The Minister of Fancy Noises

The following story is a story that’s been a long, LONG time coming. I have kept mum on the whole thing until now just because it seemed like the proper thing to do; and I’m not much if I’m not proper.

Well, okay, the part after the semicolon is a lie.

Yes, yes, I do have some sense of decency, I just don’t always honor it. Moving on.

Last December I resigned from Lipservice Talent Guild. I know, I know, I made a huge hairy deal of it when I signed on over a year ago, but it turned out that Lipservice was perfect if I was extremely well-established, which I was not. My on-camera and voice-over career is still in its infancy, and I need someone, in addition to me, to advocate for me. By its very nature as a Guild with no frontline staff, Lipservice, as wonderful as it was, wasn’t able to do that. So I gave them notice in October, and then went on my way attempting to gather everything I needed to make a compelling case to Wehmann Talent Agency.

Among these things needed were a re-vamped commercial voice-over demo and a narrative demo – the commercial one I was using was poorly recorded (by me) and had weak reads that I frankly couldn’t stand listening to. So, I spent a few hours last week in the studio at Undertone Music, owned and operated by the incomparably crazy-slash-whipsmart-slash-talented Minister of Fancy Noises, one Mr. Tom Hambleton (and yes, Minister of Fancy Noises is actually on his business card). He gave me an incredible amount of his time and attention despite a fresh and looming film deadline; the end-product is nothing if not luscious. The part after the semicolon is all truth, baby. Call me a convert - the man’s a saint.

The reason it took three and a half months to get this done is not important now; the important thing is that IT IS FINALLY DONE! Yes, I said it, I mean it, and I can prove it. The new commercial demo is up in the audio player and in the download section of the home page, and the narrative demo will make an appearance in the next few weeks or so (it’s done, I just need to make a spot for it). Take a listen – tell me how bad you want some ice cream.

The three and a half month wait left me ready and raring to go, so I submitted all my materials to Wehmann yesterday. I heard back from them today and have a meeting next week. Hopefully my fingers won’t cramp from keeping them crossed until then.

It's Alive!

Remember this?:

On a different note, I’m still desperately wanting you to hear the Lipservice podcast wherein I’m interviewed by fellow actor Steve Hendrickson – it’s really sweet. Alas, the Lipservice website is undergoing a some changes and I’m not yet allowed to link to the podcast location. Grrrrrr. Soon, though. It has a little audio-treat at the end – a clip from the Twelfth Night song recordings.

Documents have been declassified, permission has been granted, and here is your briefing:

You can now listen to the podcast in two ways.

1. Go to Lipservice Talent Guild. Click on the Podcast star. Then click on “listen…” The quicktime file (along with the rest of the site; so don’t worry, it’s not your computer) takes some time to load on the page. 2. Or you could skip the Lipservice site all-together and quickly download it here.

The entire episode is about 11 minutes long, and I’m there for roughly the second half. Therefore, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to boycott all Tom Cruise movies because he's gone off the deep end and no one should be expected to support him and his nasty Scientology habit.

Ahhhh, gotta love those non sequiturs - they just feel so good sometimes. Look - a bunny! I like cheese. What's that on my shoe?

In Your Ear

A week or two ago fellow Walker Art Center colleague, Reggie Prim, and I walked through the OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement) exhibition presently on display in the Walker’s Target Gallery. While we would like to say that our visit was to fully immerse ourselves in the artworks, it wouldn’t be an entirely honest representation of our intentions. We walked in, scanned the room for the Catherine Opie photographs of icehouses, bee-lined for the accompanying listening-station, grabbed the headphones, giddily pointed to the didactic on the wall that bears our names, and gave each other big goofy grins while listening to our recorded voices. Reggie and I had both narrated ice-fishing stories written by Minnesotans that accompany the photographs – you can now hear the narrations at the gallery listening station through June 18th, online (scroll down to “Art on Call Stops for OPEN-ENDED,” then click “play” to hear me on tracks numbers 2 and 3), or via telephone (dial 612.374.8200, then enter 1026. To skip the quick interview with Catherine Opie and get directly to yours-truly, press 1 – not that I would recommend doing such a thing).

In Your Eye In the very near future the main site will no longer say “coming soon.” I’m so excited, I could shout. The web-monkey has come up with a killer design, and it will have a bunch of downloadable goodies including my headshot, resume, and voice-over demo. Sometime after that main roll-out, sections for production-photos and press will be added. Yes, yes, I could shout.

In Your Future I’m still desperately wanting you to hear the Lipservice podcast wherein I’m interviewed by fellow actor Steve Hendrickson and share a clip from the Twelfth Night song recordings – it’s really sweet. Alas, the Lipservice website is undergoing a huge re-design and I’m not yet allowed to link to the podcast location. Grrrrrr. Soon, though.

In My Dreams I got cast at the Guthrie! Details to follow.

In Reality Kidding about that last one.

