Netherlands

When COVID-19 leaves patients speechless, a voice actor steps up

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal2 Comments

Do you remember your dreams? 

I rarely do, but the one I had last night has been on my mind since I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here’s why. 

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.

“Make sure you give it some thought,” the voice said, “because it’s going to be your very last blog post. If there’s anything you’d like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it.”

Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn’t scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I’d never experienced before. Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright.

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I’m not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism. Give me the facts and I’ll be fine. I’d like to know what I am dealing with.

I’m not scared of this virus because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it’s okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed. All in the name of freedom.

Pro Life my ass!

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she’s dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at. 

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes, and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands. She works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they’ve been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake. Hellen says that most people don’t realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids. “Safe” means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:

“In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet. 

COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds. A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. 

This means that patients can’t swallow as long as they’re on a respirator. They’re fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach. That’s precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they’re on a respirator. 

When the throat muscles aren’t used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed. This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone’s ability to speak.”

SPEECH PROBLEMS

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it’s almost impossible to speak. They’ve either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak. On top of that it’s almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can’t cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in. She picks up the story:

“The Corona virus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

Hellen at the hospital

The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind. Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can’t see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs. 

Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they’re able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period.”

Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article

“Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht. Like her colleague Jolanda, she’s very down to earth, and doesn’t think she’s doing something heroic. She’s doing what she’s been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn’t up yet. All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn’t have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don’t hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine. If only I had a way to say “Thank you!”

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to a video that says it all.

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hellen is available to voice your projects with a Euro-English accent. Have a listen.


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Have I Got News For You!

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Book, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, International, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta30 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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Een Rampjaar

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Dutch, PersonalLeave 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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Feeling Like A Fake

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Personal31 Comments

Waterlily in Longwood Gardens. Picture credit: Paul StrikwerdaYou know me, don’t you?

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.

TERRIBLE NEWS

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.

GOOD FRIENDS

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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