Ruth Dickerson: God Bless The Queen

…”That’s Esther McIsacc and the Gospel Girls singing ‘Showers Of Blessings’. And you are listening to the ‘Showers Of Blessings’ program. I’m your host, Ruth Dickerson and we are going to continue on with the music because when the praises go up, the blessings come down.”

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The smooth, comforting voice that spoke those words has opened thousands of night-time radio broadcasts in Los Angeles. For over 50 years, the great Ruth Dickerson has presided over gospel music; speaking in mellow, measured tones and ministering to all insomniacs. She was more than a ‘radio personality’.  She was a gospel music historian, playing everything from the obscure to the popular; she played the hits and some of the misses. When people talk about ‘free form radio’ and it’s influence during the 60′s and 70′s, it was Ruth Dickerson who was among the first in broadcasting to go beyond a playlist and play music that was neither heavily promoted nor performed by ‘stars’. It was simply great music and she would put it on the air, no matter who wrote it!

My first night in the KALI 900 AM studios with her was both exciting–and harrowing. Having already been coached by my sister Rosalind (“Don’t screw up! Don’t try to talk on the air! Sit quiet and LEARN something!”), I didn’t want to make any mistakes–or turn out to BE one. She came into the studio that night carrying two huge cloth shopping bags full of CD’s and cassettes. She had a box of Vinyl LP’s in her car. She had everything from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to the O’Neal Twins to James Cleveland to Mahalia Jackson to the Dallas/Ft. Worth Mass Choir (featuring a young musician by the name of Kirk Franklin). Her music collection was a combination of star power mixed in with ‘who was that’. She looked over her glasses at me sitting there grinning at her. Before I knew it, she was introducing me on the air! In the 3 seconds that it took her to say “Brother Herb Merriweather” and turn on the mic in front of me, my tongue swelled, my eyes popped, and a lump the size of East St. Louis rose in my throat. I remember mumbling something about being blessed to be there and thanks for the opportunity. Sister Ruth KNEW she had surprised and stunned me. She smiled and started showing me how to keep the music logs.  As time passed she allowed me even more on-air opportunities, even referring to me as her ‘co-host’

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She was a wonderfully stern teacher who loved God and His music. She didn’t suffer fools nor foolishness as was evident in the way she chided preachers and laymen alike about doing things the right way.  She was set in her ways and that was a good thing because more often that not, her way was the right one. She instructed me on matters of radio etiquette and advertising principles. She worked with me and gave me substantial airtime to read announcement and commercials. But it wasn’t all work and seriousness. I had built a rapport with the late night/early morning listeners and we started ‘The Coffee Club’–with listeners calling in with their freshly brewed beverages in one hand while making requests over the phone.

I was especially saddened and hurt to hear of her passing last week. She was like a grandmother to me–guiding  and instructing me fearlessly and challenging me to rise above the ‘mess’ that she used to dislike so much.

She has gone on to be with the Lord her King–and on to her new job as program director and night-time personality on HEVN Radio…

Shirley Temple Black: An Appreciation (from a somewhat different perspective)

  Growing up in St. Louis in the 60′s was–ummm–different, to say the least. Beyond baseball, old TV favorites and comic books, there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment to be had!  Being a voracious reader helped me a lot, but entertainment choices were severely limited according to today’s standards. One of my Mom’s favorite things were Shirley Temple films. There they were; being aired on a semi-regular basis by the independent TV stations in all their black-and-white splendor! 

shirley-temple

 

“Look at how that little girl can sing and dance!”, Mom would bellow. “Why can’t you do something like that instead of clowning in school all the time!?” Somewhere during the course of the movie I would get my comeuppance. Shirley or the ‘little Colonel’ or the ‘little darling’ or the little whatever-she-was-in-this-one would surely (!) be held forth as a shining example of everything I WASN”T doing. OK, OK–she could sing and dance but that was during the 30′s! I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity. Besides, I was trying to be cool, funky, groovy, hip and far-freakin’out. And what was up with them curls, huh? Good luck gettin’ on the good ship Lollipop with a ‘Fro!

