It all began with Dad and Richard Burton

Blog? Me? That introvert Brit in his padded cell? But why not. Voicework at heart is acting, whether book or promo, and we create personae to nail gigs – whether books or commercial. What follows is just me, off the cuff, more or less.

Let’s borrow the opening from my all-time favourite piece of voice “To begin at the beginning”. I was ten, my dad had built me a lovely big wooden radio. Tune to BBC Third Programme on medium waveband. Slight hum, a red glow… and then those golden words from Richard Burton in Under Milk Wood.

I was transfixed. The tone, the images, the characters. A kind of lucid dream.

And something was sparked, because on the strength of a cheeky ‘Shakespearean’ riposte to my girlfriend’s granny gently telling me off, I found myself aged 19 headed for London’s Mountview Theatre.

No experience, but you can learn says the now-legendary Peter Coxhead. “Here’s a script. Peter Shaffer, Five Finger Exercise. It’s about being visible. Come back tomorrow”.

Far too immature for the theme I trembled and began: “There was a girl in Mulbach… I entered Heaven, I really did”.

Well, Peter and colleagues approved! I joined the theatre’s Student Group, just launched.

And, fate of fates, found myself cast in... Under Milk Wood. Then followed the lead in Tennessee William’s The Purification. Still rather too young, I was cast as the lover of a farmer’s middle-aged wife. I was ‘the moon-crazed youth’, directed by Coxhead to clasp my nethers in front of 200 people. As the curtain fell, an ancient luminary of the theatre trotted up to compliment me on my voice!

Well, the Student Group flourished. Great plays, musical hall, visits to West End.

We learned fencing, diaphragmatic breathing, shape shifting, lighting – those dark arts. 

I’m deeply grateful to Mountview, and would recommend anyone in voicework, beginner or mature, to take a leap and engage in live acting – whether for love and fun or in a development setting. Some concepts from Meissner or Stanislavsky stand us all in good stead – even if only to debate their approach. Sure activates the mind!

So how come my microphone voicework? This arose many years later, following a spell in journalism, community activity, a milk-delivery round, film recording at the BBC.

Having fled to the West of England – chickens, two children, mud and poverty – but now with a computer, I happened upon Voices dot com in their early (and I want to say nicer) years.

Struck lucky with gigs – from explainer, to animation, to audiobook. A great way at the time to learn – on a UK budget!

Going forward, I picked up more, of course, from JannieMeisberger, Kevin Delaney, Dan and George’s VOBodyshop, WoVO in general, producer feedback, and assorted Zooms among really nice voice actors. A friendly bunch, keen to share sharp-end expertise: How to ramp up to a piece, Visualise your audience, Breathe quietly, which mike for what, sit/stand, cans or none, when to process and when not.

So to the present. My dear wife passed five years ago. Along with what you’d expect, it impacted vocal tone and that put me off for quite a while. Difficult to sound cheerful!

Now, with a new companion (she’s a fiercely intelligent visual artist… help!) I’m orientating back to the mic.My first love.

Howard Ellison

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