When I Was A 12-year-Old Jamaican Girl

A Case of Taken Identity

My Jamaican Reflection

 

Assuming the Position

Free illustrations of Theatermasken

Used by permission from Conmongt via Pixabay.

 

Before I plunge into the madness that I like to call "the online voiceover casting world", I would like to state for the record that, to date, I have not yet seen the following casting specs:

Seeking middle-age Hispanic-white male with a goofy sense of humor, off the beaten path, with a portly tummy and a cheery disposition, a hangnail, a dog named Macy, who likes Superheroes yet has a wicked penchant for tomfoolery.  Prefer someone who had Chick-Fil A for lunch on Wednesday, with two sauce packets to go.

Such casting specs would be curiously specific, I grant you.

Allow me to state, however, that I used to avoid such casting notices like the plague, and here is why: they would hit a little too close to home.  Too close, like spending an evening drinking Merlot while listening to Weird Al, when it all becomes suddenly, therapeutically clear why I have to win every argument with everyone.  Take my wife for example: I will never win an argument with her.  Here is how I know that I will lose an argument with my wife: I am in an argument with my wife.

So for now, I have fallen back to arguing with people in the shower, where I will always win. *insert diabolical laughter here.*

Where I am going with this (I like to preserve an air of intrigue) is that sometimes I was unable to act these roles out because they were already so "me."  Consequently, I ended up searching for the more bizarre roles that would challenge me, and stretch my acting ability.  As memory serves, I saw the specs that said "12-year-old Jamaican girl" and said, "yep, that'll do it."

I have written previously about how we are voice actors.  It truly is all about acting, even in eLearning.  You may have the greatest Antonio Banderas voice in the world: one that can make me esswoon.  But unless I truly believe that you think that this particular vacuum cleaner is the undisputed best and here is how to assemble it properly, then you are going to suck, and not in a vacuumy sort of way.

I have said it before in many a consult or coaching session: It is your job to make your clients’ clients believe your clients; if your clients’ clients don’t believe your clients' voice, then your clients’ clients won’t believe your clients.

Here, have this Ibuprofen for your headache.

Now, I confess that I lied, and you are cordially invited to subsequently label this blog as clickbait: I admit that I was never actually a 12-year-old Jamaican girl.  I deeply apologize for deceiving you, as deceit runs counter to what I believe in, and I had no business leading you down a primrose path under the auspices of intrigue.  Forgive me.

I was a 13-year-old.

 

Memories…Of The Way I Wasn’t

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I have admitted that early on in my career I was perusing several bizarre roles to see how I could stretch myself.  Honestly, there was a youth role offered with a Jamaican accent, female, 13 years old.  I thought, what the heck, I am irretrievably insane, let’s do this.  So I threw caution to the wind, stretched out my neck, raised my pitch and donned my best ever Caribbean accent (I actually do a pretty good one and have been booked a few times for it).  Now, was I booked for this particular role?  No. Because the world is more just than that, and there are authentic 13-year-old Jamaican voiceover girls out there that are much more deserving of such a role, because, well, they are 13-year-old Jamaicans.  Also because my Jamaican sounds faintly like a cross between a horse being impaled and Ethel Merman on crack cocaine.

Try as I may (and my wife would like me to stop please), I will never be a 13-year-old Jamaican girl, because -and there will be a quiz on this later- of three simple reasons:

 

  • I will never be 13
  • I will never be Jamaican
  • I will never be a girl

 

Now, I may identify as a 13-year-old at times, and my wife will certainly attest that invariably I act like a 13-year-old when she does not let me go roller-skating on a school night, but the sad truth is that I am now nearly half-a-century old, and I receive AARP magazines in the mail.  You see, AARP is a magazine that the Illuminati sends you to tell you that you are now as old as sin itself, and are officially bereft of anything remotely resembling awesome. *checks off Bucket List #379: Use "bereft" in a sentence.*

I realize I may step on a few toes here, but welp - that is my job as a satirist.  These days, all sorts of people are identifying as all sorts of things.  For the record, I identify as a donkey, and my pronouns are He/Haw.  But doing so does not actually make me a donkey.  Identification is the act of relating to, or desiring the attributes of.  I would need to develop an appetite for salt licks were I actually a donkey.  No, AARP identifies me as boring, and so my pronouns are Ho/Hum.  And a) continuing my identity tirade as well as b) revisiting my portly physique, I am fat but prefer to still identify as skinny.  So I am effectively trans-slender.  B-dunk-tsshhh.