I began to find ways to duck out of the screenings–volunteering for store runs; household chores; smoke jumping; ANYthing that would keep me from having to hear about the wonder, talent, beauty and generally great spirit (all true, of course) that Shirley Temple exuded.

Well–as always happens–the passage of time changes things, sometimes from the inside out. When faced with the news of her passing, I of course remembered that she was my Mom’s favorite (right up there with ‘Wrestling At The Chase’). But then I also realized the reason my mother was able to be such a fan.

When Hollywood stopped calling, Shirley didn’t meltdown or implode. Something in her let her know that she could indeed have a life beyond the celluloid. She found her calling in serving others. By being an ambassador, she represented her country with excellence. By making herself available to be something else, she outlived the moppet and showed us all how to mature with purpose and poise. And when the entertainment industry DID seek her out on occasion, she appeared with professionalism, not petulance. She was complete and comfortable, not callous or conniving.

All in all, not a bad role model! Looks like Mom was right (again!) after all…

Revisit The Future

Yes–it’s a bold, new look. And, no–I don’t miss seeing my face at all!

The Future

In an attempt to be faithful to my original vision, I wanted a concept that would showcase more of the zany characters I’ve helped to create. As I look toward the future, not only am I wearing shades, but I am armed with a fresh zeal and a fervent desire. A ‘fresh zeal’ in the ardent pursuit of my craft. A ‘fervent desire’ that what I learn can pay effective, heartfelt dividends to everyone around. Dividends in information, inspiration and imskibobolism (yes–I made that word up!)

As always–stay connected and ‘keep watching the web’ for new sounds, words and concepts.

Never forget the ancient proverb–”Bedompti Vanump’!…

Holiday Greetings from ‘The Hole’

…Well, I’m nowhere near finished with gifts, food, decorations and all the other stuff attached to this season. But I did want to take a moment tell you all–’Thank You and Merry Christmas’.

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I really appreciate your love, instruction, patience and friendship. It means a lot to my supervisor (Cora) and me. You’ve opened your homes hearts, wallets and minds to help me along my adventurous VO journey. ..I am deeply humbled and eternally grateful!

A side note about the audio greeting: I was moved to get a few of my ‘lesser known’ family members to participate this year. Let me just say–I’ll never do that again…

What If You Couldn’t Read This?

Let’s use our imaginations and enter into another dimension, shall we? Upon entrance to this otherworldly dimension, your sense of vision has dulled, been reduced or most likely, has disappeared. After an initial period of severe disorientation (both physical and mental), you begin to realize that survival and accomplishment are a possibility. You lean and depend more heavily on tactile methods of communication and learning. And—because you can still hear, your auditory senses have become a key component to your advancement. There are tools available in this universe that can link you to a wider scope, a means to vanquish, if you will, your chief disability. YES—even in this shadowy dimension of light and dark and blurred image, a type of ‘sight’ can be achieved!

blindness

 There’s just one little thing—one detail—one infinitesimal flaw that stands between you and enlightenment. None of the tools work—together. It’s like using traditional tools with metric components; awkward and clumsy. It’s like finding a flathead screwdriver small enough to work with a Phillips-head screw. You get the idea. The technology leads to a point of frustration because it’s just not finished.

Now let’s awake to a very real, current time dimension—Earth today! Millions of blind/vision impaired people around the world function at astounding levels in spite of their challenges. And much technology has been developed and even laws passed to assist in enhancing quality of life. But, there’s just one little thing…

Audio description* is available on many network television shows as well as many current (and upcoming) feature films, but nobody talks about it except maybe those who are directly involved. Why? Because it’s just not finished! Can any vision impaired person readily pick up a remote and dial up his favorite program complete with description? Not unless he’s been trained by a sighted person. What about the interactive audio screen provided by cable/satellite providers instructing how to use said remote if you are vision impaired? I haven’t seen that one, either. Even though mandated by federal law, has the FCC implemented a universal operations code by which accessible media could truly be accessible—something like a simple unified dial-in code (not unlike 911), where useful information can be dispensed clearly and universally? Something that can assist those in New York as well as Compton and Oahu? Uhhh—not yet.

