What’s an interesting thing people don’t know about you?
Hmm, good question! I've probably only told one or two people in my life that one of my dream stage roles is Mary Poppins. There's just something so whimsical and powerful and enigmatic about her character. The great music doesn't hurt, either!
Where did you grow up? What were you like as a kid?
I grew up in a little town about a hundred miles south of San Francisco, right on the ocean. I was very much enamoured of storytelling from a very young age. I read voraciously, and had many imaginary worlds I inhabited at play time. I wrote my own short (and often unfinished) tales, and everything was an opportunity for me to make-believe I was living some other life. I was quirky and a dreamer and full of crazy ideas that no one else thought were very funny. I guess not much has changed. ;) My sister and I made a pact that someday we'd create our own cartoon show, where she animated and I did the voices. She got her degree in animation, and here I am as a voice talent, so I think it's time we got to work on that dream!
Your degree is in linguistics and phonetics. Wow! Tell us about that. Why did you choose that?
My favourite subject in school was always foreign language. I absorbed language books as quickly as I could, reading about ancient and modern Greek, Mandarin, German, etc. before they even started us on Spanish in school. I was just fascinated with other languages - the way they sounded, the mystery of them, how the sounds felt in my mouth, whether people who spoke another language still thought in English (yes, I really had to wrap my mind around that one as a kid!). Linguistics was just a natural fit in college. My favourite subject was Phonetics, particularly the articulatory branch, which looks at how speech sounds are actually produced in the vocal tract.
Who’s your favorite linguistic theorist and why? (I was pretty taken with Saussure.)
I'm going to kind of cheat on this one and talk about my favourite linguistic phenomenon, though I did indeed enjoy learning about Saussure! The one thing that stuck with me the most from my undergraduate studies was the study done by McGurk et al. in the 1970s (about the McGurk effect), and shed some light on how important visual cues are to speech perception. We tend to think that most of verbal communication is auditory, when in fact most people rely heavily on visual input to make sense of what another person is saying. This is why many people are so uncomfortable on the phone, where those visual cues are missing. As a voice actor, this is a very interesting thing to think about, especially when narrating audiobooks. You have to use your voice to convey so many things - emotion, tone, action, setting, on top of enunciating in a way that is intelligible, without sounding stilted, and still tell a story in a way that a listener can easily understand and stay connected with.
You’ve done a lot of fabulous things ~ acting, voice acting, puppets, and writing. What do you think those have in common and why are you drawn to them?
The underlying thread for me is storytelling. There's a bit of it in everything I do. I love to bring others' stories to life, as well as tell my own. Each medium has a slightly different appeal, but I've never been able to decide which one I like best. I hope to keep doing all of them throughout my life. Storytelling for me is one of the ultimate acts of creation, and an essential part of what it means to be human.
Do you have an origin story? In other words, can you think about something that happened in your childhood that fundamentally shaped who you are and what you do?
My mom taught me to read and write when I was three, by having me narrate and then trace the letters of a story about my stuffed toy mule. She also read to me before bed every night - The Hobbit and James Herriot come to mind - and instilled in me a great love for words and stories. I've never been able to stop reading and writing since unlocking that magic.
Talk about creating How to Be a Man. What were your first impressions? What did you enjoy about it? What challenged you?
I'm fascinated by gender roles and norms - how they've changed, how we obey and break them, the effect they have on people and their relationships with others. I stumbled on the synopsis for How to Be a Man while shopping for a project on ACX, and bookmarked it for about a week. I had only done public domain work for the past five years, since leaving my job where I worked with a lot of commercial voiceover, so I wasn't sure how I would fare in the realm of commercial narration. How to Be a Man seemed like a project that would keep me interested through the long hours of recording and editing, and that maybe needed a voice more like mine, instead of the seductive, sometimes over-the-top tones of many commercial voice talents. I submitted an audition on a whim one night, and was completely overjoyed to find a recording contract in my inbox not long after. I really enjoyed the long, intimate evenings spent huddled in my recording booth with the manuscript, getting to know the characters inside and out and connecting with them and what they were saying. I loved the diversity of the stories, and how each one took me to a different place. I found by reading them aloud, they came to life for me in a way that stories don't always do when read silently off the page. The biggest challenge was probably having to edit all that audio! For each finished hour, it takes between six to ten hours of work. I learned a lot of tricks in the process to speed things up, but it was a real process! I've certainly come out the other side a much more proficient audio editor, though.
You’re a writer too. What do you write?
Most of my writing is done every November during National Novel Writing Month. Writing sadly slips to the back burner for me all too often, with all my audiobook, theatre, and film projects. It's still such a driving force in me that I keep returning to it, though. When I'm not penning a novel in thirty days (or making half-hearted stabs at editing them), I also journal somewhat allegorically about my life through the adventures of a pirate lass named Captain Pen.
Finally, if someone wanted to get into voice acting, do you have any advice for them?
If you have an interest in narration in particular, I highly recommend Librivox (www.librivox.org). It's the audio book version of Project Gutenberg (an enormous digitised collection of public domain books at www.gutenberg.org). Volunteer readers from around the world narrate public domain books and put them up for free download in the catalogue. The wonderful thing about it is, anyone can sign up to read, regardless of experience. There are very active and helpful forums to help you get set up with a basic recording environment, learn how to read aloud, edit audio, produce it, etc. It was a wonderful and supportive place to get my feet wet. If you have any specific questions, I'm more than happy to help, as well. I'm on Twitter (https://twitter.com/listentopj), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authorpjmorgan), and at listentopj.com, where I hope to start some blog content soon about my adventures in the world of VO!
Thank you so much, P. J.! You rock!