I love pretty much every aspect of my job as a voice-over.
I love the variety, the challenges, the cool colleagues, and the interesting scripts.
Yet, like in any job, there are things I struggle with. Number one on that list is the fact that I sometimes feel like a fake, and it’s awful.
Now, in this line of work there are two kinds of fake. The FUN fake, and the FRUSTRATING fake.
The FUN fake I can totally live with.
When a client asked me to record a promo for a Beatles revival show on Broadway, I was over the moon because I could use my fake British accent. When I had to play a seven-year old boy for and educational computer game, I embraced the challenge to be childish.
You see, part of what attracts me to this work is the fact that I can play so many different characters in so many ways. Better still: I get paid for pretending to be someone else! It’s something people usually get arrested for (but when they’re really good at it, they get a shiny statuette or a star on a boulevard).
The FRUSTRATING fake needs a little more introduction, because it’s not exclusively related to the acting part of my job.
Recently, I received some very bad news about a family member I was very close to: my dad. He lives in Holland, and I have written about him in the past, so you may remember he had two incurable diseases: Cancer and ALS.
On January 9th my dad and I Skyped for seven minutes. He was already in a hospice, and his body was breaking down rapidly. His mind was still as sharp as a razor, but he could hardly breathe, and the pain had become unbearable. During that conversation, he told me that he had decided to die the next day, at 10:00 a.m.
Imagine hearing that from a person you love. How would you respond to that?
Many people on this planet believe that we have no right to determine the moment of our own death. It’s up to G-d, the devil, fate, or a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We don’t let our pets suffer needlessly, but when it comes to human beings, many come to an agonizing end because we confuse kindness with killing.
My dad was consistently clear about what he wanted. Should his suffering become unendurable, and there was no prospect of improvement, he saw no need to lengthen his life. “Quality is what matters,” he used to say. “Not quantity.”
I realize The Netherlands has a certain reputation when it comes to euthanasia, but that’s largely based on misinformation and ignorance. Let me assure you that Dutch law doesn’t make it easy to die with dignity. Strict guidelines need to be followed by the patient, and by medical professionals. Otherwise doctors end up in jail.
ACCEPTING THE INEVITABLE
On the morning of Saturday, January 10th, my father passed away quickly, and peacefully.
Even though I had prepared myself for that moment, it wasn’t easy to accept that he was gone. Death is devastatingly definite. What’s even harder to deal with, is that most of the rest of the world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care. It’s business as usual.
Clients keep calling. Auditions keep coming. And even though I was overcome by emotions, I had to be professional.
That’s where the FRUSTRATING fake comes in.
In one area of my life I had to pretend that nothing had happened. If a script required me to sound happy-go-lucky, I would sound cheerful, and upbeat. If a client tried to push my buttons, I would keep my cool, and not overreact. If a colleague would make an insensitive remark, I would contain myself, and not respond.
Here’s one thing I learned: It takes a lot of energy to deal with conflicting emotions. They co-exist, and yet they can’t be in the same space together at the same time.
The only way to handle this, is to make sure that there’s plenty of room for sadness, loss and mourning or whatever is bringing you down, just not during working hours.
Clients don’t pay you to deal with your emotions in their time. Your job is to focus on them, and on the script in front of you.
ESCAPING THE PAIN
However, there’s a downside to focusing on the jobs at hand.
Too many people decide to flee from their emotions by burying themselves in piles of work, or by engaging in more destructive distractions. If you’re one of those people, you know that this coping strategy will eventually catch up with you. Repressed emotions often have a nasty way of presenting themselves. Eventually, the lid will fly off the pressure cooker, creating a big mess in the kitchen.
Another way of dealing with sad situations, is to rationalize emotions, allowing them not to affect you that much. You tell yourself that you must be strong at all times; that wearing your heart on your sleeve is a sign of weakness.
It’s tough to be a voice-over with a stiff upper lip! Proper enunciation becomes a problem.
UPS AND DOWNS
The trouble is that people who don’t allow room for the lows in their life, often have a hard time experiencing the highs as well. It’s like taking away strong colors from a picture, or the bass and treble from a moving piece of music.
Not acknowledging your true feelings at an appropriate time creates internal tension, and robs you of experiencing the richness of life in all its ups and downs. Not sharing these feelings with others, robs your friends and family of a chance to really get to know you, and to be there for you.
There is no light without darkness. Going through the anger, pain, sadness and desperation, will help you understand yourself better, and to be more compassionate towards others.
Actors use life experiences to create characters, and to give depth to their performance. These experiences help them to become less fake, and more human.
Here’s what I like to suggest if you’re feeling down.
Embrace your emotions like good friends that are trying to tell you something important. Acknowledge them. Listen to them. Kindly ask them to leave when you need to get to work.
I know that’s easier said than done, and it’s not always a solution.
When your feelings are about to overwhelm you, and you can’t take it anymore, don’t sweep them under the carpet. Don’t fake that you are fine.
Take a break from work. You probably won’t be at your best anyway.
Clients are a lot more understanding when you let them know what’s going on. You don’t have to go into details, as long as you tell them this is serious, and you need a little more time.
And if you like, let your thoughts and feelings pour out of your pen, as I’m doing right now. It will take a weight off your shoulders.
Allow yourself to be comforted by the people who are near and dear to you. Give them a chance to take care of you. I know you would do the same for them.
Find a space where you can be safe, and be yourself.
After all, you never have to fake it for true friends.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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