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Being a Professional
Nancy Cartwright writes about preparing for an audition and how to stay professional despite it all.
November 22, 2004 By Nancy Cartwright, AWN

Okay, you got the audition. You studied your part. You worked hard at coming up with different options for the director and now you just found out that you got the job. “Ah,” you suddenly think, “Now I can kick back and relax. As long as I show up on time, I will be fine.” HA! Not quite. The real question you should be asking yourself is, “Now what do I do to be really good?!”
You see, the truth is, now more than ever, you are going to have to work even harder than you ever did before in order to succeed. It isn’t just a matter of getting the job, it isn’t a matter of just punctuality that marks the sign of a true professional — it’s hard-won know-how carefully applied. This is an industry that has a reputation, and/or, agreement in some circles, shall we say that, “Artists can get away with being just a little late, a little unkempt, simply because they are artists!”

Since the dawn of Dionysus, the reputation of actors has swung from shaman to charlatan, and today many believe artists are no more than “spoiled children.” In fact, during Shakespeare’s era, actresses were viewed in the same class as prostitutes, thus the men played all the female parts. It was not uncommon to see the posting outside of a building that read, “No actors or dogs allowed.” We artists have had to overcome some pretty ridiculous viewpoints. But even today, there is still the consideration that we’re spoiled babies who get paid “to play,” not unlike what we did as children.

Some of us lucky ones get paid to literally “burp and fart” and who in their right mind wouldn’t want to do that?! I have gone in for post-production work on a show and recorded ONE WORD and walked off with a check for nearly $800. You may wonder if this makes me feel just a tad bit guilty, knowing that I just made more money in that one minute than most people make in a week. To put your mind at ease, no it doesn’t. The nature of the acting industry is basically “feast or famine.” Considering all the years it took to get to the place where this could even occur, it is a much appreciated “perk,” and I sincerely hope it happens to you.

Having been a voice actress for 23 years, I started out as “the new kid on the block.” From the very “get-go” I played with some of the “pioneers” of the industry, including Joanie Gerber, Dickie Beals, Don Messick, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, etc. I knew most of them by watching the credits at the end of their shows. Imagine the thrill I had when I was invited to Hanna-Barbara by my mentor Daws Butler, to sit in on the taping of Popeye. He was the voice of Wimpy and it was the first I had seen him “in action,” so to speak. I was a kid in a candy store. My eyes were bug-eyed and my mouth was agape, slightly in awe of what I was seeing and hearing. I had no idea how this industry worked. All I knew is that I had plenty of people telling me that I should do cartoons and I was quickly working overtime to make that dream come true.

There weren’t any books on “how to break into the voice over business.” There weren’t any articles written by any professional, giving a perspective on how animation worked. I was “flying solo” and because I didn’t take on anyone else’s considerations of how it “couldn’t be done,” I didn’t create any of those negative thoughts — I just did it! And I can tell you in retrospect that this is actually a very powerful position from which to be operating as an artist, I suggest you start off with the same viewpoint. The fact that I had no clue that a demo tape should be about two minutes in length didn’t stop me. Mine was about 14 minutes long and it worked just fine!

Of course, the industry has evolved quite a lot since then and I would never recommend you submitting a 14-minute demo tape today! There are plenty of reference books on voice overs available at Samuel French, an entertainment-based bookstore. You can also go to to find all your show business-related books and materials.

As the years rolled by and little by little, audition by audition, I began to find out for myself what was “acceptable behavior” at an audition or record. I noticed that there really wasn’t any particular protocol, that the rules were really based on common sense. I also noticed that each show I did somehow established its own rules from which to operate.

Here are the “Top 10 Rules for Being a Professional Voice Over Artist:”

Read your script. You would be amazed how many times I have gone to a job only to find out that one or more of my fellow voice-actors have not even read their scripts. The tendency is just to mark your own lines and maybe even read them aloud, with the idea of then going to the session for the record. This doesn’t just put you in a very vulnerable position; it holds up the record a bit so the director then has to explain what is happening in the scene. It is obvious to others that you haven’t “done your homework” and not a good representation of why you were hired in the first place.

Mark your lines. Whether it be with a highlighter (my favorite “tool of the trade”) or just by circling the character name or lines themselves, it is a good idea to do so.

Look up any words you don’t understand. My vocabulary has increased just by being an actor on The Simpsons. No kidding. Not only is it a good idea to look up any words you don’t understand in a script, it is just a good rule of thumb for any kind of reading you are doing. A good dictionary is a valuable “tool of the trade” and I don’t leave home without one!

Query any confusion prior to the record. Your job is to communicate the thoughts of the writer by putting sound to the characters. If you don’t understand what is going on, you won’t be able to clearly communicate his/her thoughts.

Wear the appropriate clothing. Just because you aren’t on-camera, doesn’t mean you should dress like you are about to wash the car. Have some dignity in what you wear. Take some care to be neat and clean, especially if you are standing next to other actors. Also, don’t wear “noisy” clothes and/or jewelry. This includes leather, bracelets, dangly earrings, nylon jackets and any other material/item that would interfere with the record.

Arrive ahead of time. Give yourself plenty of time to set up “your station.” I like to go to my stand and set up my script and make sure I have a couple of pencils, my highlighter, water and a chair. If you need anything, the sound engineer or PA is there to help you. Don’t hesitate. (Good idea to make any phone calls and use the restroom prior to the record.)

Do not overbook yourself. Most studios these days accommodate the busy schedules of the artists. It used to be that a studio would book the actors for a full day — eight hours. That changed. Now they can schedule for a four-hour session. I have never been needed for a four-hour ADR session, but you need to give the producer enough time to be able to actually get his product. If you are scheduled back-to-back for other work, just be sure that you keep in all the other rules included here so that you can be fast and effective.

Do not miss your cues by not paying attention. If you have the good fortune and talent to get cast in a series, you will find that your character/s isn’t always dominant in every scene. In fact, you might even find that you only have one line in a particular scene. Actors, including myself, find it a bit tedious to just sit there while the other actors are recording so they bring along “reading material,” i.e. newspapers (noisy), novels, magazines, brochures and even mail to read! No kidding. Okay, here is the deal. As long as YOU DON’T MISS YOUR CUE I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with this. But once you miss a cue, you will no doubt be a little embarrassed, and perhaps even upset a few folks. Just be aware — you are being paid to do voices, not to keep yourself busy during “down time.”

Do not eat while recording is in progress. I am sure that you must be thinking, “You have got to be kidding me!” I’m not.” This is just common sense. Of course, if you are working on a show that doesn’t take a lunch break, you have no other choice than to sneak a bite in between scenes. Use your judgment.

Do not carry on conversation with other actors in between takes. This is perhaps the most annoying habit for producers to abolish. Unlike on-camera actors who have days of rehearsal, including lunch breaks, to find out about “who is doing what and when,” voice actors pretty much go in, do the job and leave. That is the nature of this business. However, once in a while, more often than not, a current event or some “news” or gossip just can’t seem to be contained and next thing you know, you have a studio of a lot of chit-chat happening. Pity the poor actor who is trying to do pick-ups and can’t even hear the director say, “Action.” I really appreciate it when others are quiet for me. I think it is important to do the same for them.
No matter what it is you do in life, be it waiting on tables, doing financial planning or working as an actor, be a professional. Set a good example. You’d be surprised how much others appreciate it, and how differently you will be treated as an artist. Good luck!

Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in her career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disney’s Kim Possible and Chuckie on Rugrats, All Grown Up. To learn more about Nancy’s career, listen to her new audio book My Life as a 10-year-old Boy.