On the Up-and-Up

A couple of weeks off is definitely enough time to get into scads of trouble… here’s what I’ve got my mitts into these days: Saturday, March 25 (through June 18) My disembodied voice will be on the wall at the Walker Art Center as part of its newest exhibition, OPEN-ENDED (the art of engagement) – just find the photographs of skyways and icehouses by Catherine Opie and nearby will be a listening-station where you can hear me read an ice-fishing story or two by local authors (this was from a public reading that I did for Opie’s residency in 2002; recently re-recorded in the studio over at Undertone by my friend, Mr. Tom). This, friends, is the one time where snowpants = sexy.

Monday, March 27 Filming a short PSA for Foster and for equality. It’ll be broadcast on the web at some point in the near future; link to snarky political statement to follow.

Getting interviewed for the April edition of the Lipservice Talent Guild podcast. It’s like my Lipservice quinceanera! Except I’m not 15 and I’m not Mexican. Okay, it’s like my Lipservice Bat Mitzvah! Wait - not 13, nor Jewish. Damn. What coming-of-age celebrations do they have for Irish/Hungarian/German/Russian Americans besides getting blitzed at prom? On second thought, don’t answer that.

Tuesday, March 28 Public reading of The Lost and Found, a new screenplay by James Byrne. Someone recently dropped out, so I will be reading several roles. Come watch me use funny voices so you can tell them all apart! Kidding, Mr. Byrne. 7 pm at The Varsity Theater in Dinkytown if you’re looking to hash up some college nostalgia; be ready with your joneses for coffee and exercises in futility.

Sunday, April 2 Screening of The Monster of Phantom Lake at the Faux Film Festival in Portland. I have family in Portland. Family, if you love me, you probably shouldn’t go to this. Our very special screening is called the B-Movie Massacre for a reason. There will be improv comedians “improving” the script, as it were. B-Movie? Check. Massacre? Check.

Saturday, April 8 Callbacks for a new low-budget (but paid) feature-film, The Completely Remarkable, Utterly Fabulous Transformation of a Regular Joe. I’ve read some of the sides and I’m already getting invested in it… I hate it when I do that. Getting invested is not acceptable unless I’ve been cast. Gah.

Wednesday, May 17 The Monster of Phantom Lake returns to The Heights Theater – back by popular demand! You’ve asked for it, and the people who can make it happen made it happen. So for those of you who had to leave early to shoot a basketball game and didn’t get to see the end, or were out of town, or were in a show, or, ahem, said you’d show up and then didn’t (you know who you are; and you should know that you’ve earned yourself the title of Chump for that little stunt) – you’ve got another chance! Cast the weight of Chumpiness aside! Redemption in the form of pure entertainment can be yours!

Saturday, June 3 I’ll be wearing my best Appropriate for Children Disguise while reading Pinocchio the Boy: Incognito in Collodi to a bunch of youngsters as part of the Walker Art Center’s Free First Saturdays program. I will be reading the book aloud, playing several characters - come watch me use funny voices so you can tell them all apart! Not kidding, Mr. Byrne.

August 3-13 The Minnesota Fringe Festival returns. And so does the Ministry of Cultural Warfare. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Some of you have recently been surprised to learn that I’m part of that company. Part of it? Hell, I’m Foster’s slave-driver (Write me a script! And make it good!)…seriously though, he’s the Artistic Director, and I’m the Executive Director and Stage Hog, which means he writes the good stuff, and I make sure people see me in it. Here’s a photo of an, um, elated Foster once he heard our name announced at the Fringe lottery! So what is MoCW going to present at Fringe this year? It’s a surprise! To us, too!

Summary While I shared all of the above so that I could be instrumental in getting you away from the computer and into an active role as part of the arts community, I also did it to prove to myself that I’m a working actor. Sometimes I freak out about stagnancy. List compiled = freak-out averted. Mostly. There are some awfully obnoxious gaps between the April and May gigs, and again between June and August. Perhaps those would be good times to go to New York and San Diego, respectively. Yes. Freak-out officially averted.

9:07 am CST, 11:07 pm HKT

So busy. So, so, SO busy. Consider this just a quick update – knowing that I’ll be able to share the cool stories accompanying it all during my upcoming vacation. Cool busy thing number one: The WTO ministerial is happening in Hong Kong this week, and therefore I am reporting for the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Radio Hong Kong daily. They send me the news they want covered, I record it here in the U.S. of A., then upload it to the IATP website. Then Foster and Tyson, a couple of the many IATP staffers actually IN Hong Kong right now, compile it with the interviews they took that day and release the little bugger to the world.

Cool busy thing number two: I got cast in my favorite Shakespeare play, Twelfth Night, at Theatre in the Round. David Mann is directing, and I really have no idea who the rest of the cast is yet. We’ll perform in February and March.

Cool busy thing number three: I’ve officially had more auditions through Lipservice since starting a little over a month ago than I had last year with my two non-union agents combined. Sweet.

Annnnd DONE. Ttfn.

