Interview with Abby Elvidge, Voice Actor
Since we do book reviews and theatre reviews here at Escape Into Life, we thought it would be fun to put those two together and interview an actor who narrates audiobooks! Abby Elvidge has acted onstage and can be heard in cartoons, commercials, and video games. Now she also narrates books.
Kathleen Kirk at Escape Into Life (EIL): Abby, I saw you onstage in your youth—a notably scary performance as Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed back when you were in high school in central Illinois. I also enjoyed you as a grown-up in the play Stages, by John W. Kirk, my dad, at Heartland Theatre. But would you fill us in on your acting career elsewhere and since then, before you became a book narrator?
Abby Elvidge: My passion has always led me to juicy character roles. While in Chicago, some of my favorites were Carter in Uncommon Women and Others by Wendy Wasserstein, Lydie in John Guare’s Lydie Breeze, and Cassandra in The Trojan Women by Euripides.
Kinda cool: Currently, I’m in the midst of filming for a miniseries in which I play Cassandra, a modern day oracle. Happy actor!
EIL: That’s kind of cool for me, too, Abby, as I’ve written a series of poems about Cassandra. She fascinates me, and I’m glad to hear she fascinates you.
Abby Elvidge: Then I took a break from acting to pursue my love of environmental sciences and became a paleobotanist, the way you do, and worked at the Desert Research Institute reconstructing Quaternary Period climate histories for the Great Basin of Nevada.
Eventually, the call to engage in more creative play became too strong to ignore and I flowed into voice acting, once again finding my niche to be character roles. Before discovering my unquenchable passion for narrating audiobooks, I played a wide variety of roles in commercials, independent games, and cartoons.
EIL: How did you first get work as a book narrator?
Abby Elvidge: I auditioned for a company that was producing interactive children’s books, classic tales like “The Ugly Duckling” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” translated from Russian into English. I booked the job and recorded several stories for them. Loved the experience of painting multidimensional worlds with words and inflection.
EIL: How does reading a book for public performance compare to acting on the stage? What skills carry over? What’s dramatically different?
Abby Elvidge: It’s much the same in terms of script and character analysis, except you’re voicing ALL the characters, and the narrator also has a persona, a point of view. There are a few different schools of thought as to how vividly drawn the individual characters should be. Some think character differentiation should be very subtle so as not to jar the listener out of immersion in the story, but I think it depends on the style of the writing as well as the narrator’s skill set. If the narrator can successfully voice strong characters through acting and use of vocal tools like pitch characteristic, placement, cadence variation, etc., and it works to serve or even enhance the author’s intent, I say have at it!
EIL: Are you a big reader? Or is working as a professional narrator a new immersion in reading for you?
Abby Elvidge: I’ve been a big reader from a very early age. Growing up, we lived close enough to our grade school that my brother and I used to walk home every day for lunch, and our mother would read aloud to us over soup and sandwiches. Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Melville’s Moby Dick… She read us Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, The Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, To Kill a Mockingbird… She really was gifted. Brilliant. Every day my brother and I were transported, mesmerized for forty minutes over our chicken soup. What a gift that was to give her children. Okay, I’m tearing up. Enough of that!
EIL: Is there a book you would love to read on tape someday? A favorite book from childhood? Or do you have a favorite current author whose work you’d like to perform?
Abby Elvidge: I have an achingly strong desire to narrate Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater. Her writing is brilliant, beguiling, raw, and elegant. I’d love to have been the narrator for The Whip by Karen Kondazian. But that’s already been artfully read by Robin Weigert. She’s insanely talented. Blows me away. Weigert also portrayed Calamity Jane in the series Deadwood, a role I’d love to play more than just about anything. There’s also a writer out there named Patty Templeton I’d love to record. She wrote a short story called “Kill-Box Road Trip” that gets me all excited and pumped up about narrating! That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for in a project.
I’ve loved narrating for award-winning memoirist Marlayna Glynn Brown, as well as voicing the vibrant memoirs and stories of Willow Cross. I’m just starting a new fantasy trilogy for Willow and am slated to narrate two more coming up for Marlayna.
I couldn’t be happier or more fortunate to read for these two very genuine, refreshingly authentic, charismatic writers.
Just recently I did get the opportunity to narrate the latest book by one of my most favorite authors—thank you, Universe. But we’ll get to that later.
EIL: I understand you have a new book-on-tape out here in June that we couldn’t talk about till now. What is it? And what was it like to work on this project?
Abby Elvidge: Ah, it’s later! Well, over the course of narrating about 14 books, I’d clearly developed a strong niche when it comes to narrating nonfiction. If you can capture the author’s voice, their point of view, their attitude, some nonfiction can allow for remarkably intimate and emotional performance. That’s kinda my thing, I guess. Anyway, I’d taken a liking to bestselling author Mary Roach’s contemporary science nonfiction books. Through a series of interesting ‘everything falls into place’ happenings, I ended up being recommended for her latest book, GRUNT: The Curious Science Of Humans At War, due out in hardcover and as an audiobook June 7, 2016. Dream come true. Oh, first I had to audition for her and for Brilliance Audio. But, yeah, I landed this big fish!
It usually takes me about a month to produce an 8-hour book all on my own, (after recording, it takes anywhere from 4 to 8 plus hours to produce 1 finished hour of audio), but Brilliance recorded my read in about 2 and a half days and then it was out of my hands. Normally I direct myself, do all my own editing, proofing, and mastering—this felt lightning fast! Nice to have someone take care all those other things and just focus on the read, but also feels kind of strange, letting go of the control.
But, ohhh, how her writing, her rhythm, her snarky wit sings to me! And I got to make use of my several year foray into the sciences. Again, happy actor. Happy narrator.
EIL: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your work as a voice actor?
Abby Elvidge: I’ll be team teaching an Intro to Audiobook Narration class at The Voice Actors Studio in Las Vegas with the talented and prolific Jack de Golia on July 30, 2016.
As an audiobook narrator, I have a special fondness for memoir, young adult, and horror genres.
In general, I guess I like to play, do work that’s fun—it forces me to stretch, works with my ‘go big or go home’ style.
Voice acting seems to suit my reclusive nature. It feels more anonymous than acting on stage or screen. It’s the work itself, the process, I love.
Actress, paleobotanist, voice actor, book narrator Abby Elvidge is a character specialist who can be heard in the Audie Award Finalist ensemble cast of GADZOOKS, in commercials, independent games, and cartoons as harpies, narwhals, walnuts, southern belle houses, as well as in the latest nonfiction work by bestselling author Mary Roach, GRUNT: The Curious Science Of Humans At War.