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The dimensions have collided ( as Rod Serling might say)—your imaginary dimension of frustration borne from a small, yet extremely important missing concept and the very real daily frustrations of those who are constantly called ‘inspirational’ for just wanting to function like you do.

I’m reminded of a question some used to ask at the start of the civil rights movement.

“What do those people want?”

The answer? The right tool for the job. They want it finished.

 

 

*audio description: Audio Description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theater, television, movies, and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired.  It is a narration service (provided at no additional charge to the patron) that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted — those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion.

 

In Defense Of The ‘Toon!

…It’s time, Planet Earth. Time to stop the madness. It’s time to start the healing by having this much needed discussion. We can’t wait any longer. We need to talk about–cartoons.

CARTOON Q & A

In an effort to help humor-challenged adults and young folks who take this social media thing waaaay too far, here are a few basic questions and answers that will help you in your future cartoon viewing. What? You don’t  watch cartoons?? Somehow, you have found a spot in the universe where you are untouched by animated humor? You poor thing, you. There is hope for humanity and humor can still be found in the animated adventures of chickens, pigs, rabbits, wolves, cats, mice, dogs, and people.

Classic-Cartoons

Q: What Is A Cartoon?

I guess I could get all clinical and encyclopedic, but for now a good description of a cartoon is: an animated drawing(s) (moving picture, if you will)  that tells a story–sometimes humorously and sometimes with the aid of a voice actor(s) who gives vocal life and personality to the characters.

Q: Are They All Funny?

Some cartoons seek to educate and inform and use humor to do it. Other animated productions shy away from humor altogether to make sure the message isn’t lost. And then there is the hammer upside the head variety where the only message is “Look how funny this dude looks after we drop an anvil on his toe.”

Q: Which Cartoons Are The Best?

It is strictly a matter of taste. Some people absolutely LOATHE violence of any kind, animated or otherwise. Others can’t stop laughing because one character keeps finding new and clever ways to blow up the other character. IMHO–it’s a cartoon, so stupid and absurd are the orders of the day.

There are some characters and characterizations that I like to refer to as ‘live action cartoons’. These are non-animated shorts or features that are outrageously funny (because of dialogue, action or so-bad-their-good special effects) and very well could have been animated.  Not many of these exist today (except on DVD)–times do change. But they are just as funny now as they were 60 years ago and can be mixed right in with the animated stuff. The ‘Our Gang-Little Rascals’ comedies; The Three Stooges; almost anything with a Muppet in it.

Little_Rascals

For those of you who don’t know where to start in your animation odyssey, you can choose any one of several ways to link up to the lunacy:

Historically–you, Wikipedia and lots of snacks; By studio–Warner Bros, Paramount, MGM, Disney; By Character–Rocky & Bullwinkle, Bus Bunny, Sponge Bob; By Voice Actor–June Foray, Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Jim Cummins.

I hope this little talk has helped some and enlightened others. Loose the chains, my friends. Seek for stupid humor and you shall find it. Go forth and embrace your inner Acme!

 

 

Back To The Ol’ –aww, YOU know…

…Strange, flickering lights; odd vocal sounds and maniacal laughter are all the order of the day in ‘The Hole’! Why all the weird activity? It’s simple–”Write the vision and make it plain.” The old drawing board is the most important tool right now because all ideas–good or bad–get written down and explored. Badly drawn characters, corny skits, lofty concepts and lowdown lunacy get equal time and discussion. The most pertinent question in these discussions is not ‘How much…” but “What if…”.

drawing-board

 

 

Some folks call it ‘brainstorming’ (since I don’t have much brain, it would be a tempest in a teapot). Others ‘chew the fat’, chop it up, wrangle ideas or ‘conceptualize’. Sometimes the flow of information or inspiration comes in spurts, dollops or streams. Sometimes it drips like molasses in January. Nevertheless, we should set aside time and resources to develop the ideas, concepts and plans we have on the inside.

