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Storytellers: Narrators turn written words into performance art

  • NARRATORS05-Candy-GremleR

    Candy Gremler records narration of a book excerpt at the home of Walt Guy in Perrysburg. Mr. Guy has been doing sound recording and mixi ngfrom his basement studio since the late 1990s and has worked with Ms. Gremler in the past.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • NARRATORS05-Candy-Gremler-and-Walt-Guy

    Candy Gremler, left, and Walt Guy go over a recording of the narration they were working on at Mr. Guy’s home in Perrysburg.

    The Blade/Katie Rausch
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  • sunlightbook

    Jordan Killam narrated two stories in the audiobook of the anthology ‘In Sunlight or in Shadow.’

  • island

    Candy Gremler performed the narration for the audiobook of the novel ‘The Island.’

  • NARRATORS05-Walt-Guy-adjusts-his-equipment

    Walt Guy adjusts his equipment as he listens to Candy Gremler record a book narration at his home in Perrysburg.

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  • NARRATORS05-Candy-Gremler-listens

    Candy Gremler listens to a playback of the narration she just recorded.

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  • NARRATORS05-Walt-Guy-listens

    Walt Guy listens to Candy Gremler, not pictured, record a book narration.

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Qarie Marshall has played the role of both Dr. Henry Jekyll and his evil counterpart Mr. Edward Hyde.

Jordan Killam portrayed four different women in a story about longing, connection, violence, and sex. Candy Gremler acted out more than a dozen characters interacting on a mysterious island.

Don’t expect to see any of these local residents on a stage somewhere playing out these roles, or even on the television, because for these actors, it’s all in the voice.

They are audiobook narrators, an idiosyncratic profession in the field of acting or, for some, a hobby that is feeding the audible reading appetite that has been nothing short of ravenous the last few years. 

“The narrator is a huge factor on whether I can listen to a whole audiobook,” said Danielle Malczewski, 34, of Sylvania, who, with the exception of reading nightly to her 6-year-old daughter, Lucie, has all but given into the audiobook craze over traditional reading. “You’re committed to the narrator. You’re going to be with them for the whole ride, so it’s important.”

Who are those people who take you along on literary journeys? Using their voices to draw in listeners like Ms. Malczewski is both an innate skill and something that takes practice, said Mr. Marshall, 46, of Toledo, whose voice is behind almost 30 books, including character novels, business journals, and biographies.

“I approach a book as if I’m doing a play. You do your research, and you read [the script] multiple, multiple times, and find the characters’ voices,” he said. “Our primary objective is trying to get the author’s voice across, not ours. It’s about serving the author, really.”

Mr. Marshall works with Dreamscape Media, an audiobook producer that has been working with narrators since its opening in Holland in 2013.

WANT TO BECOME A NARRATOR?

TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS ON BEING AN AUDIOBOOK NARRATOR:

■ Be openly critical about the evaluation of your voice, and solicit advice from those who have more experience. “You have to have an open point of assessment. Asking what I can do to be better is a difference approach ... and you have to be honest and open enough to take it.” — Qarie Marshall, Toledo, audiobook narrator

■ “Pick a book, take it into a closet … and open the book randomly to a section. Spend three hours reading. If you haven’t gone crazy in those three hours, you can narrate an audiobook.” — Kat Lambrix, production manager for audible.com

■ Listen to audiobooks you like, and those you don’t, to get a feel for other narrators voices. – Candy Gremler, narrator

■ Read to your kids. Record your voice on a phone or tape recorder and listen back. Listen to other narrators. – John Holkeboer, production manager, Dreamscape Media

WHOM TO CONTACT:

■ Dreamscape Media, 1417 Timberwolf Drive, Holland, Ohio. Potential narrators are encouraged to contact the company via email at info@dreamscapeab.com to set up an audition. Audio samples are also recommended, and can be done by recording a book section over a phone.

■ ACX.com, go to “What you need to get started” in the middle right side of the home page.

“What we are looking for in a narrator is someone with a pleasant voice quality, something that would wear well over 12 or 15 hours,” said John Holkeboer, production manager for Dreamscape. “Someone who can do some acting, who can change it up, dependent on the character.”

