Talking with Narrator Tavia Gilbert

Tavia is well known in the romance audio community for a number of her narrations but in particular her performance of Jeaniene Frost titles including the Night Huntress Series, the Night Huntress World Series, and the first in the Night Prince Series. In Speaking of Audiobooks 2012 Romance Audiobook Poll, Tavia’s narration of Frost’s Halfway to the Grave won the Favorite Romance Audiobook award and Tavia placed third in the Narrators Who Are Especially Good at Performing Love Scenes category.

Lea: Welcome Tavia!  

Talking with narrators over the past three years at the Speaking of Audiobooks column has provided me with a glimpse into your world and what goes into a successful audiobook narration. It now surprises me that during my first seven years of audiobook listening,  I rarely thought about the person reading the book other than deciding if I favored their narration or not.

How do you describe your profession to those who are either unfamiliar with audiobooks or think you just read a book out loud in front of a microphone?

Tavia: Well, I do read books aloud in front of a microphone, but there are so many aspects to making that performance a delightful, compelling listen. Audiobooks are performances, and they demand that the actor create an entire world — the unique landscape of a story — with their voice alone. It’s an incredibly complex genre of acting. Great audiobook actors use their voices and their bodies to bring to life an entire cast of characters and thoughtfully render the nuanced complexities of setting and plot in a way that honors the artistic vision of the author and that doesn’t overshadow the text. Audiobook voice actors are also called upon more and more to be increasingly independent and responsible for the technical quality and precision of the audiobook, so we wear multiple hats.

Lea: Can you give us a look into your background? And are there any awards or nominations you can share with us?

Tavia: I studied voice acting as part of my theater conservatory training at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where I earned a BFA. I worked primarily on stage, and did some on camera work, but I really committed to voice acting when I settled in Portland, Maine. Five years ago I began to work full-time as an audiobook narrator, and since then I have voiced about 160 projects and been nominated for three Audie Awards (The Dirty Life, 2012; The Shape of Mercy, 2010; The Middle Place, 2009) and awarded two Earphones (The Day of the Pelican, 2009; Sing Them Home, 2009). I’ve also been producing and directing multi-cast audiobooks since 2004, which has given me the opportunity to work with books like The House on Mango Street, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Fahrenheit 451, and plays by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, and Sophocles. I’m currently in my final semester studying creative non-fiction at Vermont College of the Arts, so I’ll have an MFA in writing in January. I’m planning to move to New York next year to continue to develop my work as an actor and a writer, so there’s a lot going on!

Lea: Listeners often believe that narrators choose their projects. Can you do so and how does it work?

Tavia: I can’t speak to other narrators’ career arcs, but I’ll say that at the beginning of my career, I was delighted to do whatever was assigned to me. I have been extremely fortunate to work in a wide array of genres, which has given me an unusual variety of work. I pursue projects that are compelling whenever I have an opportunity, and having an eye for interesting projects has been meaningful. As I have grown as an artist, several people who cast me regularly have recognized my skills and interest in a particular genre, so more and more I attract projects for which I’m particularly suited. I’m increasingly booked, so I have to make hard decisions about which projects to take on. My mission is to increasingly develop work as a producer, so that I have a hand in creating the projects on which I work. My first audiobook project as a producer/publisher, Let Me Stand Alone, will be released next spring, and I hope and trust it will be the first of many to come.

Lea: Do you find narrating romance particularly challenging? Does your preparation for a romance performance differ from other genres?

Tavia: I prep for romance just the same way I prep for everything else—read the book, consider the characterizations and any technical work that needs to be done (vocabulary, dialect work), and then I go into the studio. It’s not particularly challenging, any more than any book with a lot of heightened action (physical or emotional). It’s all acting, it’s all breath work, it calls for specific choices and understanding of the world of the book, as does any other story.

Lea: What are some of your current or upcoming projects?

In October, I’ll be working on a new romance by Joseph Monninger called Margaret From Maine. I’m also looking forward to voicing Laura Kreitzer’s five-volume Timeless Series, starting with Shadow of the Sun. I just finished The Wizard of Oz, which was a great challenge and a great honor to voice, and some beautifully written short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. Getting to work with great material like that is invigorating and unforgettable.


 Lea Hensley

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