Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos AudioFile Best of 2016 Children
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Narrator Peter Berkrot may be the very definition of the word “versatile.” Whether it’s a police procedural or a courtroom thriller, or a suspense, history, biography, memoir, business advice, and more--he can do it all. “Like anything else in the [audiobook] industry,” he says, “the more you can do, the more you can do.”
He’s not only adept at playing all the parts in novels, but he’s also able to take on just about any role and any kind of accent. “Everything you do is a challenge,” he says. “I always think of narrating a novel as being in a movie and playing all the parts, all the music, all the singers. But when you’re doing a nonfiction piece or a memoir, there’s still acting involved. The responsibility is to channel the author’s voice and make it as organic and three-dimensional as possible.”
Berkrot began as a child actor--he once appeared in a scene with Bill Murray in the hit movie “Caddyshack”-- and he continues to hone his craft by performing on the stage, in films, in television episodes, and in video games as a voice actor. He says, “I’m successful because I’m able to invest emotionally and psychologically in the imaginary world to a level where the storyteller takes you there and keeps you there.”
Berkrot says that trying to capture the voice of an author incorporates all his experiences and his imagination. He began taking acting lessons at the age of 12, but over the years he’s found that the most effective acting is instinctual and raw. “I’ve also been an acting teacher for over 25 years, and I teach narrators as well. When I started teaching, everything changed dramatically because I discovered it’s kind of like being a therapist.” He adds that working with actors means helping people take emotional risks that can be painful and embarrassing.
He believes he has evolved as a teacher; he’s started to see the actor’s responsibility to commit to the character’s journey. It eliminates ego. “What happens when you have years of acting training is that you stop thinking about how you’re going to make it sound or how the audience might react.” Instead, you ask yourself, “Am I on the right narrative track to tell the story? And instinctively as an actor and a teacher, all of those things kick in.”
And while Berkrot might mark up the manuscript on his iPad with reminders on words to emphasize and where pacing is essential, he relies on instincts developed through education and experience to produce award-winning audiobooks. “With training and with the background, you’re going to automatically take those pauses that are filled with feeling. You’re going to find the nuance and the beats that are natural and honest.”--Randy O’Brien
© AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine
Photo courtesy of the narrator
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