In this podcast interview, Penny Abshire talks about how she discovered voiceover, and her partnership with James Alburger. In addition we discuss her role as an ambassador for thinking positive, background to VOICE 2010, and the importance of receiving encouragement as a child… you’ll enjoy this.
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Transcript of conversation with Penny Abshire
If you ask a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, you’ll get some interesting responses. Sometimes there is a correlation between these early dreams, but I suspect most end up doing something totally different. Granted these days there are opportunities for second, or even third careers, but even then how many can say they are living the dream?
My guest today is Penny Abshire who, by her own admission, followed a safe career path for many years. She returned to “plan A” twelve years ago, and is now a fulfilled and busy voice actor, director, copywriter, voice coach, and Executive Producer of the world’s only convention for voice actors, the Voice Over International Creative Experience. Welcome, Penny.
Penny: Well, thank you very much Andy. Nice to be here.
Andy: Now, Penny, as a child – when you were a young little kid – what is it that you really wanted to be when you grew up?
Penny: Well, I always wanted to be an actress. I suppose. You know… I remember my family telling me that I have been a performer ever since I was about three years old; always putting on some sort of show for them. And when I was about eight, I remember doing full three act plays that I had written and produced, and by the way, starred in, in my backyard, and inviting all of the neighbourhood to come over and watch those. So, I guess from the very beginning I have always been meant to be an actress.
Andy: So did you have any real theatrical experience, and if so, what form did that take?
Penny: Well, I did a lot of theatre in school, and I had some theatrical training when I was small – I took a lot of speech lessons, and ballet lessons, and acting lessons, and all those things when I was a little kid, as well as playing the piano. And then I tool some college courses. I did a lot of community theatre. So there was a lot of acting background. I just never really found the vehicle to make a living at it until I found voice acting.
Andy: OK. Your first real career was not in performing, it was connected with Estate Law? Is that right?
Penny: Well, that wasn’t really my first career, but it is the one that I ended up in. My very first career was secretarial, and I worked for a lot of people as a secretary. But as the years progressed I got more into the paralegal, into the legal side of it, and that’s where I ended up. That’s what I was doing when I discovered that voice acting was out there.
Andy: I see. So, did you ever realise that you’d get that chance of performing again when you were working in estate law?
Penny: Well, you know, I think I was at a point in my life where a lot of people are… where I just kind of resigned myself to the fact that jobs didn’t, or jobs couldn’t, be fun. And that I had one that paid very well, had wonderful benefits, that I could retire from. And I was about 47, and I thought, “Well, you know… I can give this another 20 years, because it’s safe, and it’s stable, and this is where I’ll just be”. I just resigned myself to that fact. I didn’t like it. But it was safe. So, no, I really didn’t think there would ever be an opportunity for me again. Particularly because I always thought that the next performing – the only performing I could do – would probably be on stage, and I really was not as good at memorisation as I used to be. So I just thought, “Well, I really can’t do that either”. So, yeah, I think I’d pretty much given it up.
Andy: When you got into voiceover that started with taking a class. So, what made you think of actually going to a voiceover class? Was that your idea?
Penny: Well actually, no! It wasn’t. I had a friend that said, “You know, there’s this guy, Alburger, that’s in the Learning Annex Magazine, and he teaches a class on how to make money in voiceovers. Let’s go take it”. I said, “I don’t want to take that class”. He said, “Oh, come on…” – we were already teaching at the Learning annex – he said, “We can go for free. Let’s just go find out what it’s all about”. I said, “I don’t want to go!”. I mean… he practically had to push me into the car, and take me to the class. I really resisted. And you know, I’ve looked back over that over the years and wondered why, and I think it was really just because I was afraid. It was something new. It was something that I thought, “Gee, that really would be kind of nice. But, you know, I really couldn’t do that”. Had a lot of voices in my head. Anyway… But he got me to the class, and in that three hours of listening to Jim – he did some lecture, and then he got me up on mic, and I put those headphones on, and he gave me a script, and I got to perform. And, you know, it sounds very dramatic, but that little three hour class literally changed the direction of my life, because I knew when I left there that was what I was going to be doing.
Andy: So now, after taking that class, and learning about voiceover from James, James is now your business partner, right?
Penny: Yes, he is.
Andy: Excellent. Now, the first time I actually heard your voice was on the CD that comes with James’ book, “The Art of Voice Acting”, and you perform a variety of characters, and a variety of different types of voiceover work, but what type of voiceover performance do you really enjoy most?
Penny: Oh gosh. I really like all of it. I think that if I had had to choose one thing, and that’s the only thing that I could do, it would probably be dialogue commercial spots… where I actually get to be in the booth with another actor, and play. If I could do that all day, every day, I think I’d be happy as a clam – although, that doesn’t generally pay as much, so I’d probably have to do some other things, too. I enjoy narration. I enjoy doing the single voice spots, too, but they’re not nearly as fun as playing with another actor… So, had to choose one, it would be dialogue commercial spots.
