
I call several of the talent agents I’ve come to rely on for casting: Access, Innovative, CESD, Atlas and Abrams.
I sometimes call colleagues and other publishers for casting suggestions, though this time I wanted to first try auditioning from agents with whom I’ve been very successful in the past.
Based on my analysis of the script, I explain my view of the narrator and "ballpark" my needs to each agent:
  • male,
  • 40s,
  • lots of acting (as opposed to voice-over) experience,
  • good with Italian.
I fax the agents a script sample and rely on them to assess my needs, look briefly at the enclosed, and suggest appropriate talent.
It’s not always easy for agents - who want their clients to work - to come up with the right people to audition. But producers like me rely on and need them to do just that, and we are so very grateful when good actors come to audition.
About 10 actors (more than 10 and you often, though not always, will get talent that just aren’t appropriate for the role) receive their script pages (‘sides’) in advance and come to our studio.
As the actor enters the booth, my goal is to let them begin with no instruction in order to understand how they intuitively respond to the work.
If I hear the actor emotionally connecting to the story, characters, and most importantly, the narration or storyteller, I will often ask them to go back to the beginning so that I can determine how they respond to direction.
When Dan began to speak, he was not only connected to the story and the storyteller, but to me.
My disbelief was suspended, fully and immediately.
His vocal quality - powerfully understated, almost a stage whisper at times - his interpretation of the characters, his depiction of their surroundings, perfectly matched what I heard in my head, if you will, while reading the text.
I would ask Dan to redo a line with a slightly different sense of purpose; I would ask him to, as I often do with actors, speak the narration from "the point of view of the person you’re talking about."
A highly intuitive and intelligent (though intuition always trumps intelligence as a measure of good acting) performer, Dan not only altered his narration but, in the process, discovered the language more truthfully, more poignantly.
Paula Parker, my wife, colleague, and better at casting than anyone I know, listened to a CD of all the Scorta auditions with me.
We discussed vocal quality, connection to the text and author’s intention, directability. It all came out, Dan Oreskes.
Having consulted, Paula and I looked at one another and took a breath. I decided.
Leap of faith? Yes. But a measured leap, predicated on a sound, albeit fallible and risky, process?
That’s casting. And sometimes, that’s casting the perfect voice!

Paul Ruben has produced and directed numerous award-winning audiobooks for every major publisher since 1987. His many Audie Awards include work for It’s Not About the Bike, Raymond and Hannah, The World is Flat, A Slight Trick of the Mind, and the 2003 Grammy (Best Spoken Word Album) for Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. He has directed regional and summer theatre productions, contributed features on audiobook narration to Audiofile magazine, and was elected to the Audio Publishers Association Board of Directors in 2005. Based in New York City and casting and directing many first time narrators - some of whom have become outstanding and award-winning working narrators - he also teaches audiobook narrator workshops through his company, Tribeca Audio


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Comments (1)
pharmacy technician
1/8/2010 at 1:17 PM
Keep posting stuff like this. I really like it.
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