Dutch

Business as Unusual

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, International, Personal 5 Comments

I’ve been living and working in the United States for twenty years, but I’ll never forget my first tornado warning.

All of a sudden the dark sky became a strange shade of green, and the violent winds died down abruptly. It became quiet in the street. Eerily quiet. The birds stopped singing, and the hounds stopped howling.

Without warning we could hear a deep and loud roar, as if a freight train rumbled into our neighborhood. This was our signal to seek shelter in the basement. Something deadly was coming our way that would demolish anything in its path.

This is what it feels like, living under the threat of the Corona virus. It’s the chilly silence before the storm that will come our way, no matter what.

I live about an hour and half from New York, the place that has been hit the hardest. Until yesterday, the Transbridge bus from Manhattan took groups of commuters to my town, several times a day.

Because hardly anyone gets tested for COVID-19, we have no way of knowing who’s infected and who isn’t. Only yesterday, a man my age was sent back home from the hospital because his symptoms were too mild. He died a few hours later.

Tragedies like that make one ponder matters of life and death.

In the meantime, we think we’re safe at home, as long as we obsessive-compulsively wash our hands and don’t mingle with the masses. But you know what? A man’s got to eat, so we rush to the supermarket to stock up. There we wait in line for the checkout, only separated by the length of our shopping carts, and absolutely no one keeps a six foot distance. There’s simply no space to do that.

In Pennsylvania (where I live), the situation is very similar to the one in the Netherlands (where I was born): closed stores and schools, people working from home, and senior citizens who cannot be visited. The social-cultural-religious life has come to a standstill, and Netflix is more popular than ever.

In a weird way, not much has changed for me. As a voice over with a fully equipped home studio, I’ve been separating myself from the outside world for years. Clients find me online, they email me their scripts, and they receive the audio in digital format.

For my wife the situation was different. She teaches flute and piano, and students always come to her studio. Now she has successfully transitioned to online-only teaching with the help of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. All of the concerts she had scheduled for the next few months, were cancelled.

At the end of our workday, we migrate to our couch to watch some sappy Dutch TV shows. I’ve got to tell you, in spite of all the news reports, things still feel quite normal, and this has me worried. An invisible danger is rapidly approaching, and I am aware that we are in a risk group.

My wife and I are both over fifty. She’s got MS, and I have a serious heart condition. We know that the hospitals cannot handle the virus, as they’re already begging for protective clothing and ventilators.

And yet, I choose not to live in permanent fear. I stick to my daily routine by being there for my significant other, my customers, and my coaching students. It’s something to hold on to in uncertain times.

I know I cannot stop the storm, but I can adjust my sails.

This too, shall eventually pass.

For now, it’s business as unusual.

 

Ik woon en werk nu al twintig jaar in Amerika, maar ik zal mijn eerste tornado waarschuwing nooit vergeten.

De donkere lucht kleurde opeens een wonderlijk groen, en de harde wind ging plotseling liggen. Het werd stil op straat. Onheilspellend stil. Geen vogel zong meer, en ook de honden hielden op met huilen.

Plotsklaps klonk er een diep en luid gebrul, alsof er een vrachttrein grommend op de buurt afdenderde. Dat was voor ons het signaal om de kelder in te duiken. Er was iets dodelijks op komst dat alles in zijn pad zou vernietigen.

Zo voelt het een beetje nu we leven onder de dreiging van het Corona virus. Het is de ijzige stilte voor de storm die hoe dan ook zal komen.

Ik woon op anderhalf uur afstand van New York dat het hardst getroffen is. Tot gister hadden we nog een busverbinding naar Manhattan die een paar keer per dag groepen reizigers afleverde. Omdat er nauwelijks op COVID-19 getest wordt weten we niet wie al geïnfecteerd is en wie niet.

Gister stuurde een ziekenhuis nog een man van mijn leeftijd naar huis omdat zijn klachten niet ernstig genoeg waren. Hij overleed een paar uur later.

Dan ga je toch wel even nadenken over leven en dood.

We wanen ons intussen veilig in ons huis zolang we de handen maar obsessief-compulsief blijven wassen en ons niet tussen de massa’s begeven. Maar goed, een mens  moet toch eten, dus even snel naar de supermarkt voor proviand. Daar staan we wagentje aan wagentje te wachten voor de kassa, en geen kip houdt zich aan de anderhalve meter afstand. Daar is geen ruimte voor.

Bij ons in Pennsylvania hetzelfde beeld als bij jullie: gesloten winkels en scholen, mensen die vanuit huis werken, en bejaarden die geen bezoek meer mogen ontvangen. Het sociaal-cultureel-religieuze leven staat stil, en Netflix beleeft gouden tijden.

Gek genoeg is er voor mij niet eens zo heel veel veranderd. Als voice over met een thuisstudio ben ik al jaren van de buitenwereld afgesloten. Mijn klanten vinden mij online, ze emailen me scripts toe, en ze krijgen de audio digitaal toegestuurd.

Voor mijn vrouw was het anders. Zij geeft piano- en dwarsfluitles, en de studenten komen altijd naar haar toe. Nu geeft ze met succes online les via Zoom, Skype, en FaceTime. Wel zijn al haar concerten voor de komende maanden afgelast.

Als onze werkdag ten einde is, dan gaan we lekker op de bank “Boer zoekt Vrouw” zitten kijken. Ik zal je vertellen, ondanks de nieuwsberichten voelt het allemaal nog zo normaal aan, en dat beangstigt mij een beetje. Er is een onzichtbaar gevaar op komst, en ik besef dat we alle twee in een risicogroep zitten.

Mijn vrouw en ik zijn beide boven de vijftig. Zij heeft MS, en ik heb vrij serieuze hartklachten. We weten dat de ziekenhuizen niet op dit virus berekend zijn en nu al om beschermingsmiddelen en beademingsapparatuur moeten bedelen. Intussen kopen Amerikanen wapens, in plaats van naaimachines om mondkapjes mee te maken. 

Toch kies ik er voor om niet in permanente angst te leven. Ik blijf mijn normale routine volgen door er te zijn voor mijn geliefde, mijn klanten, en m’n voice over studenten. Het is iets om me aan vast te houden in onzekere tijden.

Ik weet dat ik de storm niet kan keren, maar ik kan wel m’n zeilen bijzetten.

Ook dit gaat uiteindelijk weer voorbij.

Voor nu is het “business as unusual.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Bart Vleugels: Giving Words Wings

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta 2 Comments

Bart Vleugels

The news is out. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed.

In light of the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, this was the only smart decision CEO Gerald Griffith could make. Nevertheless, it’s a huge disappointment for those who were already packing their bags, me included.

The good news is that a delay is not a denial. Once COVID-19 has been contained, and we no longer need to practice social distancing, VOA 2020 will go ahead.

For now, the entire voice over community will get full access to the 2019 panels, keynote, and sponsored sessions for FREE. Gerald said: “We’re all in this together, right? and my commitment to connecting the community is more than lip-service.”

I don’t know about you, but I remember my very first VO Atlanta.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. So many people. So much to choose from, from the moment you get up, to the moment you go to bed.

And when you finally do fall asleep, you dream of voice overs all night long. 

This reluctant extrovert was nervous and unsure he would fit in.