Andy: Now, you mention that you also like to do narration voiceovers. So does your legal background help you with any different narration work?
Penny: Definitely. It will help me particularly if I am doing anything that has legalese in it, because I am very familiar with those terms, and I am also familiar with how attorneys phrase things when they are just in general conversation, or when they are performing. When they are doing their closing arguments, or something like that. So I can play those characters very well, if ever called upon to do so. It also gives me more confidence when I am doing other technical things, such as medical, or describing some technical procedure. It seems to give me more confidence having had that background.
Andy: Now, when you are working with James, as partners with your VoiceActing.com business, what do you mainly do as a partner, with James?
Penny: Well, I could lie, and say I do it all, but that would be a lie, because I don’t. I am really very blessed to be working with Jim, because not only is he my original teacher, my mentor, my coach, but he is also my best friend. And there are very few people out there that get to work with their very best friend. So, that has been a true blessing in my life. What we do… what I do with Jim, in our partnership, is I am kind of the… let’s say that Jim is the technical guy, although he can be extremely creative, but he is more the “techno-guy”. I am the one that comes in and puts in the colour. You know. So he may describe something – some concept that we’re teaching, because we do a lot of teaching together – he’ll describe the concept, and then I’ll come in and give an example. So it’s a partnership that works very synergistically. We sometimes just have to shake our heads at how much we can read each other’s minds, and be able to just follow the other into the point that we’re trying to make. It’s a really interesting partnership, and again: I’m very blessed to be in it.
Andy: So, when you are working with your coaching, obviously you are going to be coming across many aspiring voice actors – many of whom are trying to look for a second career. Well, what advice would you give them about getting started in voiceover? What’s the most important thing… and should they keep the day job, or just take the leap?
Penny: Keep the day job, in the beginning, at least. It took me about two, two and a half years, to transition from being a paralegal to being a voice actor, full time. It takes – like any other business – a certain length of time to build up your business. You don’t just decide you are going to do it, and all of a sudden people just come knocking on your door trying to hire you. It takes a lot of performing skills, and it takes a lot of business skills – equally as important to be able to start a new business. So I tell people, you know, get as much education as you can: not only in your performing skills, but in mastering all the marketing skills that you are going to need to get the word out, before you ever quit that job. So I say, yes, don’t quit the day job. The most important thing, I think was also part of your question, is passion for what you are doing. That is the number one thing, because passion will keep you going. If your passion… and passion defined as “I would do it even if I didn’t get paid, because I love it so much”… but if your passion is to do voiceover, don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t… and never, ever give up on a dream, because that is what passion is, too. It’s a dream: to do something. So, try not to listen to the voices in your head, and also don’t listen to those voices coming from somebody else who might be telling you that you can’t do it.
Andy: Well, that’s a very positive approach to voiceover work. You’ve actually become sort of the ambassador for thinking positive, and your group, “Positive Thinkers Unite”, on Voiceover Universe is the largest and fastest growing group on VoiceoverUniverse.com
Penny: It is.
Andy: So, in what ways have you seen this make a difference – either in yourself or in the members of that group?
Penny: Well, it’s made a profound difference in my life. When I started that group I just wanted to do something nice for people. I wanted a place where they could go to receive encouragement, because there are so many people out there just ready, willing, and
waiting to give you all the discouragement that they can. So I wanted a place where they could come and tell me… Well, originally it was started, “Come here and tell us about your experiences, how you have accomplished things in your life through the power of positive thinking”. It has actually turned into more of a place where anybody can come, and if they are having a down day, if they are discouraged about something, if they need advice, if they have something funny to say – whatever it happens to be – they can come to Positive Thinkers Unite, and it’s just amazing the kind of support that is there from 650 members. We have, I know at one time September Day was having some surgery, I mentioned it on Positive Thinkers Unite: you wouldn’t believe the outpouring of support and positive thoughts, and positive healing energy that was going out to September. It was just amazing. So where it started with me kind of giving encouragement to everybody, it has ended up with me kind of sitting in the background and watching all these wonderful positive thinkers doing it for each other. And I think it’s been a very safe place for people to be, and an encouraging place, and that’s why it’s the fastest growing group on VoiceoverUniverse.com.
Andy: That’s awesome. That’s wonderful. Now, another big thing that you do is the VOICE 2010 conference. And that’s going to be in Los Angeles from June, 2nd – 5th, and I’m really looking forward to meeting you there. So, could you explain a little bit about what the VOICE 2010 conference is, and is it just for people who are getting started in voiceover, or what, and also – you know – how can people sign up and register for that? And is it really of value to them?