String Cheese Theory

Ever think about how to make the word "crunchy" sound appealingly crunchy when spoken aloud? Or about how the flavors chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla cream all taste different, and therefore should sound different when spoken? The psychology behind advertising copy, and the subsequent voicing of it to cause craving by audiences, is really quite fascinating. It makes me feel like I need to step up my voice-over game substantially, because just “reading well” certainly isn’t going to cut it. I need to make people want things. Last Sunday morning I sat in on Lipservice founder Shirley Venard's voice-over class. Good lord, is she amazing. Wow. Wow. I admit that I've often had trouble reading commercial copy because on paper it seems so lifeless and smarmy. She completely revolutionized my way of reading copy – and frankly, it will now get the same deconstruction method as I set upon works by The Bard himself. And I know that last sentence totally sounds like a line from an infomercial, but I actually mean it – this is deep stuff, my friend.

After spending an entire evening tape-recording and then transcribing commercial copy off of the television, and some significant weeding through the Lipservice script files, I have whittled the choices down to a list of strong contenders for copy that will eventually make it on to my commercial voice demo - Park Nicollet, Staples, Olay, Pantene, Toyota, General Mills, United Way, Audi, and Target. I think I might also try to get my hands on a copy of the British Television Advertising Awards to drop in a piece or two with RP (Standard British accent). I haven't even started with the narrative voice demo yet, but I’m thinking I might yank something from Ken Burns’ Jazz series and that killer Nova special on Quantum Physics/String Theory.

Here's an odd question for you - do you have a favorite commercial (is that even possible?) that relies on good copy rather than sight gags that I should consider for inclusion in my demo? My ad agency friends might have a leg-up on this one. Do share.

Lipservice Talent Guild

I have a secret that finally gets to leave Hushville. ‘member when I told you about my belly-flop into audio Geekdom and there being a reason for it, but then I got all sneaky and offered up The Weebit Proposition to distract you? Well, you now get to know the reason. While you’re reading this, think of Spiderman II and replace Toby McGuire with me in that scene where he’s walking all happy-dreamy in slo-mo to Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.” Imagine that (interspersed with the I’m-so-excited-I’m-going-to-vomit feeling) is how I’ve felt for the past several weeks and you get the picture. Are you so excited to hear the secret now? It shall sound like beans spilling. And Burt Bacharach.

Now then, here we go: (cue can opener and piano) On the evening of Monday, September 26, 2005, Minneapolis celebrated its first annual Ameriprise Financial Ivey Awards. The awards ceremony was flashy and sponsory and wonderful and wonderfully short. One of the awards presenters was my pal Leah Cooper, Executive Director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the very same Fringe Festival for which I served as Voice of the Fringe in their first-ever foray into podcasting. She presented an award to Steve Hendrickson for his stellar performance in the title role of 10,000 Things’ Cyrano de Bergerac. Stay with me, this is pertinent.

At the after-party, Cooper tells me about the following mix-up and exceptionally kind compliment intended for this Leigha rather than that Leah, which went something like this:

Steve: Are you Leigha? Leah: Yes, I’m Leah. Steve: Leigha Fringe Festival Leigha? Leah: Yes, that’s me. Steve: Your voice. In those podcasts. Was incredible. Leah: Ohhhh, THAT Leigha. No, that’s not me. That’s The Other Leigha.*

*No offense taken by being called “The Other Leigha” - we call ourselves that because we're geeks and think it's cute - mix-ups between the two of us are old hat.

So anyway, I hear this from Cooper and want to squeal - it’s just so rewarding to still be getting shout-outs for my work on the Fringe podcasts. But I don’t squeal (I think). Instead, I become determined to track this guy down and thank him.

Turns out he’s ridiculously easy to find online. An e-mail conversation takes place, and two weeks later we’re meeting over coffee at his suggestion to discuss Lipservice, a talent guild to which he belongs.

I know Lipservice – Lipservice is an exclusive group of 30 of the best and brightest voice and on-camera talent in the Twin Cities, with a lot of them doing killer stage work to boot. Lipservice is union (AFTRA), and has the voice-over market in the Twin Cities cornered. Cornered. What I find out over coffee is that Lipservice was started in 1973, is artist-owned (cool!), and wants me to join their ranks. Wait, WHAT? Yes, Lipservice wants me to join their ranks. I just about passed out.

I can’t even begin to describe the absolute joy and honor and comfort I felt in learning more about Lipservice…it just feels like a perfect fit - this artist-owned concept is right up my alley, I love the easy access to mentors who have been doing this for years and years, and I love how flipping intelligent and talented and kind everyone is. And accessible! No more playing the Hey Agent, Remember Me? Game. Dude. DUDE.

There was another meeting with the Membership Committee, there were more e-mails. There was a vote amongst the Lipservice members, there was acceptance of my entry, there was a contract. There was signing of said contract on Thursday, and there was my first audition on Friday afternoon (with a mentor, even). I have another audition this upcoming Friday. I have to point out here that I've gotten the same number of auditions in the last week from Lipservice that I got from my other two agents combined over the past two months.

The Leigha Horton Happy Dance won’t even cut it this time – it’s serious sparkle-fairy-angel-floaty-ether-dance time. Watchout, these elf ears are comin'atcha!

So, go have a looksee – Lipservice Talent Guild is my new actory home.