That all changed when I found out there was one other Dutch speaker at the conference. Originally from Belgium, his name was Bart Vleugels. “Vleugels” means “wings” in Dutch. Hence the headline.

Bart, as you will find out, is a fellow-introvert who was like me: way out of his comfort zone amidst those crazy outgoing, enthusiastic Americans. We sort of survived the conference together, and we liked it so much that we came back, year after year.

Since I’m interviewing every Dutch-speaking participant who’s coming to this year’s rendition of VO Atlanta, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Bart. The man who gives words wings. 

Bart, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

Like a lot of other VO talent, it all started at a radio station. In fact, I built my first station. It had a range of a miserable 50 meters, courtesy of Radio Shack. It was a “radio station in a box” and I called it Radio Bonanza because it was the only instrumental track I had that I could talk over… I was 14 at the time. I volunteered at a local pirate radio station for awhile and became a DJ soon after.

I took a break in the late 80s to go to the USA as an exchange student. That’s when I REALLY fell in love with radio. That American sound, hitting the post during the intros, it all sounded so cool. I did some more DJ’ing at 2 radio stations in Belgium after returning from the US and during my (then mandatory) military service. I went back to the USA in 1993 to study broadcasting in college.

My very first paid voice-over job was in 1996 when I voiced and produced liners and station IDs for a station in Belgium. If you want to know what I sound like, here’s one of my commercials:


What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

What’s not to like!? I’m beyond an introvert, so the booth is my happy place and sanctuary. I like the opportunity to interpret and deliver the words that somebody else wrote. I enjoy trying to get in the writer’s head and bring those words and emotions to life. I love giving alternate takes. I like to provide a service to clients that reaches beyond what they expect.

I like VO because the business moves very fast: Audition, get job, do job, get paid. Get in, get out. Boom. Pow. Bye. Next. Multiple jobs a day and they’re never the same. Gotta love that variety!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

From a technical standpoint, it’s incredible what we can do now compared to 10 or 20 years ago. Remember SAW and SAW+? Actually, I’m old enough to remember splicing tape on a reel-to-reel. We needed big studios and bank loans to have a “studio”. But now… Being able to walk into my booth and do a session one-on-one with a producer half way around the world? Unbelievable!

I have changed as well. I was just a kid when this all started. I grew up. I learned humility, patience, respect.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

We’re ALL unique in our own way. For me, I’m a dual citizen who speaks Flemish and English with a studio in Oklahoma City. Not too many of those? As far as my voice quality and tone, I’ve learned from previous VO Atlanta conferences that our voices are unique to ourselves. Nobody can sound like me. So I’m running with it!

I’m proud to say I’ve been a ProTools user since 1996, back in the ProTools III days. I like Protools, I’m used to it, I’m fast with it. My specialty is translation and then narrating my own translation. Every month I receive an English safety video, accompanied with the script. The client wants it translated into Flemish, and then narrated and sync’ed in Flemish as well. I LOVE that I can provide both services.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

For me personally it’s Marketing. As I mentioned before, I’m the quiet type. So, getting on social media and actually posting something doesn’t come natural for me. I admire people like yourself Paul, who feel comfortable in sharing your ideas and feelings in a blog or podcast. I grew up with parents who made it perfectly clear not to gloat or show off when I did something good. I’m still trying to find that happy medium where it’s OK to be proud of something, and share that with the world without sounding like a know-it-all or become the “look at me!” type.

What would be your dream VO job?

I really enjoy e-learning projects and the long format jobs. But don’t ask me to read a book. I’m so in awe of book narrators who can go hours and keep track of the characters, accents, etc. Such artists! In second place would be radio imaging. That’s how I started and I really enjoyed not only being the voice of the station, but also doing the production with all its whooshes, hits, zaps and zings! And I’m still dreaming of hosting a radio show/podcast where I’m doing a US Top-15 or Top-20 countdown in Flemish, but all done from the US. Almost like a weekly Entertainment Tonight/Countdown show.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

There’s a Belgian expression: “Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach”. It basically means they don’t move. You pretty much are born, grow up and probably die in the same town. I’m proud that I had the courage at 17 to get on a plane and go somewhere I had never been before. Go to school and experience an entire year as a high school kid and as a member of a family, not a tourist. It was a great experience and it built the foundation for the reasons I live in the US now.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs? 

I’m proud that I became a US citizen 10 years ago. I love it here so much. And I get to vote (and serve on a jury) now!

Also, just like Serge (Belgian VO talent living in Texas) I’m active with fostering dogs. My wife and I have been fostering for almost 8 years now. It’s so much fun to see the different personalities each dog brings to the crate.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

This will be the third consecutive VO Atlanta conference for me. I will be surrounded by people who LOVE what they do: Professionals who, even though we all do the same thing, understand that we’re not competitors but partners!

It’s one thing to go to a conference because your boss says so. But VO Atlanta: The atmosphere, the vibe, the smiles, the familiar faces, the new connections, the learning, but especially the PEOPLE,… It’s a 3-day pep rally!!

And I can’t wait to see you and those Dutch clogs of yours again!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Serge De Marre: The Flemish Phenomenon

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta 2 Comments

Serge De Marre

It happens at least once a month.

An English speaking client comes to me for a Dutch voice over. She sends the script over, and I immediately know it’s not for me. Why?

The text is not written in Dutch (spoken in the Netherlands), but in Flemish, the dialect of Flanders, a region in neighboring Belgium. It’s like sending a script for the Brazilian market to a Portuguese talent, or something in Castilian Spanish to a Mexican voice over. Linguistically it’s close, but it’s still a mismatch.

Just like Danes and Swedes understand one another, the Dutch and Flemish can converse without problems. However, there’s a very clear regional difference in accent and vocabulary that sets the speakers apart. So, if you’re an agent looking for a Dutch speaker, always ask the client whether it’s for the Dutch or the Flemish market.

To complicate matters, some Flemish voice overs will advertise themselves as Dutch speakers, and that’s because Flemish isn’t an official language. It’s a variant of Dutch. 

If you’re interested in what Flemish sounds like, you should come to VO Atlanta (March 26 -29), and strike up a conversation with voice talent Serge De Marre. It’s his first VO Atlanta, so make him feel at home! A few days ago, I had a chance to catch up with him. 

Serge, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over? 


About 20 years ago I accidentally reconnected with an old school friend. He worked at a local radiostation in a small town in Belgium. I just got out of a relationship and to cheer me up, he dragged me to the station so “I could keep him company” during his radio show. I enjoyed the whole behind-the-scenes experience, and after he finished his show, he put me behind the microphone and we recorded a short demo. 

A couple of weeks later I got a call from the station manager: “Hey Serge, I listened to your demo and I really like it. One of our hosts is leaving, are you interested in his weekly slot?” It didn’t pay very well, but I was so excited!

In the years after, I worked my way up and got a show on Belgium’s biggest commercial radiostation Qmusic. Meanwhile, I was also doing voice overs on the side. In 2010 my husband’s employer wanted to relocate us to Washington, DC, and we decided to say yes to the adventure. Initially, his assignment was supposed to last for only two years, but 10 years later we are still in the USA. 