Today the drawing board is cluttered once again with video game concepts, new characters, dialogue, back story and clothing (?). The Warriors of Ziklag (c) collide with Armando and his sidekick, Root! Just below that, audio description techniques are redefined and refined. And since those drawings are really crude, I’ll  be begging my super talented artist buddies to assist in giving image to a voice.

The drawing board demands time and attention but most of all it cries out for imagination. That being said, I am now imagining a tall, frosty yet refreshing beverage that’s waiting for me in the fridge. Go ahead–imagine one for yourself and Happy Voicing!!

What’s In A (Domain) Name?

…Who could have known all those years ago when Gloria named that kid after her brother, that it would lead to an international incident?

Domain names have become ‘box office boffo’!  Branding, identity, perception and image ALL play a part in the choosing of these names. Since the inception (intrusion? invention!) of the internet, how we look online means everything–from our business and professional acumen to our pet videos–in really does mean something when presenting ourselves to the world. Which brings me to my point. The internet is truly global in scope and influence. Just ask Jim Zhang.

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Jim is the general manager of YG-registry.org who contacted me July 4th. He was doing a search on behalf of a company (I won’t identify them yet) who wanted to register ‘herbs voice’ as their internet keyword and their China/Asia/Hong Kong domain names. Jim states in his email to me that ‘…after checking it we find it conflicts with your company.’ He did his job well, even contacting me to get information on any affiliations I might have. I replied letting him know that, yes we did own the domain name and I invited him to the site to visit.

 

This morning I got an email apparently from a representative of this company. Here is the letter:

Dear Sirs,

Our company based in chinese office, our company has submitted the “herbsvoice ” as CN/Asia/Hk domain name and Internet Keyword, we are waiting for Mr. Jim’s approval. We think this name is very important for our products in Chinese and Asian and Hongkong market. Even though Mr. Jim advises us to change another name, we will persist in this name.

Best regards

Jiang zhifa

A hostile takeover? It seems so. I tried to Google the company name and got a mish-mash of similarly named businesses but no direct connection–probably because they haven’t gotten the domain name approved!

Like anyone else, I don’t take kindly to people taking something from me just because they want it! C’mon, folks, be businessmen! Make me an offer. Give me a chance to at least feel like I’m being respected as a fellow entrepreneur.

I did respond (as kindly as I could) by emphatically saying ‘I wuz here first’ and also letting them know that I would not be bullied by some Far East conglomerate. I suppose NOW I’m in the middle of some sort of international, interweb, multi-dimensional cloud of intrigue (did ya get that? I said ‘cloud’. I thought of that myself).

There is NEVER a dull moment here in ‘The Hole’. Please pray for ‘herbs voice’. It could be YOUR voice next!

Stay tooned–and Happy Voicing!!

Copious Characters: Lessons on not being yourself!

…As always, the talented team at Voices.com have put together a wonderful resource that can take you by the hand and (with your own perseverance) lead you into a more constructive future in voice over.

With their kind permission (no doubt influenced by my incessant begging), they’ve allowed me to share a portion of that resource–‘Voice Acting For Dummies’ by David and Stephanie Ciccarelli

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‘How To Create Characters’ helps to give your characters depth and believability–even if they’re just cartoon characters!

How to Create Characters

 Building a back story

A back story is all the information about a character that an actor creates, based upon clues the author has given the actor, and through character development and details the actor infers from his own imagination from the text. Essentially, having a comprehensive back story allows you to make solid choices about how to be the character you’re assigned. The choices you make concerning your character are very important and need sound reasoning to support them.

The back story can include details such as where your character grew up, what his family was like, what he likes to do, what types of people he associates with (basically who his friends are), what his political leanings and religious beliefs are, and any experiences he has had that shaped who he is up to the point he is presented within the confines of the script.

