In this podcast interview Diane Havens talks about how she started in theatre and education, and then with a change in family circumstances and the desire to return to performance while working from home developed her niche in voice over. She also shares some of the background to the highly acclaimed “Hear the Bill” project which she co-founded.
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Transcript of conversation with Diane Havens
Andy: We’re now sitting in the garden of the Hyatt Regency, with beautiful sunshine. Just in the shadow of – almost literally – the shadow of the MGM building. The birds are singing, and it’s a beautiful afternoon… and sitting with me is Diane Havens. Hi Diane.
Andy: It’ a pleasure to meet you.
Diane: And it’s a pleasure to meet you after all this time.
Andy: Yeah… after all this time. We first were in contact the time of the “Hear the Bill” campaign, and you’re one of the…
Andy: Was it your idea?
Diane: Well, it was my idea. I don’t know if I really expected it to become a reality, but I did have the idea, and Kat – Kat Keesling – made it a reality because she set up the website, and together we just ran with the idea.
Andy: OK. We’ll come back to that in just a moment, but first of all I’d like to ask you a little about your background. How did you get interested in voice overs? When did you start?
Diane: Well, I’ve always been interested in acting, because I was a stage actor in my younger years.
Andy: Was that in school, or professionally?
Diane: I have a theatre degree, and I studied theatre and after I graduated I went into some stage work in New York City, because I’m from New York, originally. And I did that for a while. Then as life takes you on different paths I also enjoyed education. So I taught school for quite a while. But I also felt like I wanted to go back into something where… that was performance based. So I thought that now that I have a child, and would like to work from home and with the advent of home studios it became an easy reality for me to go into voice acting.
Andy: When abouts was that, roughly?
Diane: Well, I started out about four years ago.
Andy: So you had changes in family circumstances and that made you feel that one direction was closing and so you were trying to explore different areas…
Diane: And it’s a very creative thing. I’d like… I like change and I like creativity, and it’s a great field to be in if you want to be able to chart your own course.
Andy: Right. So what was your first experience of voice acting? Did you… Did somebody suggest it to you or how?
Diane: Well, actually, my husband was thinking of going in to it because he was – as people are – told, “Oh. You have a great voice. You should really do it”. He does a lot of trade shows, that’s his profession. So he has to do a lot of public presentations. So he said, “Yeah! That would be a great thing to do”, and I said “You know what? I think I’d like to do that”. So I kind of stole the idea from him.
Andy: OK. Did you take classes?
Diane: Yes. I did. I took a few classes in… I’d been getting my studio set up was what I needed the most help with, because I think I had…
Andy: Yes, you had a background in acting…
Diane: Yes, so the performance end wasn’t my major concern, but being able to set up a good home studio, and do the recording end of it was my major hurdle. And once I had that down, then I, you know, the marketing is after that. So you have a lot of things you have to master before you can really think about doing it seriously.
Andy: OK. So, a lot of things to master in terms of…?
Diane: The business end of it… knowing, networking, making the right connections, and really finding your niche, which I think now – for me – is audiobooks, which I do mostly, and long-form narration.
Diane: Although lately I’ve been getting in to doing video games, which…
Andy: Well, that’s very different…
Diane: Well, it really isn’t, because it’s character work, which I enjoy. So when I’m doing my audiobooks there’s a lot of character voices I use, so… it really isn’t as different as…
Andy: But isn’t the energy level somewhat different?
Diane: It depends on the character, yes, and it’s a lot, yes, you have to fiddle up more into a shorter amount of space, but I find it a lot of fun, and a good release.
Andy: That’s great. So would you say that – you’ve mentioned networking a couple of times – would you say that – certainly my experience – people are very important? Would you say that it’s the connections that you make…
Diane: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I live in New York City, Metropolitan area, and audiobooks that’s where it pretty much all happens. In the United States the audiobook world is centred in New York, originally. Of course they do do pretty much of it out here in LA, too, but I’ve made wonderful connections there. I’ve studied with Marc Cashman, who is fabulous, and through him I’ve made a lot of connections, too, because he’s very well connected and a wonderful audiobook narrator, himself.
Diane: So I think those personal… the more you can meet people personally, which is why an event like this is so valuable…
Andy: That’s VOICE 2010.
Diane: Yes, you can really meet the people that only before you were able to correspond with. So it’s a great thing.
Andy: OK, and of course it must be six months ago now that we first met online because of the “Hear the Bill” project.
Andy: And that must have built some very interesting relationships because of the way things worked.
Diane: Yes, it did. Audiobook work, a lot of the time, prepares you for that very disciplined approach to recording difficult and lengthy material, like that. So for me it wasn’t too bad, except for all the technical language, legal language, which we had to overcome. But I started out recording volunteer for the reading for the blind and dyslexic, and that really inspired me to do a lot more work for the good – for the public good.
Andy: I’m a strong believer, in volunteer work I mean… in the past, outside of voice over, in the past volunteered in different projects in different capacities, that maybe because of my location I found it – apart from “Hear the Bill”, I found it difficult to find where the volunteer things are happening. And of course for somebody starting off in voice over, doing voluntary… giving your voluntary contributions is a very great way of getting experience… Do you have any thoughts on how somebody could research that either in the United States, or in general?