Job wise, this transition was tough for me. In normal circumstances I would’ve gotten a visa that’s linked to my spouse’s. But because our same-sex marriage was not recognized at the time I couldn’t get a visa nor a work permit in the USA. I did find a workaround and was able to get a journalist visa so I could work as an on air reporter for a Belgian tv channel. Here I am, reporting on a tornado.

Thanks to a Supreme Court decision in 2013, same-sex marriage was finally recognized in the USA and I was able to apply for a work permit and a green card. I started investing in my voice over business: bought a booth, polished my English with a dialect coach, and contacted Nancy Wolfson for private VO coaching sessions. I even expanded my business, and now I am also voicing in Neutral English.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love, love, love that I’m able to create something magical out of the words written on a piece of paper. 

I love when clients are really excited about me bringing those scripts to life.

I love that I’m my own boss. 

I love that every day is 100% different. No gig is the same.

I love brainstorming with the many interesting and enthusiastic people in this business.

I love that after 20 years of being in the voice business, I’m still learning every day. Not only about the business itself but also about the companies, brands, and products that are out there. The other day a client contacted me to voice a corporate video for a drone that kills insects in green houses. How fascinating is that?!

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Me. I have changed. I used to think that it was impossible to make a decent living with voice overs. For a long time, I saw the voice over business as a side business, but there is so much work out there. One day it just hit me. I decided to go for it full time and just do what I like and what I am good at. 

You know… everything changes once you start focussing on your goal. I learned that many years ago when I was working at a local radiostation, and I had this dream about having my own show on a national station. I just worked towards that goal and it happened. But I had this blind spot about voice over for a long time. I just didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a fulltime Flemish voice. You just have to persevere. Eventually, you’ll find your way.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

Here’s the thing. My voice is what it is. You either like it or you don’t. The same goes for so many other voices, so there’s not much unique there. The difference with those other voices is that I offer an amazingly smooth experience. I am very flexible. I have a quick turnover. I am trustworthy and honest. I wanna make my clients happy, I go all out. 

Sometimes things are out of your control. Luckily, it hasn’t happened very often, but I will get really upset when my clients aren’t happy for whatever reason.

This one time a studio booked me after hearing my audition. We recorded several tv commercials during a 3 hour live directed session. The client and studio were beyond ecstatic with my work. A couple of days later they told me they’d decided to go with a different voice because corporate headquarters thought I sounded “too different from to the original French voice” that they never let me hear. This was a complete surprise to me. They were very apologetic though. This wasn’t something I could fix but I still was upset for a couple of days. (laughs)

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

Working with clients who only know what they don’t want, and don’t know what they do want is a challenge I love to accept. Or clients that give you contradicting instructions: “Give me a dynamic, happy but serious read.” My years of experience will handle these situations perfectly by just asking a lot of questions and narrowing down the things they don’t want. These situations are always a challenge but eventually we’ll get there.

What would be your dream VO job?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just sit in your booth all day and do nothing but voice work? In my dreams I’d have a sales manager. Someone who’d pick up the phone and replies to my emails. A marketing guy who’d update my website and social media. Someone who negotiates fees for me and sends invoices. You have to have goals! One day… who knows. (laughs)

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be working again for Qmusic, the Belgian radiostation I left in 2010. I’m now their station voice. Those recording sessions are always a lot of fun.

I’m also very proud of getting into the International English voice over market. Who would’ve thought, 10 years ago! 

You know… I’m actually very proud of everything I’m doing today. In elementary school as well as in high school, I was a below average student. Teachers used to tell me that I was a lost cause, and just not smart enough. “You’re just too dumb and I don’t know what is going to become of you” is a sentence I heard many times, and I believed it!

Look where I am now! I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Ha! Professionally? I’ve interviewed and met many celebrities. Actors Jim Carrey and Angela Lansbury, Ellie Goulding, James Blunt, Birdy, Jim Kerr, Taio Cruz, Bryan Adams, Phil Collins… to name a few. This was for Qmusic radio and a tv station. It shows how much my producers and bosses trusted me with my expertise and talent.

On a personal level.. When I moved to the USA and didn’t have a work permit, I volunteered at the Houston SPCA and fostered over 40 puppies. No, not all at once! (laughs) This was over a period of 4 years. That was so much fun! I also photographed a lot of the shelter dogs, so we could put up their picture on the SPCA’s website and get them off the adoption floor quicker. 

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

Learn, learn, learn. I’m looking forward to meet with other people in the business and hear their experiences. There’s so much I can learn from not only the X-sessions, but also from other voices.

And maybe I might get a new client out of it? Who knows?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

Through March 10th you get 25% off select sessions by using the coupon code MARCHMADNESS25.

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The Versatile Voice Holland Loves to Hate

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, VO Atlanta 2 Comments

Tuffie Vos

Anyone who has ever taken the train in the Netherlands, knows the voice of Tuffie Vos, and has cursed her at least once or twice.

That’s understandable, because her public announcements usually bring bad tidings. Things like sudden platform changes, derailments, delays, and more delays.

The video in which she was exposed as the voice behind these announcements went viral, and made her the object of ridicule and vitriol. Undaunted, Tuffie went on national television to read some of the nastiest comments with humor and poise.

No matter what you throw at her, Tuffie always gets the job done. She’s been one of Holland’s top talents for years, even though VO isn’t her main thing anymore.

Tuffie’s got big plans, and that’s one of the reasons she is coming to the 2020 VO Atlanta conference (March 26 -29). A few days ago, I spoke with her. 

Tuffie, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

I started as a voice-over when I was 15, exactly 40 years ago this year.

At that time a brand new voice agency needed young voices. There were none. My mother (Dutch Radio & TV personality Tineke de Nooij, PS) already worked for that agency as a voice. In those days, only 8 voice overs in the Netherlands were doing all the work.

Three of them were women, and they were all over 40. I was the first young female voice, and this did not change for almost fifteen years.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love the independency of this business and the creativity of the work. I have never ever worked for a boss in my life. When I started, it wasn’t even considered to be a real business. It was a side hustle for actors, singers, and radio dj’s.

I still approach the business that way, because it’s only part of what I do, professionally. I also studied singing, and I am a spiritual teacher as well.

I truly believe that succes is always a result of putting a lot of effort in what you do, while staying focused. My voice is my talent, my gift, and I’ve always worked very hard to develop it. The same is true for my reading skills and my acting. I am good at what I do, and I love it. You may call yourself privileged if you can make money with something you really like doing.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

The whole world? 🙂

In the eighties there were only a few big studio’s, and it all was tape-recorded. A sound engineer needed to cut the tape and glue it back again if you’d made a mistake. This would take a lot of time and everyone in the studio had to wait for him to repair it, while the client payed a big amount of money for the studio. That’s why it was very important that you didn’t make a mistake! Nailing the read quickly, became my professional trademark. If I see a text, I immediately know how it has to sound, and I can produce what I hear in my head right away.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

I see myself as a voice artist. I can do any genre. I blend in like a chameleon. These days, voice-overs primarily do the same thing again and again. The same style of reading, the same accents, the same melody and rhythm, the same tricks, the same sound etc. It’s just one way of delivery. Thanks to my experience and education I can “soundshapeshift” into any role or genre. Commercials, documentaries, games, IVR, news anchoring, E-learning… There is nothing I haven’t done.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

In the last ten years the business has changed so radically, that I have no idea where it will go in the future. There is an overwhelming number of voice overs at this moment in a relatively small professional field. Sometimes, they’ll do the jobs for a quarter of my fee, which already has been slashed in half compared to what it used to be.

