Arts and Culture

How to get my job: Voiceover Actor

There are many jobs in this world. Some are so bizarre you probably don't know they exist; some you might have had no idea people actually make a living at. In an effort to highlight some of these jobs, we've started a new series detailing the origins of people actually working in the field. This week, we've tapped Martha Harmon Pardee, a voiceover actor currently working as a narrator at Talking Books Publishers. We've always known that someone had to be reading those books to us on our long car rides, but never bothered to consider they were actually working human beings. In addition to voice acting, Harmon Pardee has also worked in theater, once playing our own Patricia Calhoun in the Annual Denver Stories at Curious Theatre Company.

Westword: Tell us a little about your history as a voice actor. Martha Harmon Pardee: My very first voiceover was back in Delaware in 1986 for the YWCA's "Sniffles and Sneezes" Center -- a daycare center you could drop off sick kids if they couldn't go to school. I got that gig because I worked for the ad agency that wrote the spot. I then moved to Los Angeles, got divorced, did some other stuff and moved here, where I resumed my voiceover career.

WW: Why did you want to be start working as an actor and when did you know it was what you wanted to do? MHP: I've always been interested in acting. I didn't have many opportunities at my little Quaker prep school, but I was fortunate enough to graduate from Northwestern University, where I had amazing opportunities and worked with future Tony Award winners. I also studied at Playhouse West in Los Angeles and had the great privilege of taking classes with Sanford Meisner. I've acted in theaters around Denver and Boulder for the past 20 years (Curious Theatre Company, Denver Center Theatre Company, Paragon Theatre Company, to name a few).

WW: How long before you were making a sustainable living? MHP: I have worked full-time for Talking Book Publishers as a narrator for 16 years, during which time I have recorded over 1,000 books and hundreds of magazine articles. I have also been the voice of the 9News "Optimum Wellness" campaign for the past 11 years.

WW: How would you recommend someone get themselves started in the field? MHP: For voiceover, you need to make a demo tape showcasing your vocal diversity. Getting a great agent is the next step. I'm lucky to be with Radical Artists Agency here in Denver.

WW: What's the best part of your job? MHP: The best part of my job as a narrator for books on tape are the letters and emails I receive from the library patrons. Everything I record is for the Library of Congress' National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. I have some incredible, devoted readers that send me beautiful, encouraging feedback about my work.

WW: How about the biggest misconceptions? MHP: I don't pre-read anything I record because time is of the essence, So a lot of my vocal choices are intuitive as I go along, based on clues given by the author. I also don't get to select what I record, which is actually a mixed blessing because it affords more variety.

WW: Is there a particular work you're most proud of? MHP: I won national and international -- respectively -- awards for my recordings of The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, and The Bonesetter 's Daughter, by Amy Tan. I loved both those books. I am currently recording Edward Rutherfurd's New York which is massive but engrossing.

WW: How about something you're embarrassed of? MHP: Reading explicit sex scenes first thing on a Monday morning while working with a twenty-something male monitor (the technician on the other side of the glass) has provided many awkward moments. But everyone should have access to steamy romance novels -- so I give it my all, so to speak.

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Thorin Klosowski
Contact: Thorin Klosowski