There’s audiobook narrators, and then there’s Johnny Heller
I love audiobook narrators.
In my voice-over travels, I have never met a more talented, dedicated, caring group of people. They are extremely generous when it comes to sharing their time & insight with authors and fellow narrators. There are online groups dedicated to asking questions both artistic and technical as well as sharing war stories, triumphs, and challenges in the audiobook narrator community. Barely a minute goes by before a post is answered with thought and consideration. It makes me proud to be an audiobook narrator.
And then there’s Johnny Heller.
Johnny, as my mother would put it, is a mensch. And mishpachah.
In other words, he’s a good man and part of my family. Not just the audiobook family or the Edge Studio family, but my Sunday dinner please-don’t-swipe-my-crescent-roll family.
Don’t get me wrong; he’s a feisty son of gun who always speaks his mind and never spares the rod. That makes the audiobook industry love him all the more for his candor, his wisdom, and his unique sense of humor. Among his many contributions (500+ titles narrated, multiple Audies & Earphone Awards, his “For The H**l Of It” blog, and esteemed Edge Studio coach) is his modestly titled “Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop.”
This year’s Johnny Heller 2nd Annual Splendiferous Workshop, or JWASH2 as I like to call it, was held at Chicago’s East/West University on Monday, May 9th. Over 100 aspiring and veteran audiobook narrators gathered to listen to some of the industry’s best talent and coaches wax poetic, philosophic, and instructional.
To say that JWASH2 sported an impressive collection of panelists was assembled is an understatement. Amy Rubinate, Scott Brick, PJ Ochlan, Paul Alan Ruben, Johnny Heller, Simon Vance, Jeff Kafer, Andi Arndt, Hilary Huber, and Tavia Gilbert generously shared their time and expertise. With thousands of audiobooks and dozens of awards between them; they engaged, enlightened, and entertained us with wit, wisdom, and a true spirit of sharing.
One thing struck me as I listened to this ensemble of experts. They’re all funny. D**n funny. That level of humor and levity infected the attendees and fostered a culture even more conducive to learning.
After the series of panels were live one-on-one coaching sessions.
I asked Johnny just one question: Why do this?
“The Johnny Heller Splendiferous Narrator Workshop was started in 2015 when I was asked – generally – to put together a workshop for actors who were in town for APAC and had a free day before the convention. My idea was to have an event that would appeal to actors at every level of the Audiobook career. I put together a sterling roster of superb coaches – award winning talents– actors and coaches with a real passion to share their adventures and knowledge of storytelling. We have an agenda that I try to stick to, but we’re happy to linger on subjects that seem worth lingering on. We may not answer all the questions, but we want to start the process of investigating issues important to brilliant storytelling. We want to identify the questions we may not even know right now that we need to ask and, together, find the answers. We seek the path to better storytelling from both the artistic and the technical world.
The workshop is, I think, a place where actors can learn more about their craft, hear from the top names in the business, experience new ideas and hopefully emerge with a better understanding of what this wonderful business is all about and how to be better at it.
The most satisfying element of the workshop is watching the coaches work with the talent one-on-one. When a coach and an actor connect – each in their own style – we are treated to a completely magical moment. We see the actor find a new and better way to share the author’s’ truth — to tell the story in a more compelling way. It’s truly transformative for everyone. And I think that’s why the workshop is so popular. We all share as one and thus, form a real community – a real and lasting connection that I believe leads us all to be better storytellers.
In 2015, we had about 70 people in our 1st workshop in New York. Including coaches, we have well over 100 people coming to the 2nd workshop in Chicago. I hope that this continues to grow in popularity and in effectiveness. This workshop is in no way meant to replace or repeat APAC in any way. This is an actor-centric event meant to help the attendees be better storytellers and better at the business of audiobook narration. I’m trying to develop and provide a cadre of first-rate coaches/mentors to work with me from year to year and to consistently provide the actor with a meaningful, uplifting and enlightening event that will motivate them to be excellent. And lunch.
And laughs. Lots of laughs.”