Nobody seems to be aware of how our language or a voice over should sound anymore. As a result, quality and professionalism is not heard or acknowledged anymore. This development has frustrated me for a while now. I had to find and fight my way back, take my place, own it, and make choices. Since I did that, I’m once again very happy with the business. And with myself.

Related to this is another challenging part of my life: my medical issues. It’s the dark side of being independent, and not having a steady job. In 2003 I was diagnosed with a bone tumor behind my eye. From then on until 2014, I’ve had twenty surgeries in my eye. I was glad to have paid high insurance premiums in my twenty working years!

In 2012, I got a new, titanium eye socket. Since that time my double vision has become so bad that I can’t read long scripts anymore. To be totally honest, reading has become a cruelty. It has been quite a process to acknowledge to myself that I am no longer able to do this part of my work anymore. I’m talking about long form narration, like 4 hours of E-learning, recorded in 4, 5 hours because I never make a mistake, are history. After 15 minutes I start making mistakes in every sentence, twice. It’s not working.

What would be your dream VO job?

Well, what I’m actually dreaming of today, is to find my way back to my first love, commercials, and find a few nice clients to build up a long term friendship. To have a creative blast with them on a steady basis. 

My biggest dream is to have an account in the U.S. I want to produce something really good, and the product to be a big succes. I have experienced that a few times in my career, and I still get a great kick out of that.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

At the end of the day, I think it’s being the voice of the public announcement system of the Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch Railways. When we started this project, the sound engineer and I put a lot of time and effort in how this announcement had to sound and what the experience would be of people hearing it, while listening to bad news. The sound needed to be soft, high-pitched, and friendly. When all the puzzle pieces were put together (which took days of recording), it had to have a natural flow, and still sound like a real human being (even though it’s computer-generated, PS). The system still works great after 24 years.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Much more than a voice-over, I am a spiritual reader, healer and teacher. I’ve been doing this for over 30 years now. I’m also slowly building up a new life as a jazz singer. I picked up singing three years ago after I got burned out.

I hadn’t sung since I graduated from the conservatory, 22 year ago. This is who I really am. My voice is the mirror of my soul. It brings a lot of joy to my life to make music and heal people.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

I’m ready for new adventures and challenges in my life! Since my children are officially grown-ups this year, I’m preparing to live in New York to dive in the jazz scene for a couple of months a year. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, particularly in my younger years. It would be nice to find connections with recording studios and agencies over there. Even information from voice-overs colleagues about how the business works in the USA, is valuable. So, a lot of networking and research I suppose, just to find out how things work over there.

When I stay in New York I don’t want to bring my Apogee travel kit and stress myself all the time in my closet being covered with blankets, but I want to rent a professional sound studio there once or twice a week. I do the same thing here in Amsterdam with longer VO jobs.

I’m looking forward most to the workshop Nail your commercial reading I signed up for. Also hanging out with you guys, and singing with Machteld on the last night jam will be fun.

We’re going to have a ball together!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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From Volunteer to Voice Over Dream Job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta 1 Comment

Jolanda Bayens

At many occasions where Fred Rogers was asked to speak, he invited his audience to be quiet for sixty seconds. He said:

“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside your self. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.”

Today, I am going to introduce you to my remarkable Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens, who will be joining me at VO Atlanta (March 26 -29). As you will find out, she has a very special person who has always encouraged her, and helped her become who she is today. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Jolanda, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

In the past, I was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After my studies I worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. I fell and broke my pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered I had a condition that caused my bones to break very easily and significantly. I was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly. 

I enjoyed taking care of my children, but I missed a working environment. After trying out different things, I ended up as a volunteer at a commercial radio station where they trained me to write and read news bulletins. Over time I took on other jobs such as doing interviews, producing promos and jingles, as well as voicing commercials. I practiced so much!

In 2002 I sent a demo to a producer of commercials, and within a week I had booked a national spot. From then on the ball started rolling, and it has never stopped. A year later I was asked to read the news for a Dutch press agency. Shortly after that they asked me to present the traffic info. That’s how it all started.

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

I love working uninterrupted in my voice over booth, laughing about my own mistakes and spontaneously recording silly things. In my opinion, the business has become a lot harder in recent years. I also notice that young directors often prefer a beautiful, sultry voice instead of paying attention to correct pronunciation, accent placement, et cetera.

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

In the beginning I often had to go to a studio to record. These days that seldom happens. Most of my jobs I record at home. I love working from home, but I miss seeing my colleagues.

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

My versatility is my speciality. I particularly like that my voice has a wide range, from low to high. I’m also able to quickly access feelings, and emote them through my voice. On top of that I love playing with the Dutch language, and I know almost instinctively how a sentence needs to be spoken.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

My biggest challenge is to make and maintain connections, and to sell myself. That’s hard for me. But it’s part of being an entrepreneur, so I have to do it.

What would be your dream VO job?

That’s a tough question. I’ve already had the opportunity to do so much. I don’t think there’s one genre of VO I haven’t done already.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m proud of everything I have done so far. Especially because this work gives me so much joy and satisfaction. It’s a puzzle piece of my life that just fits. I’m also very proud of voiceovercollege.nl. It’s a training institute for voice overs of which I am the founder and lead trainer. I teach courses in the Netherlands as well as in Belgium.

voiceover college

My approach is quite unique because I look at people in a holistic way. I don’t offer tricks that promise to give every student perfect pipes. I make people aware of who they are and all the things they can do with their voice. I’m very proud that a number of my ex-students are now enjoying a great career in voice overs. 

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

To cut a long story short: when I was three and a half years old I was adopted by the Bayens family. I had been gravely neglected as a child, and the only thing I could do was throw temper tantrums  and swear in a strong Amsterdam dialect.

My mother spoke impeccable Dutch. Every day she’d read to me for hours, and sing children’s songs one after the other. That’s how she taught me to speak correctly without any regional accents and without cursing. I adopted her way of reading to people. Thanks to her, I am a voice over. Unfortunately, my adoptive parents passed away before I started doing this work, and that’s a shame.

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

My main reason for coming to Atlanta boils down to one word: curiosity. I’ve never really been to a voice over conference. I’d love to just take everything in, and meet people. I’d like to learn from others and I hope others will also learn from me. I’m interested in the differences between voice overs from all over the world. 

I find it kind of thrilling to be by myself in a very different place, surrounded by people I’ve never met. But, as my husband tells me:

“Just go for it!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS I’ll be at VO Atlanta for two panels and two presentations. On March 27th at 9:50 AM I present “The incredible power of words.” The next day it’s time for my X-session “Boosting Your Business with a Blog” on March 28th at 9:30 AM. Click here to register.

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The Dutch are Coming!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, International, VO Atlanta 4 Comments

Machteld van der Gaag, photo credit: Mart Boudestein

This year I have another reason to be super stoked about VO Atlanta.

I won’t be the only Dutch game in town!

Three of Holland’s finest voice talents will be joining me: Machteld van der Gaag, Jolanda Bayens, and Tuffie Vos.