The simple fact of the matter is that there are scores of roles out there that I am capable of identifying as…but as Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm posited to John Hammond in Jurassic Park, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”  *checks off Bucket List #380: Use "posited" in a sentence.*

So I ask you – do you pass up roles that you have no business doing?  Or do you try to do them simply because you are so preoccupied with whether or not that you could that you did not stop to think if you should?

Let me tell you a short story.  I was once cast as a British gnome talking in Spanish and singing Christmas carols.  The directed session made me want to harm small animals, as I recall.  "More British!" one side would yell.  "More Spanish!" the other side would retort.  "You're too flat!" some would chide.  "You're too sharp!" the others would admonish.  So...

"Bub-bye!!" I replied, and I hung up.  I am not making this up.  I never should have auditioned for it.  I am positive the next thing from the director would have been "More Donkey!"

What an ass.

I have played many things in my storied voiceover career.  I have been an old man, a wizard, a drunk, a wife beater, a Castillian, an alien, an animal, an African, a Caribbean, a hypochondriac, a transient, a paranoid delusional, a mom, Dr. Phil, a kid, a president, and Jesus Himself.  I can do all those, but I suck at being a British Spanish singing Christmas gnome.  Apparently my superhuman voice has its limitations.

 

Excuse Me, But Your Hubris Has A Hubris With A Hubris On It

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Desperation drives us to delusions of grandeur.  Income and resumé pressure drive us to think we must tackle every single casting notice whether it is in our wheelhouse or not.  It is nothing short of hubris that makes us think we will be cast in such outlier roles.  Now, I am a huge believer in possibilities, but it is maturity that tells us to exercise discretion and invest our time and energy wisely.  I recently read a post from someone in a large Facebook community that said the following:

 

I do over 150 voices now with proficiency. I have had this gift ever since I was a kid, no training, no coaching, no vocal lessons. I can sing almost any man out there and even some women lol Every day I hear a voice over artist or narrator that I can completely clone their voice, literally fool their own families lol But yet clients would rather pay the high priced guy 3 times as much than just letting me do it. If I can clone the best voices an agent has on his roster, why wouldn't they just consolidate behind me???? If someone needs an example I'm glad to provide it. My range is all the way from Barry White to Elmo. I'm curious to hear anyone in the industry's thoughts cause to me it makes no sense.

 

Immaturity.

Ultimately, I do not know this poster, and I cannot vet their experience.  But 150 voices with proficiency?  Fat chance.  I would rather be good at 5 things than just average at 150.  Such a post reeks of spring-chicken hubris, narcissism and lack of teachability.  I recently encountered another individual who posted a suggestion about booking work before you have a demo done. I countered it and suggested the reverse, and so this individual decided to say I was arguing and giving bad advice, stating “every coach I’ve taken would disagree with you on that.”  "Every coach." OK, bub.  It just got volatile from there, and I did not want it to get mean and hurtful, so I disabled comments and called Guido to break his kneecaps.

Ahh, Internet.  You who fuel anonymosity (“anonymous-animosity”: I just re-coined that; hands off!) and create bolder-behind-the-keyboard trolls in every dark corner.

I highly doubt his coaches would disagree.  Any reputable coach I have ever worked with or recommended would instruct one not to look for work until one has received training on how to bring said scripts to life, and one has a professional calling card produced (read: demo) that shows that one can do so.  Your self-made half-baked homemade demo is sure to land you in circular storage bins everywhere, and you will be remembered as "that guy with that crappy demo."

It is the same with auditioning for roles that we have no business auditioning for.  Why on earth would I want to be remembered as the overweight 50-year-old man who tried to impersonate a 13-year-old Jamaican girl?  I am fairly confident this would land me in a Dateline Chris Hansen sting operation.

