Narrator: Tavia Gilbert

Posted March 11, 2015 by Paul (Audiobook Reviewer) in Interview / 0 Comments

Tavia Gilbert
Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a classically trained actor and have made my living as a full-time audiobook narrator for the last seven + years. I earned a BFA in Acting at a small arts conservatory in Seattle, Washington, Cornish College of the Arts, then moved to Portland, Maine to study documentary radio. I worked as a professional stage and on camera actor and a producer of full cast audiobook classics in Maine for years, before breaking into the audiobook industry. In the last seven years I’ve recorded over 300 full-length audiobooks for virtually every publisher in every genre, and made time to complete an MFA in writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve been very fortunate, and owe a great deal to Grover Gardner, who cast me before anyone else and offered his tremendous support and mentorship to get me started.

How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?

When I thought I was going live the rest of my life in Maine, I realized there wasn’t enough acting work to sustain a professional career, so I focused my energy on voice acting. I studied voice acting and audiobook narration in NY and LA, and dreamed of a career in audiobooks, but it wasn’t until I met Grover at an APAC afternoon break that I made a bit of progress. I’d auditioned two or three times over the years for a well-known producer, who was kind, but forthright. He kept saying, “No, you’re not ready. Go away and listen more. Study more. Come back in a year.” Finally I had studied and felt I kind of knew what I was doing, and Grover gave me my first audition and my first booking. I hired a director out of pocket — my great friend Stephen McLaughlin — and we worked together for my first 20 or 24 titles. It took that long to feel like I could even begin to handle all the different responsibilities successfully on my own.

What do you do when you are not narrating?

There’s very little time when I’m not narrating, but whenever I can I go to Maine (I now live in Brooklyn, NY) to spend time with my loved ones there. I sing alto in a wonderful choir, the Choral Society at Grace Church in Manhattan, work on my writing, take pictures, spend time with my family, do yoga or bike. I’m eager to get back to stage and on camera work, but right now I’m so booked behind the mic that there’s hardly time to pursue any other performance opportunities. That’s a great problem, but it is a problem.

Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?

I’ve done a fair amount of voiceover work, but the vast majority of my work has been audiobook-centered. There isn’t much a hurdle, however, between genres of work. Each genre has its own unique skill set and needs, but everything creative relies on the ability to be present, to make discoveries in the moment, to realize a vision.

Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?

I have the luxury of turning down projects I don’t believe in — though I think we ALL have that power — and more and more I’m pursuing specific projects I’m interested in.

For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?

I have a fairly cultured and refined sound, though as an actor I play the part I’m given, whatever that is. My voice is still young enough-sounding that I can do YA and children’s work, as well as literature for adults. I think it’s very difficult for one to say what one’s style is, because the style the book calls for is the right style with which to approach a project; I’m not layering my style on the book, but allowing the book to speak through me. I know that I bring my heart to all my work, and I hope and believe my work is emotionally very present. Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night might be some of my best work to day, with its myriad of complex and varied characters, extensive singing, and the great emotional vulnerability and sensitivity of the writing.

As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other? Has there ever been an per finished hour book that you wish was a royalty deal, what book? Or vise versa?

I don’t do much royalty share work. My compensation is almost always a flat rate per finished hour (or listening hour).

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?

My greatest achievement, I think, is to have earned the trust of so many publishers. I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve recorded a tremendous volume of work in a reasonably short time across every possible genre, have earned many accolades — including top ten lists, many Earphones, a ListenUp, and six Audie nominations, and I’ve worked for every possible publisher in the business. That’s a pretty remarkable achievement. But what’s best is making listeners happy — hearing from people that they love my performances, and that they seek me out. That’s a wonderful feeling.

My most difficult moment? I don’t know. It’s hard work. Determining that you want to do something — that you want to be successful in an industry in which you’re responsible for your own success, is daunting. I’ve reinvented myself several times, and I’m due for another reinvention. I can feel it. That’s scary, and fatiguing, but wonderful. It was tough completing my MFA in writing at a point when my career was taking off. I wanted to quit, but my mother was my unfailing cheerleader, and I got through. If I can do that, I feel I can do most anything.

Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?

Yes, of course! Davina Porter is my all-time favorite narrator, and a great inspiration. I adore Suzanne Toren, Barbara Rosenblat, Jayne Entwistle, Katherine Kellgren, Simon Vance, Caroline Lee, Hillary Huber, George Guidall, Jeff Woodman, Carol Monda, Nicola Barber, Finty Williams, Bernadette Dunne. I love the Bloody Jack series, the Nevada Barr series, the Flavia de Luce series, the Sunday Philosophy Club series, Liane Moriarty’s books with Caroline Lee….I listen quite a bit.

Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?

Not really, unless it’s written into the script. I think the writers and publishers I work with trust me and expect me to bring my unique perspective and craft to my work. I work pretty cinematically, most often, though I can bring it all in and down, if that’s right for the book.

Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?

I do mark up my texts. I mark every character and all character description, every unfamiliar word, every dialect, all script direction (“he hissed,” “she said breathily,” etc.). If there are multiple characters in dialogue without attribution I give myself a visual roadmap with color-coding so that I can change characters seamlessly.

How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?