You’ve probably never heard of them, and that’s about to change. In the lead-up to the conference (March 26 – 29) I’ll be asking them the same questions, but you’ll get very different answers. You’ll find out what voice-over life is like in one of Europe’s smallest and most affluent countries.

Do the Dutch have the same struggles? Do we have more in common than what separates us? What do they expect to get out of VO Atlanta?

Let’s start with powerhouse Machteld van der Gaag. The last time I talked to her, she was on her bicycle, going to a gig in Amsterdam. 

Machteld, how did you get started in the business, and for how long have you been a voice-over?

I accidentally stumbled into the business in 1994. That’s when I had my first voice over on national TV. I was a copywriter at that time, and I imitated the voice talent who didn’t show up to the recording. The client liked what I did and said: “Why don’t you record the script?

I only started calling myself a ‘voice-over’ about 15 yeas ago. I was on both sides of the mic, as a copywriter I hired many voices, and as a voice I recorded quite a lot of my colleagues’ writings. 

What do you like about your work and the business you’re in?

Like? I LOVE it! Mostly the diversity. No day is the same, no project is the same, and you’re never done learning. Every day means a new beginning, new skills you can learn, try out, use again. And the people who work with voices are usually pretty nice folks too. It’s just your own little private party in your recording booth, every day! 

What has changed since you made your very first recording?

Oh my. Everything. I’m a dinosaur really. I go back to big sound studio’s with 1/4 inch small tape. Cut and paste, literally. U-matics. DAT cassettes, CD’s… and then, the digital revolution. And the internet. The world opened up. This enabled voices like me to set up a studio at home, ready to produce broadcast quality recordings. This changed everything. It also meant that I dared to give up my copywriters work and fully concentrate on voice over projects.  

What do you specialize in? What makes you unique?

My voice is young, versatile, and my diction is clear. I’m quick, I easily take directions – probably because I have directed hundreds of voices myself when I was a copywriter. But what really makes me stand out, is that I am lucky enough to work in three languages, two of them native (French and Dutch) and one near-native (English). My journey has led me to specialize in mostly commercial projects, but I feel there’s many more fields I’d like to explore, as long as clients give me a chance to shine.

What do you find the most challenging aspect of your work, and why?

The technical aspect for one. That’s my weak spot. I was lucky enough to record mostly with a great sound designer behind the wheel, so I could concentrate on my craft. I manage, but I regularly need a little help from my technical friends if I hit a bump in the road. The second aspect is the marketing and the admin of being a small business owner. But, as in other areas, the tools are getting better and better. 

What would be your dream VO job?

I guess it would be something regular. Like weekly. I have been the voice of a brand for 15 years now, but they only air commercials 2 or 3 times a year. I love all my scattered projects, but a regular gig would be a dream to me. 

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

This was quite recent. I had voiced a TedX promo, in my Transatlantic American accent. My American voice /accent coach was attending that event, but didn’t know I was the Voice Over. When I told her, she couldn’t believe it. She thought she heard an authentic American speaker. I still don’t completely believe her, but if she did mean it, that would make me real proud.

What’s an important part of your life you want people to know about, that doesn’t necessarily have to do with voice-overs?

Five years ago, I started singing in public. That had always been a dream of mine, but I never trusted my singing voice enough to do something with it. Now that I have been performing for five years, I feel the next step needs to be made: recording my singing voice, which scares the hell out of me, but hey, how scary can a mic be ?  

In 2018, Machteld entered the prestigious Concours de la Chanson Alliance Française, a competition dedicated to the performance of French songs. Much to her surprise, she walked away with first prize!

Why are you coming to VO Atlanta, and what are you looking forward to most?

I think I’ll probably stand out as the gawking, happy faced Dutch girl who will just get excited by everything and who wants to meet everybody. So basically, meeting colleagues (so many!!! the voice over community in the Netherlands is of course way smaller!), sharing experiences, learning about techniques, discovering new ways of using my voice (games and animations, which I’m not doing yet)… And I heard there’s an open mic!

But seriously, colleagues have repeatedly asked to come to Atlanta, but now, I’m just so excited I’m going in the first place.

Nothing can disappoint me! 

I can reveal that Machteld is planning a small surprise at VO Atlanta. If you’re in the neighborhood, keep your eyes and ears open!

You can follow Machteld on Facebook and on Instagram.

Next week I’ll be talking to VO Jolanda Bayens, founder of the Voiceovercollege, where she’s training the next generation of Dutch and Flemish voice talent.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Have I Got News For You!

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Book, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta 30 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

If you’re a follower of this blog you’re probably wondering why you keep seeing stories in some strange European language. Frankly, it started as a one-off thing for my Dutch friends and colleagues.

Because I’ve been away from home for twenty years, most people had no idea what had happened to me. I literally disappeared off the map when I left the Netherlands with my entire life packed up in two suitcases and a plastic bag.

Yes, people… I am one of those immigrants who came to your country in search of a better life, ready to steal your jobs and marry your women. You better watch out!

A DUTCH TREAT

Anyway, I wanted to let my fellow-Netherlanders know what I’d been up to since I left my motherland, and that’s why I started writing in Dutch. I had to talk myself into it though, because I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me. Most of my thoughts are in English, I speak English all day long, and ninety percent of what I read and write is in English. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself penning pieces in Denglish.

After my first Dutch article was published, it became clear I had no reason to be worried. Over three hundred people read the story of my exodus and liked it. I didn’t think there were even three hundred voice actors in Holland. Better still, people wanted me to keep on writing, and that’s what I did. So far, there are six chapters and there’s more to come. 

Now, here’s the thing. I have no way to ensure that my Dutch stories will only go to my Dutch subscribers. So, if English is your preferred language I hope you will do me a favor. Just ignore the blog posts in Dutch and wait for a new English story on Thursday. If you’re Dutch, you are in luck because you get two articles for the price of one!

CHANGING COURSE

With that out of the way I’d like to share some news with you. I am in the process of realigning my business with new and exciting plans that are in part based on what I am physically and mentally able to accomplish. You probably remember that the stroke I had in March of last year has forced me to seriously slow down and rethink my priorities.

My mind would love to continue as if nothing has happened, but my body disagrees. A permanent tremor in one of my vocal folds limits the time I am able to record voice-overs. My voice tires much faster, and no amount of vocal exercises has changed that. Mind you: this does not mean I can’t do any recordings.

As I speak, I am learning to do more with less. Fortunately, my clients and my agents completely understand, so they’re not sending me 600-page novels, or auditions for video games that require dying a thousand agonizing deaths.

KEEPING MY PRESENCE

Just because my vocal folds are taking a bit of a back seat doesn’t mean I have lost my voice completely. In Holland we say: “Onkruid vergaat niet,” meaning “Weeds don’t die.” I can assure you that I will continue to have a voice in our community.

At VO Atlanta (March 26 – 29, 2020), I’ll be leading a 3-hour workshop called Boosting Your Business with a Blog, and I’ll do a presentation on The Incredible Power of Language.

I am working on a second book, and I will continue to write this blog with a double dose of truthiness and snarcasm. If things go according to plan, 50% of my business is going to be devoted to content creation, 20% to speaking, and 30% to helping others succeed.

Here’s an example of that last category. Some of my Dutch colleagues want to spread their professional wings, and try their luck abroad. These folks need a tour guide who’s been there and done that.

