Voice Acting Isn't Luck, It's Life

When people ask me how long I’ve been voice acting, they’re really asking to find out how long people have been paying me to do it.

But my entire speaking life has been one of stretching my vocal abilities, creating new characters, and absorbing accents and dialects like a sponge.


The world of a voice actor is one that is slightly different from a physical performance actor. The makeup, the costumes, the sets, the props, and the blocking are all things that get in my way rather than inspire me to delve deeper into my character. In my minds eye I’m already wearing the perfect clothes, wielding the perfect props, and moving in an infinite space where I can always be seen and heard.


When I’m delivering a medical e-learning project, I’m a Doctor of Research, or a medical professor who teaches a lecture hall full of brilliant minds with dreams of saving lives and changing the idea of what’s possible in medicine. In a corporate presentation, I’m a CEO or a new hire finally getting to do the job I’ve always wanted.

In a commercial, I can be the voice of anything. The voice of a titillated flower being pollinated by a bee, a pipe that has just been cleared of a troublesome clog, a cat whose owner has just switched to a fresh and grain free type of cat food, or a ballet shoe who has just helped a little girl give her first dance recital.

Video games and audio books can put me anywhere in space and time, and I can be a coward, a comedian, a courageous heroine, or a demon from the darkest deepest place anyone could ever imagine.

-and then I turn off the microphone, take off my headphones, and I’m back home with my family and my animals, living my real life in my own personal paradise in the mountains and valleys of southwest Virginia.


It’s a popular theory that 10 years of deliberate practice (or 10,000 hours) are required for expert status. I have been paid for my voice work for more than 20,000 hours and deliberately practicing without pay for years before that, but I still feel like my craft has so much more that it can teach me.


I honed my earliest acting skills for years alongside names you now know from Hollywood like James Marsden and Kristopher McNeeley, but bright lights or marquee status were never what I had in mind. Exploration was always more fun than imitation.

One of my favorite acting teachers very early on looked me in the eye and said, “you’re the walking definition of avant-garde. You bring insight into your scenes instead of acting them out.” At the time, I thought it was an insult. These days I understand it much better. She was giving me permission to explore each script that I was given. To see through the eyes of the writer while hearing through the ears of the audience as my heart looked for a path to follow that would bring them both together.

All the while, still having an understanding that to most of the population, the preceding paragraph sounds like utter bullshit.


I look at new scripts the way my dog looks at a bowl of table scraps.

OH BOY! WHAT’S IN THERE?

STEAK? CHICKEN? APPLE? CARROTS?

Or in my case…

OH WOW! WHAT AM I GONNA BE?

ANGRY? MYSTICAL? VERKLEMPT? NONCHALANT?


Peter Sellars used to famously say, “there used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.” Being me is a very different experience from what he described. Everything that is, was, or ever could be is packed into who, what, and why I am and I don't think there is any way anyone could ever get it out of me.


Each script opens a door and that part of me gets to run around and play for a little while… and damn is it a helluva a lot of fun! Even when my character is suffering, frightened, disgusted, or dismayed, I’m having a blast feeling beyond my actual surroundings.


I shy away from saying that I love what I do, because that isn’t a very good description of what’s actually happening. It’s much more accurate to say that I love being who I am and sharing it with the world.

What started off as a defense mechanism for dealing with a broken family and a cult upbringing has become a thoroughly enjoyable and lucrative way of life. My early years of escaping my circumstances by making up voices and characters to create my own radio plays on cassette tapes, have developed into a way to serve individuals and Fortune 500 companies by explaining complex concepts or conveying the emotions that define the experience of a brand.


Sometimes people say that I’m lucky that I get to do this for a living, but I don’t think that luck has anything to do with it. The truth is that who I am is so much a part of what I do, I couldn’t possibly be anything else for very long.

I love all of my clients who bring me such a great variety of projects and that’s why I work so hard to make sure that they are nothing less than 100% happy with my vocal performance on their scripts. Mutual understanding and appreciation with new people is just another great part of my profession, although it isn’t always easy.


But like Tom Hanks’ character, Jimmy Dugan, said in a League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.”

Copyright © 2019  Ripley M Johnson