Penny: OK. I’ll try to remember all the pieces to that question… Voice Over International Creative Experience is something that was started by James and I, and another partner, in 2007. Actually we had the idea for it in 2006, and in March of 2007 we put on this conference for voice actors, because there had never been a conference for voice actors. And I remember saying to Jim, “Even plumbers have conferences, or conventions! Why don’t we have one?”. We said, you know what, why don’t we have one? Why don’t we do that. So in Las Vegas, in March 2007 we had about 130 people – I think right in that area – that attended this. It was magical, is the best way to describe it, because people came together, met each other – they had maybe known each other over the internet for a number of years, but had never met face to face. And as we walked into the room that first night, for the get-together, the room would just crackle with electricity. People were so excited: not only to meet other people, but to find a place where they no longer had to explain what they do. They no longer had to try to get people to understand why they’d want to do this crazy business for their work. And it was very… the people there were very cohesive – I mean they just bonded together immediately. So when we were… we said, “Well, I guess we have to do this again”.
Oh, by the way, our first special guest at 2007 was the late, great, Don La Fontaine, which will always be very special in our hearts.
In 2008 we bumped it up a lot when we went to Los Angeles, California – The Hyatt Regency, Century Plaza – and instead of having… I think we had 17 or 18 presenters at the first conference, now we had 24 presenters that we had in Los Angeles, in 2008. And at that time it just, as I say, was bumped up so much bigger. We were in a huge hotel, beautiful hotel, with a Grand Ballroom and all these beautiful breakout rooms. Completely different than it was in Las Vegas – and it was also smoke free, which is a big deal to voice actors. It was a tremendous success, and we had over 500 people there, for that one.
Well, that indicated to us that this is something that we ought to keep doing, and so that is why we are now doing VOICE 2010, which will be in Los Angeles, again June 2nd – 5th, in 2010.
Andy: And signing up?
Penny: Oh, yes! And if you would like to sign up for that, all you need to do is go to VOICE 2010.com (*www.voiceconvention.com), and all the information about
the conference is there. You can see all of the speakers that we have. You can see – oh, and this year we have 36 speakers, I believe it is – breakout sessions, plus general sessions, plus a celebrity banquet. It’s, again, going to be quite an event, but go to VOICE 2010.com (*www.voiceconvention.com), and you can sign up right there. All the information is there that you might ever need, or of course you can always telephone us at VoiceActing LLC at 858-484-0220
Andy: Now, are there any kind of discounts available? I mean there may be people coming in from Europe, they’ve got a lot travelling to do, and it can get really expensive to attend something like VOICE. So do you offer any kind of discounts?
Penny: Oh. We definitely do. The first that might be of interest to people who are coming in from Europe is a group discount. So if there are five or more people that all sign up together they need to call us. Call us, or email us, we can work at it that way, because sometime calling is difficult if you’re not in the US. So in that regard there’s discounts there. There are discounts for, oh gosh, let me see if I can remember all of them… seniors, military, former graduates of any of the workshops that Jim and I teach… oh, and there’s also going to be a special code on there for the people who are listening to this podcast, Andy, so: it is VAA2010, all caps, and that will get a special discount for those people listening. (* Please note this only applied to VOICE 2010)
Andy: Thank you! VAA2010. Well, I’d like to return briefly to the “little people”. As you know my son William is just turning four, and I know you’ve just celebrated the birth of your first grandson… How can parents inspire children to develop and pursue their dreams?
Penny: That’s very important. I know that if I had not had the kind of parents who saw in me that little performer, and encouraged it… that’s why I had all those lessons I talked about at the beginning: the speech lessons, the dance lessons, the piano lessons, all those kinds of things… they saw that spark in me, and they encouraged it, and made sure that I had the opportunity to explore all of those areas. Encourage your children… And I think the best way for me to put it is: encourage them to colour outside the lines. It’s so easy for us to just pigeon-hole people, especially little children, you know: “You’re going to do this, and this, and this, and this. Because that’s the way it’s done”. Well! If they are a creative child, being put in a box is a slow death. A creative child needs to be out of that box, and discovering things, and trying new things. He needs – he or she – needs to have that kind of encouragement from you to do it. I know that Jim’s mum was very supportive from him in that way. My parents were very supportive. And I work with a lot of people who are getting in to voice acting that didn’t have that. And even thought they may be my age, or even older, that never goes away. To have been discouraged by a parent never leaves you. It will always be there. So, as parents we need to always encourage that child to follow their dreams and, like I say, colour outside the box.
Andy: Well, Penny, it’s been wonderful talking with you today. Thank you very much.
Penny: Oh, you’re so welcome. It’s been my pleasure as well.
Andy: And I’m really looking forward to meeting you in Los Angeles at VOICE 2010 in June.
Penny: And me, as well. And give sweet William a kiss from me.
Andy: I’ll do that.
Penny: OK. Bye, bye, now.
The Art of Voice Acting (book)
William Boyns – William’s personal website