From Audiobook Monthly: An interview with Narrator Steven Jay Cohen

Hello Steven, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Thank you Susan. I’ve been really looking forward to it.

Looking at your website, I can see that you have been in the sound, theatre and acting career all your life. I notice that you also are a writer and director, can you tell our readers about yourself please? Did you have a love of writing and the stage from an early age?

When I was 10 years old, I was given a typewriter for my birthday. And, I have been creating stories – on paper and on the stage – ever since. For me, sharing stories with others is a sacred thing. Writing, directing, and acting are all part of that age-old, bardic tradition.

Is there any one person who you feel has inspired, mentored or helped you in your career?

Narrowing it down to one person is the difficult part. Do I talk about my one-time professor, Allen Ginsberg, focusing on the importance of breath? Or Isaiah Sheffer, backstage at Symphony Space, insisting that sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of the way and let the story tell itself? Or how about the countless narrators of audiobooks that I have listened to over the years? I’ve learned so much from so many people. I’m grateful to all of them.

I have reviewed Hallways in the Night for the magazine [here] and really enjoyed listening to your narration of this very good audiobook. Do you feel that your background, studying acting and being an accent coach has been a tremendous advantage with your narration?

The art of telling a story, in an engaging way, is a very particular kind of acting. It’s one thing to emotionally embody a character during a dialogue. It’s quite another thing to maintain the tension, feeling, and through line, of a story during the rest of the narrative. I feel that creating a believable, invested “voice” for the narrator is key.

There are many more facets to establishing a character’s voice than accent, but that is the piece that many people grab onto first. I tend to start with the emotional reality of the character. Then I consider the character’s environment and upbringing. After that, I try to focus on the character’s physicality for other kinds of vocal clues. It’s only then that I bring regionalisms and accents to the character. The accent is the final filter applied – maybe that’s why it stands out so much for the listener?

Do you do any voice exercises or routines before you start a narration?

I start the day in silence, typically, with a cup of tea. I try to avoid media of any kind and focus on my breathing. After which, I review my previous session and any notes that I may have. I come out of the booth between chapters, drink more tea, scratch the dog behind the ear, and head back into the booth for another chapter.

As well as narrating, I see that you also have your own fully equipped studio at home. How important do you think this is?

The trend does seem to be heading toward everyone having personal studios. I do know that being able to turn around quality audio quickly – without needing to book time somewhere else – has indeed gotten me work. The hard part about personal studios is that they tend to reinforce the isolation of an already solitary occupation. Getting the chance to work, with others, gives you the chance to get immediate feedback. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to happen as much these days.

Would you like to tell our readers about the work your studio produces?

In addition to audiobooks, I’ve produced full cast radio plays, commercials, demos for other voice actors, cleaned up location audio for use in documentaries, and, in the coming months, I’ll be doing videogame and animation recordings as well.

Do you have any words of wisdom you could give to would be narrators?

Be persistent. It’s not enough that you have talent, and skill. You have to keep working at it – everyday. Keep working, keep auditioning, and keep connecting. You need persistence, and clarity of purpose, to make it happen.

Have you any new projects that you can tell our readers about?

A few of the projects that I have done since Hallways in the Night include the Sci-Fi/Noir Strictly Analog, the Civil War classic The Red Badge of Courage, and the first book in a fun YA series called Ted Saves the World. All of which should be for sale this holiday season.

Thank you Steven.

You’re welcome Susan.

(This interview was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Audiobook Monthly.)

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