In the coming months I’ll be coaching some of Holland’s top-tier talent and taking them to VO Atlanta. I’d like you to get to know them, and that’s why I’ll be interviewing each one of them for this blog. Stay tuned, these folks will knock your socks off!

ONLINE ACTIVITIES

All of the above means that I have to have a website that reflects this shift in focus. That’s why I am working with the splendid team at voiceactorwebsites on a complete overhaul of the Nethervoice site. According to Joe Davis who heads voiceactorwebsites, Nethervoice.com is already the number one individual voice-over site on the interweb, and I am going to strengthen that position even more.

Expect a site that truly showcases my writings, featuring a clean, sophisticated design, and a new, simpler way to subscribe. Of course it is going to load super fast and it’s 100% mobile-friendly. Because I’m pretty picky, all of this is going to take a while to accomplish, but it will be worth waiting for!

Thanks for your continued support and patience during this time of transition.

It means the world to me!

Tot de volgende keer.

Till next time!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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In voor- en tegenspoed

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal 2 Comments

onze bruiloft

This is the continuation of my American adventures, written for my friends and colleagues in the Netherlands. It is in Dutch, and if you’re looking for a new story in English, please come back on Thursday!

Paul

Wat doe je als de zaken in je leven niet gaan zoals je zou willen?

Ga je bij de pakken neerzitten en jezelf ontzettend zielig vinden, of sla je het stof van je af en kijk je omhoog naar de hemelsblauwe lucht?

Het is uiteindelijk een kwestie van focus.

Als je je concentreert op alles wat er mis is, dan voel je je binnen de korte keren depressief en lusteloos. Als je focust op al het goede en mooie in de wereld, dan ga je je gelijk een stuk vrolijker en energieker voelen.

Het is dezelfde wereld. Alleen de manier waarop je kiest te kijken is radicaal anders.

Op basis van mijn ervaring geloof ik innig dat de dingen waar wij ons dagelijks het meeste op focussen ons het meest beïnvloedden en sturen. “What you think, you become,” zei Boeddha al (hij was onwijs wijs).

Vergelijk het met voedsel. Als jij je elke dag volpropt met junk food, dan is dat aan je lijf te zien. Eet je gezond, dan reageert je lichaam daar ook op. Hetzelfde geldt voor een mentaal dieet.

Na mijn scheiding zette ik mezelf op dat mentale dieet, daarbij geholpen door een geheim wapen: mijn beltoon. Elke keer als iemand me telefoneerde klonk het begin van de Shaffy Cantate, een aanstekelijke melodie die me onmiddellijk in een goede stemming bracht. In NLP noemen ze dat een positief anker. Vergelijk het met de bel van Pavlov’s hond.

Op sommig dagen had ik die beltoon meer nodig dan op andere. De moeder van mijn dochter maakte me het leven zuur, mijn baan in het callcentrum was geestdodend, en ik miste mijn Hollandse vrienden en familie. Dankzij m’n werkschema voelde ik me altijd uitgeblust, maar ik wilde niet dat de zorg voor mijn dochter daar onder zou lijden.

NIET MEER ALLEEN

Na een jaar op mezelf te zijn geweest groeide langzaam de behoefte aan een goede vriend of vriendin. Maar als je elke dag om twee uur ’s ochtends naast je bed staat, ’s middags voor je kind zorgt en ’s avonds vroeg gaat slapen, dan is er weinig gelegenheid voor sociale contacten.

Dan maar het internet op.

Dankzij Match.com en eHarmony.com merkte ik tot m’n verbazing dat ik nogal goed in de markt lag. Ik had een baan, een interessante internationale achtergrond, en…. een kleine dochter. Voor veel al wat minder jonge vouwen bleek ik een uitgelezen kans om hun kinderwens in vervulling te laten gaan. Ikzelf had zoiets van: laten we eerst maar eens kijken of we het samen leuk kunnen hebben voordat ik je aan Skyler voorstel. Na twee stukgelopen relaties was ik voorzichtig geworden.

Ik zou boeken kunnen volschrijven over de klungelige manier waarop ik mijn eerste afspraakjes inging, maar je bent natuurlijk het meest geïnteresseerd in mijn voice-over verhaal. Die draad pak ik iets later weer op, dat beloof ik. Na een aantal maanden van dates met dames die meer in mijn dochter geïnteresseerd waren dan in mij, vond ik nog steeds geen Match en zeker geen eHarmony.

Opgeven deed ik niet zo makkelijk, dus besloot ik het nog maar eens via Yahoo Personals te proberen. En tijdens een driedaags proeflidmaatschap gebeurde het. Pamela, die via een profiel van een vriendin naar iemand op zoek was om mee te skiën, stuurde me een berichtje. Hoe was ze nou bij mij terechtgekomen?

Heel simpel. Om haar zoektocht wat gerichter te maken toetste ze de trefwoorden “ski” en “skiing” in. Eén van de dingen die ik in mijn profiel has geschreven was dit:

“I’m originally from the Netherlands. The country is as flat as a pancake, so I do not ski.”

Dat ene zinnetje zou ons hele leven op slag veranderen. Onderschat dus nooit hoe kleine dingen grote invloed kunnen hebben!

EEN NIEUWE RELATIE

Pam was uitvoerend musicus, en ze gaf fluit- en pianoles. Dat sprak mij met m’n musicologie achtergrond meteen aan. Ook bleken we alle twee sinds onze tienerjaren vegetariër te zijn. Ze was redelijk bereisd en sprak verschillende talen, en dat is niet iets wat de meeste Amerikanen kunnen zeggen. Verder had ze een helder hoofd en hield ze enorm van de natuur.

Na een paar afspraakjes wisten we dat we verder met elkaar wilden, en nam Pam me mee naar een skigebied in de Pocono bergen. “If this is going to be serieus,” zei ze, “You’ll have to learn how to ski. Otherwise you won’t see much of me in the winter.”

Een uur later stond ik op de lange latten naar een instructeur te luisteren, en even later ging ik met angst en beven de helling af. Het was niet bepaald elegant maar het ging wel snel, een stijl waar ik tot op de dag van vandaag om bekend sta.

new familyIk had zo m’n eigen voorwaarden voor onze relatie. Als het tussen Pam en Skyler niet zou klikken, dan zouden we alleen vrienden blijven. Toen Pam uiteindelijk bij mij over de vloer kwam was Skyler één jaar oud en kon ze al aardig op haar beentjes staan. Pam ging op de grond zitten en Skyler kwam gelijk lachend naar haar toe dribbelen. Ze plofte vervolgens in Pam’s schoot neer en bleef daar een uur lang zitten.

Ik wist genoeg!

VERHUIZING

Een jaar later verhuisde ik naar Easton waar Pam woonde, en in oktober 2004 zijn we in onze woonkamer door de burgemeester getrouwd. Skyler was ons bloemenmeisje. Ik bleef gewoon in het callcentrum werken maar moest nóg vroeger m’n bed uit omdat Easton een uur verder weg lag. Op een natte herfstochtend ben ik achter het stuur in slaap gevallen en heb ik mijn auto tegen een rotsblok total loss gereden. Ikzelf kwam er wonderbaarlijk genoeg zonder kleerscheuren van af.

