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Tavia Gilbert, an acting student in college, was preparing for a long drive from Seattle to Idaho when she experienced a life-changing event. Though she came from a family in which reading aloud was important (“my father read books to us at the dinner table; I’d read to my mother for years”), she’d never actually listened to an audiobook before. She chose a Joanna Trollope book narrated by Davina Porter. “Davina Porter!” she says reverently. “She’s one of the best narrators on the planet. I remember my eyes filling with tears--I remember thinking: I love that. I want to do that.”
Mission accomplished: Gilbert, a narrator known for her talent and passionate professionalism, has voiced more than 300 titles across genres, garnering the industry’s highest honors, including six Audie nominations and an assortment of Earphones Awards.
A glimpse into her process makes her success seem inevitable. She approaches each narration with great care. Working on her iPad, she prepares using different colors. “I mark every word that’s unfamiliar or that I want to double-check pronunciation on in red. I mark every attribution of dialogue--he hissed, she yells--in green so that my eye cues me on direction from the author about how to perform that line.” Every new character is noted in purple, and every bit of character description (“socioeconomic status, education, where they were born and raised, physical traits”) is marked in orange. Though time consuming, this process has really paid off in how it cues her eye, allowing her to “differentiate characters and transition from each to each more smoothly.”
The multitalented Gilbert (who’s also an author and producer) says each part of her work feeds the others. “I feel like my work as a writer grows because of my work as a narrator. And my work as an actor has grown tremendously because of all of this. They’re just different genres. But my ability to pick up and make sense of a text . . . to mine it for all the cues the writer has given is so much more refined after this intensive long period of close reading.”
Although Gilbert doesn’t have a soft spot for any genre in particular, she does have a weakness for “a beautifully written story. As a lifelong avid, wide, and deep reader, it’s apparent when a writer puts their whole heart and whole mind into something.” Then, says Gilbert, their story shines “whether they’re writing children’s literature or literary fiction or science fiction. I have so much respect for that.”--Jessie C. Grearson
Photo by JoAnna Perrin 2015
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