Friday, October 30, 2009

Chris Lastrella

You're never ready to hear news like this. Last night, one quick pass through email before shutting everything down, and all of a sudden, words and small things don't really matter.

Chris Lastrella was killed with three family members in an auto accident on August 28th. There's a memorial page at, and a news report of the accident here. The nature of the accident makes you shake your head in frustration. Recalls, floormats (!!?), and stuck accelerators. These things never seem right, but this one seems particularly unfair.

I knew Chris through classes at Voicetrax. It was not easy for him, particularly in the beginning. But, rather than complain or get frustrated, Chris would shake his head a little, give his easy smile and try to get just a little bit better. We'd talk a little before or after classes, and he always struck me as one of the most upbeat people - always ready to listen and laugh, genuinely happy with anyone's success.

In the last two classes I had with Chris, he'd made huge jumps. He was bringing the brightness of his life into the booth and it was really coming through on his reads. A couple of instructors went out of their way to point out how far he'd advanced - identified the momentum he was finding. He seemed to be finding a great balance, and as always honored it with humility and a quick and ready smile.

Here's to you, Chris. I am sorry that we will not get a chance to read together for a while.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Charlie Adler Weekend

Charlie Adler is pretty much a force of nature wrapped around an immovable object being met by an irresistible force. Repetitively. With extreme dispersion of energy. Visible shock waves. That sort of thing.

Exactly how that plays out has a little to do with how close you are to the blast zone.

There were two opportunities this past weekend. The first was Saturday night, with Charlie speaking at the "Inside the Voice Actor's Studio" event that Voicetrax put together. I'd never met or seen Charlie in the flesh, but various folks had mentioned that the language tends to be, um, visceral and the energy at 11. It was.

He told the tale of how he came to be an actor - the tough years and crap jobs, the breakthroughs - and how he came from stage acting to the world of voice acting. All through the night, it kept coming back to the acting. Not surprisingly, as that's the board that keeps hitting most of us over the head anyway. But, Charlie really distilled the importance of that ideal, and managed to inspire us towards it - all while sharing anecdotes with language that would make a sailor blush. It's been a while since I just stared at someone thinking, "did he just say that?...."

But, it wasn't gratuitous. Well, ok....a few things may have been gratuitous. But, it did underscore the energy which he brings to his craft. And it did manage to give strength to the recurring theme of "get over your damned self and ACT!" Which is always a good lesson.

The next day, in a smaller classroom setting (13 students) I also realized that he's a zen master.

I want to be careful in this description, because it's important to understand what I mean by that. He is not the measured ascetic monk sitting in a mountaintop cave, calmly posing koans that may lead to enlightenment after extensive ponderings by the student. No. He is the powerful figure that whacks you over the head with his walking staff when you are least prepared, causing that moment of blankness - that moment wherein conscious thought ceases and all things are possible.

And you make the jump. You get out of your damned way.

With one exception, the other folks in Sunday's Character Class were voice actors I've gotten to know pretty well. We've all heard one another's work in classes, and know where people tend to operate. Comfort zones, maybe. Or, places where we've had successes and have gained confidence. Charlie had us working totally off the scale in the other direction - finding those places where we didn't easily go. He pretty much grabbed us by the belt and hoisted us up and over those walls and we jumped out into...well, nothing. And suddenly, free-falling didn't seem so bad. In fact, it was pretty danged exhilarating.

It seemed like to the very last person, everyone came out of the booth blinking and realizing that the limits they'd put upon themselves were quite artificial, and had Charlie to thank for it. It was a pretty powerful workshop.

So, thanks again, Charlie!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Voicetrax LA Idol Recap

One of the voice acting maxims is that you often give your best read into the front windshield on the way home. Mine came late last night as the I walked the little dog through silent streets. Just at the end, after thinking about the feedback received and the takes I'd done, a breeze came up from the west and I looked up into it and said,

"Consider...a chair"

Which means nothing by itself, and even less if you don't hear me say it. Written voiceover is about as effective as a mime on the radio. But, as I've written before, you know when you do something right - even if you aren't always able to articulate why.

And it was. I cursed and laughed and shook my head. It was real - the operative word for the day - and more importantly, it was the way I would have said it - to you, to my father, to a good friend - in a way that was not slightly safe or stilted. Just honest. And about 10 hours too late. Ahhh, welll... gotta work on that timing.

This morning, I have to think that eleven other people had encountered much the same moment. Maybe on the way home, maybe last night, maybe as they got ready for the recovery activities of today.

The guy who didn't have that thought or moment after the fact was the winner of the 2009 Voicetrax Idol competition -

Chris Abell

Chris has been in a number of my classes over the past couple years - he actually commutes up from the southland - and he always has done extremely well. It's great to give heartfelt congratulations to such a nice guy and deserving winner.

I have to also mention that Don Porto was declared a close second. It had to be a bit of a tough result, as only one person gets the golden ring of auditions. But, for someone who spent the last 3 weeks dealing with a severe vocal strain, it's pretty much off-the-charts amazing.

And although it wasn't quite at the level of raucous hilarity as the dialogues round, there were certainly several near-spit-takes and a general undercurrent of laughter as we all waited our various turns. It was a wonderful day to hang out with great people. The support of everyone in the finals for everyone else in the finals made realize once again what a great group it is. I'm lucky to be a part of this, and am looking forward to the next step on the path.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Forty Eight Hours

I realize that I'm in "countdown" mode right now.

No. That's not accurate. Not that I'm not in countdown mode, mind you. It's just that the verb realize is imprecise. The clock started ticking as soon as Voicetrax sent the email a few weeks back culling the herd and letting a dozen of us know that we were in the finals for the LA Idol competition.

But, I just finished working on some other stuff, stretched and looked at the clock. Right about 1 o'clock. Which means, that in about 48 hours from now, it'll be all over but the shouting. Of course, hopefully there won' be too much shouting...

Maybe off by an hour or so - it's a bit murky how many rounds there will be for this part. Might finish by 2 or 3 pm. It's funny how you can consider something your so focused upon will be past so quickly.

Which more or less tees up the challenge - finding the skills and focus to make the most of those short slivers of time when you can actually do something about it. When it's going right, you feel like 60 seconds is all the time in the world. And my goal in this thing is just to have it feel right. Focus. Breathe. Have a blast. Just like the first round.

I know that there are 11 other people going through much the same thing right now. And the first round was an incredibly fun day of support and camaraderie. It showed what a great bunch of people I'm lucky to be around these days. Everyone realized that if each of us did our best, that would only help one another.

So, here's to a great day for everyone! Bring it!