We need to know our limitations.  Proceeding with such auditions is much like the ridiculous AITA Subreddit where people have to actually ask the entire planet if they did the right thing.  Don't you know???  It reeks of validation issues.  We should know when a role is not right for us.  I know I can pull off a convincing British accent, and have been cast many times for it.  I also can do a fun Australian accent, but not nearly as well: so that means that I should not try to narrate a half hour of content in Australian.  It also means that I cannot sustain it for that long in a directed session. Way too much pressure for me, thankyouverymuch.  Consequently, I avoid Australian reads just like I avoid barium enemas.  Look for this story to be revealed in a future blog.

When a producer goes to great lengths to put “NATIVE” or “AUTHENTIC” in caps, they mean it.  If they say “NATIVE UK SPEAKERS ONLY”, but you put on a simply dynamo British accent – sorry, yerrrrrrr outta there.  Granted, if you can do it and they say all accents welcome (even non-native imitations), then by all means go for it.  But for the love of Pete, exercise discretion and listen to what they are asking for.

Want help with your accents and choosing the right roles that truly represent you?  Talk to Nic Redman.  She is great!  In fact, I am registered for her next class, "How To Convincingly Pull Off A Scottish Klingon singing Baby Shark in patois Cantonese to Arabic Turtles", just as soon as I finish reading my AARP.

Now if you will excuse me, my wife is waiting for me to try arguing with her again so that she may annihilate me.

 

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Joshua Alexander
The Voices In My Head Blog
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23 thoughts on “When I Was A 12-year-Old Jamaican Girl”

  1. I’m sorry, but I’m laughing hysterically over here…”HE/HAW” just nailed me…I don’t know why. I guess I’m partial to donkeys and I get the whole “identification” thing. Well played, Josh. Keep up the great work and good luck arguing with your wife! Husbands everywhere are rooting for you.

  2. Ahhh hahaha the ol’ heroic shower argument. Where the infallible, righteous truth within smites any peasant who dares cross you. Where after you win, the room stands up and applauds and you’re carried out on the shoulders of your admiring argument fans. …. No? Just me??

    I just finished reading Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel! I really wish they would have made a long mini-series from it! It was such a well-told story! –with Jeff Goldblum of course. Never without.

    I’ve always wanted to pick up an accent or two!! Thank you for that resource to check out! And it’s great as always getting to read your blog my friend!

    1. Thank you for reading AND commenting! I always look forward to seeing your smiling face (OK, name) appear on my blog. I know it’s the cool scrolling Tron background blogger guy, and I LOVE THAT GUY! 🙂 PS, in the shower, when you and I argue, I always let you win. N-not that I want us to be in the shower together! HEY! Wait a minute…where are you going?

  3. LOL josh you kill me thanks for a great fun blog. Please stay who you are! we like who you are. 🙂 🙂 and NICE JOB NICELY DONE using ‘bereft’ in a sentence! hahahahaha

  4. ONLY two packets?? I could drink that chick-fil-a sauce straight outta the container. Which is why I haven’t been there in ages—not because they kicked me out for drinking their sauce out of the container, but because I basically have no restraint and will drown my sandwich in the stuff and gain back the 50 pounds I’ve lost on nutrisystem.

    More to the point… there was a point, right? 😀 I also defer to native or authentic speakers, rather than sticking my neck out. If I’m already recording and a client asks if I can sound less American, or if I can throw in a minor character with a different accent, it is very handy to be able to pull something out of the ol’ toolbox, and I have done that a time or two. But generally, I wouldn’t apply for any other kind of job if I didn’t have the qualifications, so I wouldn’t want to try and steal a role out from under a wonderfully talented colleague who does fit the requested specs better than I.

    Now, if specs ever called for a middle-aged steampunk top hat wearing lesbian who enjoys jewelry making, target shooting, horseback riding, and opera singing, but hasn’t done either in years because of laziness and a bad back…. I. Will. Fight. You.

    1. Haha!! Then in the words of Wesley, I utter (in an UNFLAGGINGLY put-on British accent): “TO THE PAIN! Drop…your…sword!!!” (Followed after only the slightest of delays by: “…and do be a lamb and skewer one of those Chick Fil-A nuggets and dip it into that sauce for me, will you love?”