Ms. Killam, who has also worked with Dreamscape, has had a taste of what it’s like to bring multiple characters to life with her voice. Only recently breaking into the audiobook voice market, the 33-year-old Toledo resident has narrated two short stories, The Story of Caroline by Jill D. Block and The Woman in the Window by Joyce Carol Oates, in the book In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper.

Both had multiple characters, and she practiced many times on her own before auditioning.

“It’s important to develop the characters to figure out how to make some audio differentiation between any characters you read,” Ms. Killam said. “Let’s say you have two young women in the script, and you are reading dialogue between the two. It might be difficult for the listener to understand who is talking. That’s really fun to craft, to make those creative choices.”

The popularity of listening to instead of reading a book has grown exponentially in the last several years, according to Esther Bochner, spokesman for Audible.com, a subsidiary of Amazon and the largest audiobook provider in the world.

Audible membership has grown more than 40 percent over the previous year for several years now, she said. She said members are listening to an average 17 audiobooks each annually, which amounts to 2 billion hours of content in 2016 — doubling the 1 billion hours members consumed in 2014. According to publishingtrends.com, downloadable audiobooks have surpassed the popularity of ebooks, showing a 28 percent jump in sales in 2014 versus a 6 percent growth that same year in ebook sales.

“The ubiquity of smart phones [got us there],” Ms. Bochner said of the 325,000 books Audible provides in its online store. “As long as you have a phone with you, you can listen wherever you are.”

The Toledo Lucas County Public Library uses three platforms on its website that include downloadable audiobooks: Overdrive, Hoopla, and One Click Digital. Audiobook downloads and physical checkouts made up 5.3 percent of the library’s overall circulation last year, said Cathy Bartel, manager of circulation and technical services.

One question remains: How do you know if your voice has what it takes to deliver some of these stories?

Kat Lambrix, a senior production manager for Audible.com, said sound engineers are looking for narrators who can find the viewpoint of a book, even if it’s difficult to uncover.

“When you are reading a story you can kind of tell who’s telling it,” Ms. Lambrix said. “How old are they? Where are they from? Are they male or female? Some are easy to decipher, some require more careful read of the text.

“We are looking for people who are great storytellers. We are looking for people who can really get down to the bones of a piece of literature, bring it to life for the people listening.”

Voiceovers have come somewhat naturally to Ms. Gremler, who used to read textbooks onto cassette tapes for disabled student services at the Arizona State University, the University of Idaho, and eventually Bowling Green State University when she transferred here with her husband, Dwayne, a faculty member there.

But, it also takes work, and when she steps into the Perrysburg basement studio of her sound engineer, Walt Guy, she’s ready for whatever script she is reading. The two have been working together since 2013. She considers her most notable completion to be The Island, the third novel in a trilogy for young adults by Teri Hall.

“She had 13 distinct voices in that book. I had to do male and female voices, young and old. There was an elderly woman who was really creepy,” said Ms. Gremler, 54. “There’s a lot of thought process to how you read text. How do you say a phrase? How do you maneuver through very complicated and articulate spellings? Actually learning how to read, and read ahead, and read over and over again, and realize that there is a rhythm to it, that there’s a timing to it.”

On this particular evening, Ms. Gremler and Mr. Guy are working together on a voice script for Path to Quaker Parenting, a guide to parenting using Quaker practices written by multiple authors and published in 2009.

As Mr. Guy works to get his sound equipment in sync, Ms. Gremler settles into the sound-proof booth feet away. They work as a team.

“Loving no room for …,” she stops. “Leaving. As soon as I said it…”

She starts over.

“Candy, let’s go back to …,” he looks at his monitor. “There was a fumble in there.”

After she’s done reading, Ms. Gremler enters Mr. Guy’s studio, and they go over the read together.

“He can go in there with the finest little ‘knife’ and cut things out,” she said. “But sometimes he says ‘You need to go back in and reread that.’ ”

Once Mr. Guy has put together Ms. Gremler’s audition, it is sent to the author and then for final production to ACX.com, an arm of Audible.com used to connect writers and publishers and help narrators find book auditions.

Mr. Guy, who mainly does music production out of his studio, said, “There are some similarities. With music you are looking for pitch and performance. Narration is more about delivery, texture, emotion; [it’s about] if someone can draw you into a story, and Candy does that.”

Contact Roberta Gedert at: rgedert@theblade.com or 419-724-6075 or on Twitter @RoGedert.

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