753 Days Later
I boarded the plane bound for the southeast, passing by those in First Class and briefly thinking to myself, "Snooty rich folk in their snooty seats! I want one." I dimly noted the look given me by one of the snooty passengers as I, the lowly steerage, made my lowly way to the lowly rear of the aircraft. I imagined, as Brian Regan did, that they were waiting for someone to serve them the head of a pig, and a goblet of something cool and refreshing. I am certain they were just waiting for one of us revolting paupers in Row 327 to fiddle for them…to amuse them.
Dana Hurley was even in First Class! She was one of the nice ones though, because, well, she is a voice talent.
Why were two voice talent on the same plane? Read on, because there were actually more than two! I shall explain.
I settled into my seat, popped in my Airpods, and disconnected from the world around me: especially from the other carbon-based lifeforms on either side of me with whom I had nothing in common and with whom I had no desire to converse except to ask them to please go up and fiddle for first class so that I did not have to.
Five or six hours later, the plane descended into the Atlanta airport, and I was on my merry way to the best voiceover conference, in the best Hilton, in the best solar system. I caught a shuttle with Liza Sheehan, and we made small talk about how excited we were, and how incredibly awesome things were going to be. Looking back, neither of us had any idea how incredibly awesome it was actually going to be.
At that conference, I made several friends. I attended three X-Sessions, several breakout sessions, and dined with people I had only ever met online, but with whom I shared the most exquisite gift imaginable: the rich gift of using our voices to tell stories.
In short, what Gerald Griffith and others had put together was nothing short of superb: a magic-drenched extravaganza of mind-blowing voiceover delirium, spanning five exhilarating days and five camaraderie-building nights.
In short, I fell in love with VO Atlanta.
Deprivation and Withdrawal
Fast forward 385 days to March 30th, 2020.
I did not want it to. But it did. The email arrived, and my heart sank. Gerald had not wanted to make this awful decision, and he had been putting it off. But we all saw it coming. The viral writing was on the pandemic wall.
VO Atlanta 2020........was cancelled.
In the midst of the growing coronavirus pandemic, it was inevitable, really. I received that email, and, like many of us, I was frustrated, saddened, and truly bummed. There would be no change of fate: we would not be gathered together in celebration this year.
There is something to be said for gathering together with all your brothers and sisters in voiceovers. When we all gather together, I can look forward to:
- Eye rolls from Tracy Parsons
- Brad Hyland giving me his "you better behave, Joshua" Dad-look
- Arm wrestling with Greg Arnold, or at least holding up my arm next to his and wondering what went wrong
- Big laughs and great hair from Susan Bernard
- Classiness, smiles and leadership from J Michael Collins
- Warmth from Roy Yokelson
- Sincerity and love from Krysta Wallrauch
- Laughs with Manish Dongardive. Also standing next to him and looking comparatively like my own DNA was fused with a troll crossed with a donkey crossed with a top-secret government concoction of What The Heck Is That Kill It Before It Spawns Again.
- Sweetness and humility from Paul Strikwerda
- Uncanny Trump impressions from Adam Db
- Emotional teaching from Kay Bess
- Passionate Sunday preaching from Ron Minatrea
- Great breakfasts
- Great lunches
- Great dinners
- Great everything
For any other type of mindless corporate conference, when you take a trip away from family and spend a few days stuck in a hotel, you can develop a certain cabin fever. With VO Atlanta, I really did not mind being confined in such a way. They did not tie me to the bed or lock me in my room: that would be an entirely different conference altogether that I would never get permission from my wife to attend. No. For this conference, I was free to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I took trips down the street with colleagues to grab some incredible seafood or burgers. I think they even had seafood burgers.
There was karaoke night. There was an 80’s-themed dance party. There were award ceremonies. There were team challenge contests. It was all-inclusive. But it was not to be in 2020 or 2021.
At VO Atlanta, I made friends for life. I was depressed beyond words when 2020 stole, among so many other things, our sacred fellowship. And I was depressed again when news came that 2021 was to be virtual-only. Now, if there is anything I have learned, voiceover artists are self-sufficient. We spend all day in our booths anyway, cut off from the world. So why should it matter that we are siloed yet again? Because...there is no replacement for human connection and hugs. All the Bottle Caps candy in the world cannot even compare.
Voiceover Artists are humans, and humans need fellowship.
All’s Well As Ends Better
Wise words from old Gaffer Gamgee in The Return of the King. He said: “It’s an ill wind as blows nobody no good, as I always say. And All’s well as ends Better!” I wholeheartedly agree.
Covid-19 has literally been an ill wind personified that has literally blown through our world, blowing "nobody no good." It has:
- separated us
- quarantined us
- placed us in lockdown
- kicked us out
- delayed releases
- social distanced us
- closed us down
- forced us to cloister
- pushed us away
- cancelled our events
- deprived us of income
- taken our loved ones from us
As of this publishing on Monday April 19th, the stats are far grimmer than they were then:
- 141,499,661 infected
- 3,021,793 dead
- 192 countries affected
- By the time this blog is published, those numbers will be obsolete.
The good news is that it has not taken 80,883,696 people who have recovered. And thank goodness those numbers will also soon be obsolete.
VO Atlanta is just one conference, sure. There are others. It is just one event of many. It is not the holy grail of gatherings. The holy grail of gatherings are our day to day fellowship in our homes with our loved ones, every single moment of every single day. I am beyond grateful that God has blessed me with my wife Janine, and my sons Brennan and Asher. I am beyond grateful that during quarantine and lockdown, I was able to see familiar faces that I know and love, and that we had enough toilet paper. Neither was true for everyone.
Consider all the stories of those separated from their loved ones in convalescent homes. Consider all the dying, cut off in hospitals from their families, forced to impart dying hopes, thoughts and blessings over Zoom only. Consider all the lonely, unattended funerals. Consider what our civilization has endured as a result of this plague.
As storytellers, you know the script as well as I do: “In these unprecedented times…” and “We’re all in this together.” It is true. Last year I came across the word, “solitarity.” We’re in solidarity through our solitude. Solitarity. I love that word.
Fast forward to now. This week, many of us are attending virtual VO Atlanta 2021. We’re attending the main session, X-Sessions, breakout sessions, and hangout rooms and chats. Is it the same? No. Will we experience fantastic and engaging teaching as before? Yes, sure. Will we come away changed? Probably. Will it be as enjoyable as being there in person and feeling the palpable energy of 1000 voice talent gathered together? Probably not. Am I regretful that some of the X-Sessions I signed up for in 2020 are no longer available this year? Ahem, yes. I am looking at you, Paul Strikwerda!
I lament where we are, and I truly am saddened. But I am simultaneously energized by the fact that it is even here. I am simultaneously energized by the hope of a non-virtual VO Atlanta 2022. It will happen, and I will be there.
When I start a blog, I never really know where it will go. They are usually purposefully funny, intentionally loaded with satire and wry wit to inspire and provide a much-needed break from the rigor of auditioning and marketing. Perhaps my wistful longing of days gone by in the thick of virtual VO Atlanta has caused me to drift from my modus operandi.
I am OK with it. It is a bittersweet and melancholy experience: the yearning for days gone by…for days pre-Covid.
In the end, all’s well as ends better. Wish you were here, VO Atlanta. Until then, I will be there over Zoom.
Yours in solitarity,
PS, enjoy my little attempt at a photo carousel produced by me, and the recap video of VOA 2019 produced by not me.
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Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Artist for hire