Amanda Carr sits down with actor, singer and voice over talent, Wren Ross.
She has been performing and teaching in the New York and Boston areas for twenty years. A dynamic and unique performer, Wren Ross has created and performed many original cabaret shows, and has recorded hundreds of broadcast spots and narrations.
Wren, when I think of “Boston Women in Media and Entertainment", you embody the title (and we love having you as a member). You span all of it: A voice over talent, narrator, singer, actress, instructor and mentor (do I even get into the knitting?). Is there one aspect that you are most known for, or where your primary focus is?
Thank you Amanda. I am so happy to be in the company of other women who also enjoy bringing together their passions to express themselves. Isn't that so female? Women's art is the art of integration.
My understanding of what its like to perform - to sing, act and do voice over, helps me empathize and know what my students and coaching clients need, so that they may be the most engaged and dynamic performers they can be. Lately, I have been doing a lot of coaching and teaching and it’s so meaningful to witness my clients' and students' growth. Just yesterday, I got three emails from people who had aced big auditions and talking engagements. That made my day.
They say that if you do what you love, you’ll succeed because you’ll stay with it long enough for it to succeed. How long have you been a voice over narrator and instructor? How competitive is that business and how tight is the narration circle in Boston?
I've been acting and doing voice over for over thirty years. I've done voice over coaching for twenty-five of those years. I think you learn a lot when you teach someone and I was always excited to pass along what I discovered in the booth. Voice over is competitive, but with the proliferation of digital media, there are so many more opportunities to do voice over: In addition to commercials and narrations, there are online ads, podcasts, webinars, e-learning, audio books, animation and games. There is something for everyone and producers are always looking for unique voices.
I know that there are some aspects to my music that have to be supported by other aspects of what I do. For example, most musicians will get paid more for a corporate event or a wedding verses a jazz, cabaret or original music show. Basically, for you, what pays the bills and what’s your true passion?
My passion is communication in all forms. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to support myself by doing what I love - whether it is acting, singing, voice over, teaching or producing talent demos. I do a lot of interesting voice over gigs. Recently, I voiced Clytemnestra (from the Classical Greek tragedy written by Aeschylus who killed her husband in the bathtub!) for the Museum of Fine Arts. I also did the orientation guide for the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate. And I was the voice of a woman who owned one of the original boxes thrown in Boston Harbor in the new Boston Tea Party ship museum.
I also love to teach acting. I think of acting as the “Art of Behavior,” so it is fascinating to study why characters do what they do. Working on monologues and scenes with students is thrilling. I also enjoy the challenge of producing demos for people wanting to break into the voice over market. My goal is to make a unique and excellent demo for each individual – one that expresses their “vocal DNA” and has the most engaging performance. I also love to write as another way to find my voice. I co-authored a book about the creative process with my partner, Daena Giardella called Changing Patterns: Discovering the Fabric of Your Creativity, which explores the creative process as a tool for self-development and change.
You’ve managed to meld your creative endeavors with a successful business, a line that is ever changing. Are there particular elements that you can say have been significant factors in your success and longevity?
I think caring for your clients, your audience, your students is important. Relationships are conveyor belts. So I try to put good things on the belt and most often, good comes back.
You have spent time in New York as a singer and V/O talent. What made you decide to make Boston your home? Where did you study and how important is a formal education in media?
I loved New York and although I had a great agent, I found I was working more in Boston. I also like that the pace in Boston is a little less hectic and there is easy access to nature. I studied at Boston University's School for the Arts, first in music, and then in theatre. I studied voice since I was 13 with a wonderful teacher and have found great teachers since. I think the value of my formal education was that I learned a lot about a wide variety of subjects. It's important to have a strong sense of curiosity as an actor, a journalist, and a singer. We are ultimately telling stories and the more you know about subjects, the more real you can make the telling of the story.
You’ve heard it a million times: someone says they should be a voice over talent, radio ‘DJ’ or narrator because they ‘have a nice voice’. What are the misconceptions of being a narrator and where do people underestimate what it takes to thrive in this profession.
That's such a perceptive question and rarely asked! I often find that the people with the most resonant voices often get caught up in listening to themselves. Sometimes they make a pleasant but hollow sound and it's often hard to understand what they are actually talking about because their inner intention is missing. They sound like they're "reading" and not really having a conversation. I tell my students that "read" is a four-letter word. Our job is to turn the words into thoughts.
It is indeed not the just the sound of your voice that is effective - it's how you engage with your listener. How you communicate the message and make each piece of text an "event " where something is happening between you and your listener that makes a great voice over.
Not only do you teach acting and voice over, but you also teach people how to use your voice in a myriad of situations. Public speaking is a frightening endeavor for many of us. including me,.. can you give some examples of what impact improving public speaking has made on some individuals you’ve coached. Is there an element of acting involved in speaking?
Yes, public speaking can be so intimidating to many people. Our relationship to the audience says a lot about us and our beliefs. I once had a vivacious lovely student who every time she read copy would read completely flat. No matter how I tried to get her out of her own way, she was relentlessly flat. I asked her what she thought her listener was thinking and she said: " they think I suck and wish I would get it over with." That was a pivotal moment in my teaching and performing. I started to realize that our fear of being judged makes us not like our listeners and forces us to protect ourselves by hiding who we are. Like that student, we pull in and become flat. It then becomes a foregone conclusion that the performance will be boring and the audience will hope she gets it over with. The alternative is to assume your audience wants to hear what you have to say, and LIKE them. Get into your topic. Have fun. I think it's not about whether someone is talented or confident. It's about how generous or withholding someone is that makes him or her engaging and successful. This question requires much more thought than I can address here briefly. I have done whole classes on this subject. It is extremely effective and liberating to address these inner thoughts and fears directly.
You and I have talked about the definition of ‘Cabaret’ and what elements make that different from just singing jazz standards or show tunes? You are known as a Cabaret singer, can you describe what someone might experience at one of your performances?
I love to make each song an event where something is happening: A story. A moment of realization. A change in personality. Acting is the art of behavior. We learn about ourselves by watching life "play" out on the stage. Music happens when words are not enough to express the deep and exuberant emotions, so cabaret is a profound medium that can depict our humanity and all its highs and lows. I also love to switch mediums and play with songs. I took an Italian art song and turned it into a country western tune. That was fun!
So, is Wren Ross your given name? How easy is that to remember? Just rolls off the tongue. Do you ever suggest people to change their name as part of branding themselves.
I was born Karen Ross. I liked that name. Over the years, people nicknamed me "ren" - short for Karen and I liked the familiarity of it. Then I learned that a Wren was a little bird that sings and that seemed to fit, so I officially became Wren. I think people can change their names if it makes sense for them and their identity. There are cultures where young people go into the woods and survive for a period of time alone and when they return to the tribe they give themselves a new name.
Where can people find and purchase your music CD’s? Or see you acting.. or singing? Are there any artistic projects on the horizon people should be aware of?
I have a CD which you can get online at my website: wrenross.com. I post my classes and performances there as well.
What haven’t I asked that you would want people to know about you and your perspective on what you do. Words of wisdom? Just step up on the soapbox and let it rip..... (but, speak loudly, clearly & articulate)
Maybe not a soapbox.... but in the spirit of voice over.... I can speak personally to you and the reader: The most important thing is to have a good time. I know that sounds simplistic, but it's not always so easy to have fun with critic voices in our heads and outside. Do whatever you do because you love it. Perfectionism is for others. Excellence is for ourselves. Let yourself enjoy your own pursuit of excellence.
To connect with Wren please visit www.WrenRoss.com
She's on Twitter: @WrenRossVO