I don’t determine my character voices before recording. I just pay attention to the characters and the emotional truth of the story as I’m preparing the script, and then allow the story to move through me. That sounds strange, I now, but I don’t believe in figuring out everything beforehand. It has to be organic and spontaneous. I’ll tinker with a sound until I’m happy with it, and very occasionally I’ll rerecord a character that’s just not working until later on, but I trust myself to make good choices.

Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?

I do have a home studio, so I’m able to do work at home and in professional studios in New York. It can be lonely to work alone, but it also offers me flexibility with my schedule, so I can have lunch with my nice cats and real to go to the gym and keep my home running smoothly. Working in the studio with an engineer and a director is dreamy, offering me feedback from another professional and pleasant interaction with human people, which I very much appreciate.

What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?

The atmosphere? My studio is comfortable, if TINY. I have a WhisperRoom in an office that overlooks a Brooklyn street and a great Brooklyn tree where there are chirpy birds. I have fun, funny art hanging on the wall and two cats outside the door. It’s a pleasant place to work.

How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?

Every day has different demands. I’m balancing my recording work with regular life and volunteering on the Audio Publishers Association board and lots of work with the union (SAG-AFTRA), independent projects, and my family and friends, so I might record for one productive hour a day or ten. There is no average day. If the book is poorly written, it takes forever to record. If it’s beautifully written, it’s so much easier and smoother to voice. Books with a great deal of foreign language or unfamiliar vocabulary demand a slower pace that books without those challenges.

What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?

I love recording memoir, because it’s my favorite genre to read and to write. I also adore mystery series with a compelling central character, a rich supporting cast, riveting suspense, and a surprising reveal. But anything that’s written by a master of the writing craft is a joy to bring off the page.

What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?

I absolutely love Carlotta Carlyle, in Linda Barnes’ mysteries. She is so smart, tough, and sensitive. I would love to do far more of that series. The character that’s given me the most grief, in a good way, is probably Babe Walker from the hilarious, evocative, dark comedies that she “pens” “herself.” In most ways, she and I could not be more different — she’s filthy rich, she’s filthy filthy, she’s snarky and bitchy and she can be vicious and entitled, but she’s got an enormous heart. She’s full of surprises — how loyal she is, how generous and sweet she can be. I love her, despite her numerous failings and weaknesses. (To be fair to dear Babe, I’ve got plenty of my own failings and weaknesses, they just look different. Not as fashionable, certainly.)

How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?

I don’t! I laugh and cry all the time. I edit out the laughter, and I try not to cry so much that I have to take time away while I recover. But the point of my work is to be emotionally available and vulnerable. I wouldn’t be much of an actor if my emotions were not completely wrapped up in my work.

I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?

Voice actor is great — it’s descriptive. Narrator is fine, though it’s a little limiting.

How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?

I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I attend to the very basics of the technological requirements — with an appropriate, simple home studio setup. But I’m not an audio engineer, and I don’t pretend to be. There are skilled, experienced, trained audio technicians who have perfected their work. My job is to be a story-teller, a medium for the author, a conduit between the printed page and the listener. That’s art.

Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?

It’s vital to be present, every single moment. Not easy, but vital.

Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?

I read rarely for pleasure, only because I’m working on audiobooks so very much, and there are only so many hours in the day. When I do read for pleasure, yes, I read the things I prefer to narrate — memoir, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, young adult, children’s work, classics.

Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?

Get specific acting and audiobook training. Don’t think that because you have a nice voice and you enjoy reading, that that’s the skill set for a successful audiobook narrator — it’s not. You have to study the craft, and you have to have acting skills. These things are imperative. It’s easier than ever to break into the industry, but the work is just as difficult and challenging as it ever was. So do the work necessary to do the best work possible.

What has been your favorite project and why?

There are so many projects I adore. I am so honored and humbled to have voiced and published Rachel Corrie’s journal, Let Me Stand Alone, in audio. Rachel’s too-short life, her commitment to justice and peace, were an inspiration. There’s never been a book I’ve been prouder to narrate, and never a book that has been more painful to work on. I’m glad it will live on in the world in audio.

Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?

I don’t say that I read a book that I listened to, but I certainly don’t object to people who do use that term for their audiobook experience. Listening to an audiobook is a totally legitimate — and wonderful — way of experiencing a book. It’s not a lesser experience — it’s a different experience.

Are you working on any special projects?

Every project I work on is special!

Where can readers/listeners stalk you?

Tavia on Facebook Tavia on Twitter Tavia on Goodreads Tavia on Amazon Tavia’s Website Tavia on Instagram Tavia on Audible Tavia on ABR

About Paul (Audiobook Reviewer)

Paul is a quiet man who shares his passion of books through reviews assisting others select books through honest and professional reviews. Having built a team of professional reviewers, Audiobookreviewer (ABR) is the result of his passion of reading/listening of books. His family consists of a wife, 2 cats, and 2 African Grey parrots (https://www.facebook.com/tuckertheafricangrey). More frequently than not, you will see Paul plugged into the audio of his technology listening to books while riding his bike 100+ miles, tending to a huge fruit and vegetable garden, growing bonsai trees and operating his own largest online bonsai magazine (http://ofbonsai.org).

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