Het was daarom letterlijk een geluk bij een ongeluk dat het internationale enquêtebureau waar ik werkte er achter kwam dat ze de interviews die we deden makkelijk konden vervangen door online vragenlijsten. Computers vonden het geen probleem om constant uitgescholden te worden, en leverden betrouwbare antwoorden op.

Na onze wittebroodsweken zat ik dus vrij snel zonder werk, en diende ook een ander probleem zich aan. Pam leed al sinds haar kinderjaren aan multiple sclerose maar dat kon je bijna nergens aan merken. Het vroegtijdig overlijden van haar moeder raakte haar diep, en zorgde ervoor dat allerlei symptomen de kop op staken. Ze verloor haar balans, haar spieren verstijfden en verzwakten, en op sommige dagen kwam ze moeilijk uit haar woorden. Onze buren dachten dat ze soms dronken thuiskwam.

Na lang tegensputteren kocht ze uiteindelijk een wandelstok, een looprek en later ook een elektrische scooter.

Was dit het begin van het einde, of was er nog hoop op herstel?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Trouble in Paradise

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Dutch, Personal 2 Comments

I was in heaven.

The Jamaican sun was shining bright and beautiful. The azure waters were calm and picture perfect.

En ik merkte dat ik al helemaal in het Engels zat te denken en te dromen. Dat krijg je als je de taal dag en nacht om je heen hoort. Immersion is the best teacher.

Mijn trouwdag was begonnen met een massage in de buitenlucht en een champagne ontbijt onder de palmbomen van ons vijf sterren resort.

Een week geleden zat ik nog voor de grap op een tropische vakantie te bieden die online werd geveild, en met het grootste geluk van de wereld won ik een week voor twee personen in een all-inclusive.

Nu stond ik onder een romantisch prieeltje dat op steigers midden in de blauwe oceaan was gebouwd. Een plaatselijke predikant met een zwaar Bob Marley accent keek me vragend aan.

Ik kon hem nauwelijks verstaan omdat de drilboren op de kust weer luidkeels aan hun werk waren begonnen. Ons paradijselijk verblijf werd namelijk onder onze ogen verbouwd. Dat verklaarde meteen waarom we voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rang zaten.

“…from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…” herhaalde ik luidkeels.

Even later was ik voor de tweede keer getrouwd. Lang zou het niet duren.

Het goede nieuws was dat ik binnen de kortste keren legaal in de VS kon werken. Als voice-over én als NLP trainer. We hadden het geluk dat een Outward-Bound organisatie voor randjongeren hun teams bij ons op training stuurde. Mijn vrouw en ik vertrokken daarom naar North-Carolina en Idaho om een aantal cursussen te geven.

Intussen speelde Joanne van Mike Lemon Casting me regelmatig opdrachten toe, maar daar was niet van rond te komen. Niemand had in die tijd een thuisstudio, en ik was dus afhankelijk van wat ik bij m’n agent kon boeken.

GEZINSUITBREIDING

Negen maanden later veranderde ons leven voorgoed toen Skyler werd geboren. Dat betekende dat we niet meer konden reizen, en dat onze uitgaven flink omhoog gingen. Ik vond het daarom verstandig om een meer permanente baan te zoeken, en zo kwam ik bij een internationaal enquête bureau terecht waar ze op zoek waren naar mensen met een talenknobbel.

Het blokkendozerige call center zag er precies zo grauw uit als duizenden andere call centers. Mensen zaten als melkvee tussen grijze afscheidingswandjes gepropt, futloos starend naar het beeldscherm dat hun leven dicteerde. Koptelefoon op het hoofd, en een script voor de neus. Een script waar je niet van af mocht wijken.

Ik had het twijfelachtige voorrecht om namens Dell dagelijks IT managers te bevragen over hun bevindingen met de hardware die ze gebruikten “op een schaal van nul tot tien waarbij nul zeer ontevreden betekent en tien zeer tevreden. U kunt elk nummer kiezen.”

Het “aardige” was dat die tevredenheidsonderzoeken zeker een half uur tot een uur in beslag namen. Niemand had daar zin in, omdat zo’n beetje elke computer maker op aarde de IT managers van hun werk hield met de meest onnozele vragen. Het was dan ook een sport om die mensen over te halen om toch mee te doen zonder door hen te worden uitgescholden. Dat lukte meestal niet. Maar zoals mijn supervisor zei:

“Every NO is one step closer to a YES.”

VOOR DAG EN DAUW

Omdat ik drie talen goed beheerste belde ik vanuit Pennsylvania met Oostenrijk, Zwitserland, Duitsland, Nederland en het Verenigd Koninkrijk. Mijn werkdag begon om negen uur ’s ochtends Europese tijd. Ik stond dus om twee uur in de ochtend op, om om drie uur half slapend aan het werk te gaan.

Om twaalf uur ’s middags zat mijn werkdag er op, en ging ik naar huis om voor Skyler te zorgen. Het was een gruwelijk schema, maar het gaf me wel de gelegenheid om samen met mijn dochter te zijn.

Sinds haar geboorte was de relatie met haar moeder allesbehalve geweldig. Ze gaf me het gevoel dat ik gedaan had waar ze me voor aan de haak had geslagen. Nu het kind eenmaal was geboren, was ik in haar ogen niet veel meer dan een handige oppasvader.

Het is onmogelijk om een goede relatie te hebben als de liefde van één kant komt. Het brokkelt snel af en gaat van tweezaam naar eenzaam. Het voelde ook heel dubbel aan. Ik was zielsgelukkig met mijn dochter, en diep bedroefd over mijn huwelijk. Hoe langer de situatie duurde, hoe ongezonder het voor mij werd. Waar had ik dit toch aan verdiend?

KROMME LIJNEN

Als journalist had ik ooit een diepgaand gesprek met kardinaal Simonis over het onrecht in de wereld. Ik vroeg hem naar de zin van het lijden. Als God liefde is, waarom gaan fijne mensen vóór hun tijd dood, en waarom genieten kampbeulen lekker van hun oude dag? Waarom treft het kwaad goede mensen? 

“Meneer Strikwerda,” zei de kardinaal terwijl hij een sigaartje opstak, “God schrijft recht met kromme lijnen.”

Op dat moment vond ik het een nogal makkelijk antwoord, maar kijkend in de ogen van mijn dochter begon ik het te begrijpen. Zij was het levende bewijs van dat uit iets slechts toch iets goeds en moois kan voortkomen. Dat praat het lijden niet goed, maar plaatst het wel in een ander perspectief. 

ECHTSCHEIDING

Omdat alle betrokkenen zich nog in mijn naaste omgeving bevinden wil ik niet in details treden over het drama dat zich voor mijn ogen ontvouwde. Ik realiseerde me toen nog niet dat de Amerikaans rechtspraak is gebaseerd op keiharde confrontatie waarbij de rechter onaantastbaar is en moeders automatisch het voordeel van de twijfel krijgen. De enigen die er rijk van worden zijn de advocaten. 

Ik wilde graag een belangrijke rol in het leven van mijn dochter blijven spelen in een land waar dat nog steeds ongebruikelijk is. In de rechtszaal werd ik als een vreemdeling behandeld die zijn dochter waarschijnlijk naar Nederland zou ontvoeren en nooit meer terug zou keren. Dat was nooit in me opgekomen, maar ik werd wel als een potentiële kidnapper gezien.