  5. This was so funny! Now I forgot what it was about? Ah, that’s right, I shouldn’t audition for roles for authentically skinny people. Shouldn’t there be a joke in there about being trans-fatty, to counter your translender one?? But seriously, Josh, every week you bog serves as my out-loud script reading practice (to my husband, who really appreciates your version of humor – in fact, he has explained to me that his “love language” is sarcasm), as well as delivering laughs and info, as promised. Thanks, as always, for sharing your wit and wisdom!

    1. Your husband sounds like someone I should pen-pal with post-haste! Seriously (because everything I’ve said up until now has been one big joke), thank you for visiting, reading, enjoying and commenting. I appreciate you!

  6. I was cast as the voice of a bear one time. In the interest of authenticity, I went into the forest and yelled as loud as I could for any bears in the area to step forward to do the job if they were interested. None did, so I completed the job. To this day I feel guilty, though, that I might have taken a job from some struggling voice actor who fits that spec far better than I, you know, because they are a bear. And I also continue to wonder if the client believed I was an ACTUAL bear or not. I didn’t want to deceive them, but it is too late now to fix it. This has naught to do about your post, but it does allow me to use the word “naught” in my reply, which was on my list of things to do today. Thank you for that opportunity.

    1. I am very glad to provide a public forum for you to fulfill your daily dictionary requirements (DDR)! My sincerest pleasure. By the way, you might want to wipe that honey from your chin, you method actor, you.

  7. Hahaha, he/haw! Ho down, I repeat, we have a ho down! hahaha.

    Thankfully, no, I never audition for things that are outside my ballpark – no ticket, no entry, LOL. But seriously, I get a lot of stuff for rap, which I don’t even try for. I can rap along, like I mentioned before, but not on my own. I’s jus’ not a skeel I have, yo! HAHA. Be that as it may, I will stretch myself when auditioning. For example, I did audition for Boom Beach as a british character, because it was short sentences and over the top, so I felt I could do that and I really liked the way it turned out. It also helps that some people have said I sound British anyway, hahaha. Makes it easier to get to, despite my somewhat disagreement!

    As for the poster. I spoke to someone a while back that also thought they were really great at a few, and while I don’t doubt they have had a moment or two, proficient was certainly not what I would’ve called it. She did have incredible possibilities for animation though! I encouraged her to focus on her stronger voices, while perfecting the others and she did about 5. 150, not gonna happen. Maybe it was Mel Blanc? Then we’re missing 850, hehe.

    Diddn’t know about AITA. If people struggle with self-reflection, it might be a good step to ask people what they think, but if you intrinsticaly know you were wrong, you would intentionally turn the story and try to say that they hit their face on your hand and you were just an innocent passerby not looking for a refund, aka fight.

    We should always maintain that sober view of ourselves, even when playing a drunk, lol.

    1. Drunks are some of the best ones to play! Lots of hiccupping. Looooooottttttttttttttsssss of hiccuping. And when you’re done? More hiccupping.

      Anyway… *hiccup*

      There are definitely circumstances where a job poster doesn’t have access to the talent they need. Or the talent who has the accent that they want. Or the means to create a job on a marketplace or elsewhere. Or time to do any of that. They just want to go to someone they know of who has the accent that they need and can do it well. Case in point, just last night I did a West African voice read for a client who has had me do it in the past. And he is African! Wouldn’t HE be the one to stand for representation and insist that they get someone from West Africa? The problem is, he had no time, and no one who had the resources or equipment…and he trusts me. And, I do it well. So I don’t mind taking such a job, especially when it was urgent (it was), he used me before (he did), and he knows I do it well (I do). In such a case, I’m meeting a need with a bona fide service and also feeding my family….all without shame.

      Now, if you will excuse me…
      *hiccup*

      1. Now that is a cool thing to fall into – despite knowing that you don’t just come across that kind of thing. Don’t you just hate that that’s the way it seems, ie, some people have all the luck, when it has nothing to do with that… Goodness! I’m so glad you get that kind of stuff – you put all the hiccups in for it! hehe. 😀
        Seriously though – I am glad you get it! 😀

  8. I can relate, I’ve had many a phone call with friends from Ghana and Zimbabwe for this exact reason. Usually, if I’m confident about my ability to speak with an accent, I will record an extra take but drop the accent, just in case there’s a change of heart later on down the road.

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