Giving a Voice to Alzheimer's Sufferers

Voice-over Actors Speak Up to Help Fight Disease

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Joan Baker
Joan Baker
The tide is changing in the anonymous world of voice-over acting. The once unseen figures—scurrying from studio to studio, sound booth to sound booth, heard but never seen, existing like a secret society—are stepping into the light in the name of charity and career excellence, sharing their voices with people who are losing their own.

I've been a voice-over actor and voice coach for more than 18 years and have had the pleasure of collaborating with some of the greatest voice-over talent in the world. It is, in a word, my community. It was to this community that I turned when my father was stricken with Alzheimer's disease, an illness that eventually robs those afflicted of their own voice.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for 60% to 80% of the cases in the U.S., or 5.3 million people. One in eight people 65 and older have Alzheimer's, with someone in the U.S. developing it every 70 seconds. At this time, there is no treatment that will permanently slow or stop the deterioration of brain cells in Alzheimer's disease, although five drugs have been approved to temporarily slow down the disease for six to 12 months.

Compelled to join the movement to find a cure and care for the sufferers, I wanted to make a difference. With the help of my husband, Rudy Gaskins, who is chief creative officer for New York-based Push Creative Advertising, I came to see that we could tap my community to join the battle against Alzheimer's.

We decided to enlist the very best and most successful people in the voice-over business—great people who also have big hearts, who have happily played their parts in the background, unseen and anonymous. To that end, we created a book, "Secrets of Voice-over Success," to help the people seeking to break into this field, a book that chronicles the real-world career journeys of the top voice-over actors—a practical step-by-step guide to creating a career.

And we determined to contribute 100% of the royalties to the Alzheimer's Association.

Needless to say, everyone said yes, and the book is now in its third printing and second edition.

Through this effort, hundreds of thousands have been introduced or reintroduced to the movement to fight Alzheimer's disease. A new wave of awareness began to take shape, both in recognition of the Alzheimer's movement and toward elevating the level of learning and achievement in voice-over acting, a craft that the student quickly learns is as involved as any other form of acting.

As the various contributors to the book—including David Hyde Pierce, the late Don LaFontaine, Valerie Smaldone, Jim Dale, Keith David, Richard Thomas and Joe Cipriano—joined in book-signings and various educational seminars we produced, a phenomenon emerged. This unique group of voice-over actors was becoming a voice for Alzheimer's, a voice for career excellence and an opportunity allowing a growing community to share an experience of giving, learning and fun.

The wave is becoming a tsunami. That's Voiceover is the latest incarnation of our national career events, this time raising the stakes with a Sept. 22 voice-over event in New York supported and backed by industry leaders such as AFTRA, Back Stage Magazine, Neumann USA, advertising and television executives, top talent agents and casting directors, writers and producers. Indeed, the entire voice-over community and its supporting cast has recognized, and is now contributing to, a movement that embraces everything that's good and pure in the pursuit of a life worth living—career, community and giving back. New this year, That's Voiceover will do something that has never been done before: offer an actual TV voice-over job via a live audition process, with the winner being announced during the event The job will be hosted by CBS Las Vegas affiliate KLAS-TV. This seemingly simple gesture will give attendees an unprecedented glimpse into the behind-the-scenes selection process, deepening their understanding of how to prepare themselves for successful careers.

At the same time, That's Voiceover will be contributing to the humanitarian component that has become an inseparable part of its legacy. We have committed to a business model where a minimum of 10% of event proceeds and 100% of "Secrets of Voice-over Success" book royalties go to the Alzheimer's Association. And in a touching opening to the evening program, Joyce Simmons, a dynamic woman and former academic dean of Nyack College, herself suffering from early onset Alzheimer's, will address our audience to share her personal experience. Our commitment to the Alzheimer's Association is unequivocally made to our constituents in every contact we have with them.

People come in pursuit of a career, a lifestyle and a dream. They leave inspired, their passions ignited and with added space in their hearts for a great humanitarian cause, fighting Alzheimer's. That's Voiceover integrates the various talents and facets of its members, their multidimensional voices, into a cause that is as much for their own success as it is for the greater good of humanity.

Joan Baker, author of the book "Secrets of Voice-Over Success," is a voice-over artist, teacher and coach as well as VP-public relations for Push Creative Advertising, New York.
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