Verder vond de rechter dat ik met mijn Britse accent nogal arrogant overkwam. In Amerikaanse films hebben veel criminele masterminds een Engels accent. De connectie tussen Brit en slechterik is daarom al gauw gemaakt, maar probeer maar eens te bewijzen dat je vanwege je komaf, je accent en je geslacht gediscrimineerd wordt. 

Enfin, het zal je niet verbazen dat ik aan het kortste end trok, en dat was iets dat zich in jaren van juridische strijd steeds weer zou herhalen. Gedurende de echtscheidingsprocedure was me al duidelijk geworden dat de moeder van mijn dochter niet zou rusten totdat ik mijn baan zou verliezen, bankroet zou gaan, en voorgoed naar Nederland zou vertrekken.

Waar die drang vandaan kwam, daar kwam ik later pas achter.

Gelukkig braken er na mijn scheiding betere tijden aan, en begon de zon langzaam weer te schijnen!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Een Rampjaar

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal Leave a comment

I’m in a bit of a pickle, and I only have myself to blame.

A few weeks ago I started blogging in Dutch, and some of my English speaking friends have been wondering why they’re receiving articles they can’t read.

Let me assure you: it’s only temporary. I just don’t have a way to send my Dutch contributions to my Dutch speaking subscribers only. There will be a new story in English each week. Just skip this post and read my article about a lucrative side hustle: emceeing live events!

ELF SEPTEMBER

Het was najaar 2001. Amerika was net opgeschrikt door de brute terroristische aanslagen op het World Trade Center en het Pentagon. Passagiers van vlucht 93 wisten nipt een aanslag op Washington, D.C. te voorkomen. Familie en vrienden uit Nederland belden me paniekerig op omdat ze gehoord hadden dat er een gekaapt vliegtuig in Pennsylvania was neergestort.

In de dagen na nine-eleven liepen opeens overal geüniformeerde mannetjes met machinegeweren rond. Ouders knuffelden elkaar en hun kinderen bij elk afscheid met hernieuwde intensiteit. De restaurants waren leeg want het voelde ongepast om lekker uit eten te gaan.

Terwijl de natie in nationale rouw was gedompeld begon ik aan een nieuw hoofdstuk in mijn carrière. Een hoofdstuk dat begon in een oud verbouwd pakhuis, vlakbij de haven van Amerika’s eerste hoofdstad, Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love.

Het was de eerste woensdag van de maand. Geen gehaktdag, maar de maandelijkse open casting call bij Mike Lemon. Ze noemen het terecht een Cattle Call, omdat de gangen van het castingbureau zwart zagen van de mensen die allemaal hun kunstjes kwamen tonen. Jongleurs, buiksprekers, hip hop dansers, coloratuur sopranen, fotomodellen…. en een verdwaalde Nederlander met een omroepverleden.

Iedereen die zich inschreef kreeg een nummer en daarna begon het lange wachten. Opgefokte ouders met jengelende kinderen gingen aan mij voorbij. Puisterige pubers warmden zich ongegeneerd op. En ik vroeg me af wat ik daar in hemelsnaam deed, zonder goocheltrucs of danspasjes.

MIJN SCREENTEST

“Mister Strick-Word-Aah?” klonk het uit een hoek. Ik werd in een donkere kamer geleid met een camera en een fel licht.

“Strick-Word-Aah, what kind of name is that?” vroeg iemand in het duister.

“It’s Dutch. I’m from Holland.”

“Poland? I though you were Dutch?” zei de stem.

“Holland as in the Netherlands,” antwoordde ik.

“Ah, the Netherlands. Why didn’t you say so? I know the Netherlands. Clogs. Tulips. Windmills. The people are very tall and everybody speaks English. I like the Netherlands!”

Hij ging verder:

“So, let’s see what you got for us today. Stand in front of the camera, state your name, and tell us about yourself.”

Na amper twee zinnen onderbrak hij me.

“You don’t sound like you’re from the Netherlands. You sound like you’re from England, but not quite… Interesting. Give me two seconds.”

Hij draaide zich om en riep “Get me Joanne.”

Twee minuten later kwam er een struise vrouw binnenlopen.

“Joanne, I want you to meet Paul. He’s from Holland. Paul, meet Joanne, our voice-over director. The two of you should talk.”

“Mike, Manoj is on the phone,” fluisterde Joanne. “He says it’s urgent.”

Manoj is de “M” in M. Night Shyamalan, de maker van The Sixth Sense (“I see dead people!”) voor wie Mike Lemon alle casting deed.

Joanne wandelde me van het donker in het licht naar een kamer die van de vloer tot aan het plafond gevuld was met cassettebandjes.

“That’s all my talent,” zei Joanne met een brede lach. “I represent over a thousand voices but I’ve never had someone from the Netherlands. What’s your story?”

Een paar koppen koffie later had ik het gevoel dat ik met een oude vriendin aan tafel zat. Joanne Joella had net als ik een radio achtergrond. Ze was adjunct professor in het theater department van een locale universiteit. Bekende en onbekende acteurs huurden haar in als stemmen- en dialect coach. Haar persoonlijkheid was wat ze hier “larger than life” noemen. Joviaal, aanstekelijk uitbundig, en lekker luidruchtig.

Die middag gingen we aan het werk met allerlei scripts. “I want to know how well you can take direction,” zei ze. “You can have the best voice in the world, but if you can’t follow instructions you’re never going to make it.”

De paar uur die ik met haar spendeerde was een masterclass in stem acteren, en pas later besefte ik dat ik ook auditie aan het doen was. De middag vloog om, en toen het tijd was om te vertrekken zei Joanne: “I think I might have something for you. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Toen ik Mike Lemon Casting verliet besefte ik dat ik opeens een echte Amerikaanse agent had.

Wow!

My first headshot

UIT DE ILLEGALITEIT

Een week later ging ik terug naar Philadelphia voor de opname van mijn eerste commercial, een radioreclame voor Hersheypark, het pretpark van een bekende chocoladefabriek. Een maand later lag er een vette cheque bij mij in de brievenbus, dik verdiend door een Hollandse kaaskop zonder werkvergunning.

Houston, we’ve got a problem. 

De snelste manier om legaal in de Verenigde Staten te kunnen werken, was om Amerikaans staatsburger te worden. Dat was alleen na 9/11 een stuk moeilijker geworden. De procedure kon jaren duren, zelfs voor iemand uit een neutraal land als Nederland.

“I see only one solution,” zei mijn partner.

“What might that be?” wilde ik weten. 

“We’ve got to get married. They can’t deny you citizenship once we’ve tied the knot.”

Eerlijk gezegd was ik nog helemaal niet aan trouwen toe. Aan de andere kant wilde ik graag voice-overs blijven opnemen. Ik was het oberen zat, en de kans die me bij Mike Lemon geboden werd was een dream come true.

“Ik wil er eerst een nachtje over slapen,” zei ik. “This is too important.”

Het werd een slapeloze nacht van wikken en wegen, van voors en van tegens. Hoe meer ik er over nadacht, hoe minder zeker ik van mijn zaak was. 

Maar toen de zon eindelijk opkwam, wist ik wat ik wilde.

En zo nam ik de beste en slechtste beslissing van m’n leven.

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 

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