In order to truly understand your character and present him well, you need to know the lens through which your character sees the world. How a person sees the world determines how he views himself, what’s most important to him, how he makes decisions, and how he relates to other people.

<Remember>

Every person sees the world a certain way, based upon his or her life experiences. You can refer to this as a worldview. You have one of your own, and if you’re trying to create an authentic personality for your character, your character has one as well. This worldview is why you want to know about your character and why creating a history for him gives you insight for why your character may do the things that he does or feels the way he feels about people or events in the script.

 

When you make a choice as your character, such as choosing what to say, how to say it, or when to flesh out your character’s back story, make sure you commit to the choice or otherwise it won’t come across with authenticity. Then physically play the character in your voice and act on those choices with conviction. For people to believe you, you need to first believe in yourself and the choices you’ve made for your character.

genius at work

Gaining an appreciation for your character in its relation to other roles

Another aspect of character development includes making sure you know in great detail how your character relates to other characters in the script. Look at this experience as an adventure and have fun exploring.

 

Understanding relationships between characters isn’t only important in longer scripts and productions; it can also be critical for giving a believable performance in shorter projects like commercials.

Relationships fascinate people. Stories are interesting mainly because they involve people and how they relate to each other. Just think of all dramas, sitcoms, and reality TV shows. Although the show’s genre or plot may initially pique your interest, the characters and their relationships with each other pull you in and keep you interested.

Huckleberry and Meemaw

<Tip>

When you first receive a script, we suggest you do the following to help you figure out as much as you can about the characters:

*  Take note of who the characters are and jot down a little bit about them. You may want to know, for instance, if certain characters are related to each other. Whose lives are interwoven? What do these people have in common with each other? Are they part of each others’ lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime?

*  Create a mini character sketch for each one. (Look at the earlier section, “Understanding your role: Back to basics” for how to create a character sketch.)

*  After you know who the characters are, categorize each one in terms of their significance to your character. By categorizing, we mean that you identify which characters are most important to your character and also note whom your character interacts with most. This ordering can tell you whom your character has loyalties to or feels strongly about. Relationships between your character and those characters listed near the top of your list will be different than relationships your character has with characters who are lower on the list.

If you’re a narrator, consider how each character impacts the story and other characters as well.

*  Draw a family tree. Doing so can help you visualize how the characters are connected to each other.

<Warning>

Be careful and don’t overthink the script or who your character is. Overthinking can make it difficult for you to change your read if you’ve studied it one way. Keeping an open mind until you get the go-ahead from a director is important because your first attempt at the character may not be what has been asked for or what is expected.

 

As you can see, a lot goes into character development. Are you ready to learn more about voice acting? To discover more about this exciting field and the book, visit VoiceActingForDummies.com.

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About The Authors

Stephanie Ciccarelli and David Ciccarelli are the founders of Voices.com, the largest global web hub for voice actors. Over the past 9 years Stephanie, David, and their team have grown Voices.com from the ground up to become the leader in the industry. This article was originally published in Voice Acting For Dummies and has been republished with permission from John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

 

 

 

 

The Follow Up

…I was reminded recently about how important a follow up phone call can be. Important questions await equally important answers. Even if the answer is somewhat less than expected, it matters that the follow up information be communicated quickly and accurately. With such an answer I can: move on; make a more informed decision; answer someone else’s question.

Hot Line

In the same day I waited (in vain) for follow up calls from one person and received a follow up call from someone I didn’t expect. The unexpected callback was full of genuine concern and encouragement–quite the lift I needed at that moment. The call back I never received generated a trip to the office and 90 minutes spent. Even though things worked out well in the end, I can only imagine what I could have accomplished with those 90 minutes–voiced a documentary about armadillos, perhaps; gorged on more of Cora’s delicious cheesecake (yum); or maybe write a blog about how old school yet important it is to make that return call. It only takes a moment…