Kissinger: A Biography AudioFile Best of 2013 Biography & Memoir
Malcolm Hillgartner performs a joyous high-wire act, of sorts, in a creative life of audiobook narration, writing, acting, and stage production.
Ashland, Oregon, is Hillgartner’s home. Coincidentally, that too is home to Blackstone Audio. Hillgartner calls their audio director, Grover Gardner, “a great mentor and terrific help.”
It was Gardner who offered the first narration opportunity. Hillgartner recently narrated THE PATRIARCH: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy. He says, “The technical challenges of performing long-form biography are such that pacing and tone are the major focus throughout. Since the early chapters are the most eventful, I have to find a way to create interest in the later chapters by interpreting the material.” With respect to the trademark Kennedy accent, he adds, “I don’t try in any of my works to do impressions of people. I try to simply give a flavor of the sound so that the reader can differentiate the characters.” As part of his preparation process, Hillgartner spent significant hours online listening to Ted Kennedy.
Hillgartner, who began his career as a Shakespearean actor, has written more than 30 books with his wife, Jahnna Beecham. Most are for children and young adults. He says, “It became a primary career for years. It started off as something to do between acting jobs and then took over.” The couple has also collaborated on original musical comedies, one of which, “Holmes and Watson Save the Empire!,” just closed in Vancouver and another of which is in Los Angeles rehearsals.
“Audiobook narration is very much a lonely life because aside from sales data, there’s relatively little feedback. But I love it!” As he grew up in North Africa, he has a high degree of comfort with Arabic and Middle Eastern cultures, and this drives many of the choices in the narrations he is offered.
“I get a lot of biographies and historical works with foreign words that might include ‘land mines’ for other narrators,” he adds. He hopes to extend his genres to include classic works.
Ultimately, as his first audiobook recording engineer emphasized, Hillgartner always sets himself the goal of responding to the listener’s implied request: “Tell me a story!” He says, “It becomes my responsibility in the narration to do what I need to do so that the reader is engaged and stays that way.”--William A. Giwertz[APR/MAY 2013]
© AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
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