Actor and voice artist Graham Halstead is known for his vocal flexibility. He’s narrated everything from children’s titles to French travelogues and can switch seamlessly between a dizzying array of accents.
A theater actor by training, Halstead has studied Shakespeare in London and did character work at the Stella Adler Theater, where he learned to “envelop” himself in a character and “commit to big choices,” a useful practice when he began narrating audiobooks. “Several of the books I was hired to do had large casts of characters. I was doing the Hardy Boys series. Some were set in the West, with crazy broad characters that required very different-sounding voices.”
One of his first big projects was especially intimidating. “I was narrating a thriller set in South Africa. That accent is very complicated, weird-sounding to an American ear. It required a lot of research, both for learning the accent and for applying it to men, women, and different-aged characters. Also,” he remembers ruefully, “the book involved pronouncing tons of place names of parks and wild animal reserves that are not in Wikipedia. I had to go into the depths of YouTube to find someone who mentions them!”
Halstead does much of this linguistic research by hand. “That’s old-fashioned, I guess. For that big South African project, I had seven very cramped little A BEAUTIFUL MIND-style pages of handwritten notes on pronunciations.” Though he no longer goes “quite that overboard” researching, he still likes to be thorough.
Halstead’s recent work narrating THE WIZARD’S DOG offered an opportunity to stretch his flexible voice still further. “This book is so funny and so smart and so unexpectedly touching. Merlin, the great wizard, has a dog, and the story’s told from his perspective. He knows ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ and ‘fetch’ but wants to learn magic, to save humans from their crazy troubles. The author perfectly captures dog brain--that silly sort of openhearted, up-for-anything dog thinking. It was such fun to narrate.”
Whatever voice he’s creating, Halstead says, the secret to great audiobook performances is the ability to “bring your entire soul to a role. That’s what makes people compelling on stage and in audiobook performances. Bringing your heart, body, mind, and oomph to something. You need to bring everything you’ve learned as a human to inform what you’re trying to convey.”--Jessie C. Grearson[FEBRUARY/MARCH 2017]
© AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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