Diane: Well, now with the internet, you know what? You can. Identify a need and develop your own causes and what you can do for that cause. Like I know Pablo Hernandez did with the Haiti project, and I think what you do is… if you see how voice over can help out, in any way, you can take the reigns and just develop you own way to serve that need. like we did with “Hear the Bill“. So… it’s a lot of work, because you then become the person in charge and it lives and dies with you. So when we did take on “Hear the Bill”, and doing the Healthcare Reform Bills, in the United States, it’s… it was a commitment that we took very seriously.
Andy: And it was certainly a huge commitment.
Diane: Yes. And it became… we really didn’t know how huge until it became… it went on and on…
Andy: The Amendments came in!
Diane: … and on! So, as I mentioned this morning it ended up being 125 plus hours of audio.
Andy: And how many people contributed?
Diane: I think, all in all, we had about – including the people behind the scenes, who helped out with the quality control, and that sort of thing – about 150 people.
Andy: 150 people, that’s phenomenal, and not just from the United States, of course.
Diane: No, we had people from Australia, we had people from the UK, we had you, and Pablo… it was amazing, the outpouring of support. Canada, you know, everywhere.
Andy: I think that it’s a… I mean from my perspective… it was actually the first recording I’d done directly for the United States, and it was very exciting to be involved in a big project like that.
Andy: And I don’t have any particular view on the Healthcare Bill, because really all I know about it is what ı read about it…
Andy: And I don’t think I really understood that… about the Indian, the Native Indian….
Diane: The Native Americans…
Andy: The Native Americans, pardon. But… How did you go about organising that, because it wasn’t just a straight read, was it? It wasn’t, “Here is the script, and read it”. OK, yes, it was here is the script and read it, but the script had to be interpreted. So how did you organise… because you explained it very clearly on your website, for the volunteers.
Diane: Well, Kat Keesling was always very interested in politics and government, civic affairs. She took the opportunity to research the legal language and how it was properly read. So she compiled a guide. A reader’s guide. A style guide for…
Andy: It was very technical, but it was very well explained.
Diane: Amazing. Amazing job with that. And then we just had to follow up with people, and make sure they were following it. Roger Baker, one of our other volunteers, who really did a lot of work, because he quality checked, and made sure people were following the proper style guide. So there was a lot of hours put in, and it was hard juggling our professional work – our paid work – with our volunteer work. Long hours.
Andy: Now, of course I’m living in Turkey, so I didn’t get to see the News coverage that you got over here. Did anybody listen to it?
Diane: Oh yes! We had over a million and a half downloads on the site, so we know – and we received emails from people who were very appreciative of our efforts, and thank yous, and really nothing negative, which I might have expected.
Diane: You know, with a controversial – it was very controversial, here.
Andy: Nobody accused you of being political?
Diane: We weren’t…
Andy: People understood it was an apolitical…
Diane: We worked very hard to keep it that way.
Diane: And although being such a hot issue it was very difficult for us, as organisers, to keep our opinions to ourselves, but we both agreed that that would be what we would do. And we were interviewed multiple times, and we got coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, FOX News… big media outlets. So, we were very gratified because once you do something like that you want people to be using it.
Andy: Of course! Goes without saying.
Diane: So we were very happy with the hits we were getting to the site, it was well worth it.
Andy: That’s fantastic. So now you’re famous in New York, in a different way.
Diane: Yes, could be because you know there are no actors there at all!
Andy: No, no, indeed!
Diane: There’s a dearth of actors in New York.
Andy: OK. So audiobooks and games are you main activities at the moment. Do you see yourself continuing on the same road, or are you interested in…
Diane: Well, audiobook narration is a speciality field within voice over that requires a level of commitment, and a different kind of marketing than most of the rest of voice over. So, to concentrate really on that takes… takes up a lot of your time, because the demos you make are different, and you have to have custom made demos to the specifications of the individual publishers. So I am concentrating most of my efforts there, right now.
Andy: Are you producing yourself?
Diane: I’ve done both. In studio, outside studio work and my own production – which is very time consuming, because you are doing all the editing, and for every hour of finished audio there’s at least 90 minutes – minimum – of editing that goes along with that.
Andy: I’ve just read the one audiobook, which took five days, but I admire you for making it your genre.
Andy: That’s fantastic. well, Diane, let’s… sorry we have to leave our listeners now, because we have a party to go to.
Andy: We can hear the corks popping! No really! Thank you very much for your time.
Diane: Thank you.
Andy: It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Diane: It was a pleasure for me. Thank you.
Andy: Thank you.
About Diane Havens
Diane Havens is an actor, writer, teacher. And storyteller. That story may be as practical as a marketing video, or as colorful as a children’s classic. Audio books, audio tours, industrials, documentaries and podcasts. All eloquently told.
In addition to voice over work, she is very involved in education, having spent some years teaching, and have helped develop tools to assist teachers in bringing literature to life. Her recent collaboration with accomplished Canadian actor Robert Jadah on actingitout.com comes of this dedication, for which they won the 2009 Voicey Award for Best Voice Team. She also run live workshops and performances for schools, with programs ranging from Native American folk tales to Shakespeare.
Diane has also done work for RFB&D in Princeton, NJ, recording textbooks for the blind — and co-created HearTheBill.org, featuring a free downloadable audiobook of the health care reform bills while they were being debated, as a public service. (bio adapted from dianehavensvo.com)