Nancy Cartwright gives some advice on making sacrifices for ones career, but always remaining true to oneself.
When I got started in this industry nearly a quarter of a century ago, (OHMYGOD!) I thanked my lucky stars every time I completed even a simple task that brought me closer to realizing my goals and dreams. This included finishing my résumé, getting an agent, finding a studio to do my demo tape, paying for the production of my demo tape, designing the J-card for the demo tape, buying mailing labels for the mailing of the demo tape, booking auditions, booking callbacks and finally booking jobs. These jobs, by the way, paid for all the preliminary efforts of investing in my own career. Investing in your career is the most important investment you will ever make. Why? Simply because you are investing in your most important asset YOU!
In an industry where I venture to say 93-95% of the people in the unions are forced to hold other income-producing jobs to support themselves and their families, you can understand the significance of knowing who you are, and finding out what is needed and wanted, in order for you to realize your dreams and succeed. This concept is vital for an artist. Not knowing, and understanding that you are your most important asset, is like driving your car without an engine. It just wont go anywhere. Additionally, if you do not take that extra step and find out what is needed and wanted by industry professionals from you as a voice artist, then how do you ever expect to be able to deliver a product that is more than just acceptable?
The most important precept that I will advise you on is this be true to your own goals and dreams. Start by knowing what that means. Whenever I travel around the world and speak to students at the universities, this is the advice I give them: This is your life. It is not your parents or your teachers it is yours! So live it the best way you can. If you are here in college because your father and mother want you to be a doctor, well you are just going to have that much more trouble making it in the industry. Why? Because there is a lot of competition out there for the same jobs, and the ones that succeed are the ones who have the most passion! If you are just trying to please someone else by studying medicine, or law, or business, or whatever, then just admit it right now, and plan to get yourself a 9-5 job when you leave college, and be content with living in the shadow of what could have been your life.
Make a Sacrifice
I know this is very in your face, but you should know that true success does not come easy. It might mean sacrificing some things in your life until you get to the finish line, or it might mean putting in a little extra elbow grease until your career is stable and you are paying the bills with your work. Do whatever it takes. If your next move in your career is not something you have decided is for the greatest good for your career, then rethink your plan. You will not be happy with your life or career if you dont think your plan through to the finish.
My point? It is all about integrity. I love that word! It comes from Middle English, from old French, from Latin meaning soundness and wholeness and complete Isnt it a great word? Integrity is the glue that holds the personality of person together. It is the nuts and bolts behind the make-up of the individual himself. Integrity is so important that wars have been fought over it, and lives have been sacrificed because of it.
For example, in the film, Braveheart, William Wallace had more integrity in his little finger than entire armies. Artistic integrity is paramount to maintaining good relations with not only those you meet in the industry, such as producers, directors, agents, etc., but indeed in your overall life. After all, what is life really all about if not communicating and getting along well with the people around you? This is an important step in realizing your goals and dreams for without integrity, what chance do you have? When personal integrity shines through, people sit up and take notice of you, you stand out.
Several years ago when I auditioned for the role of Megan on God, the Devil and Bob, I was also asked to audition for the voice of Donna, the mom. I couldnt have been more pleased. Because I have carved out a niche in the voice-over community doing so many boy voices, it was a welcome change to actually have the opportunity to do the voice of a girl. Now here is the rub I am very aware of my vocal range. To do the voice of the girl and also do the voice of the mom would be a tremendous stretch for me and the character separation (the difference between one character sound and another) would be very limited. In other words, my 13-year-old-girl-voice doesnt sound much different than my mom-voice; however if I were auditioning for the son and then asked if I could also read for the voice of the mom, the separation would be much more distinct.
In this case, I found my integrity challenged. Dare I speak up and risk not getting the job at all? Knowing my own range, though, and also the fact that casting is looking for versatility, I would have possibly auditioned myself right out of a job! What I did instead was tell producer Marcy Carsey that I didnt think I was the best person for the part of the mom. I told her that I would recommend some actresses and she should definitely have them in to audition for Donna. I just thought it was the right thing to do.
Ah, Sleep !
When I find my own integrity challenged, and I dont speak up because it might rock the boat, or make someone uncomfortable, then I end up losing a little sleep over it, sometimes a lot of sleep. There are those times also when I slip and say something that is maybe more harmful than good, and I always end up regretting it and I lose sleep over that too. Dont worry, generally I sleep pretty good, and thats what counts.
(By the way, later on, after I was cast as the voice of Megan, the casting assistant told me that part of the reason I got the job was because Marcy was so impressed with my honesty. She couldnt believe that not only was I was willing to give up an audition, but actually recommend others who would be perfect for the job. It is nice to know that there are plenty of good people in the industry who notice and respect integrity in others.)
About now, you might be wondering what this article has to do with being a voice actor. It has everything to do with it. I didnt know this when I was in my early 20s, but if in my telling you this now might save you a little bit of angst in your journey through your career, then I feel that my purpose has been accomplished with this article.
As an artist I have created my career in many different ways and in different aspects of the entertainment industry. I found out very early on that there is a hierarchy of status. You have the exec producer at the top of the pyramid, followed closely by the producers, then the director, associate producers, co-producers, writers, casting directors, actors and finally, voice-over actors! Yes, in that order!
At one time, I was balancing an on-camera career with a theatrical career and a voice-over career. There was never a dull moment and no time to wonder and whine about What am I going to do next? I had plenty to do. In fact, I started to incorporate writing and, much to my dismay, I found my agent at the time flustered. I didnt understand it and when I queried her about it, she replied, Cant you just be happy doing one thing?! Needless to say, she wasnt my agent much longer.
I have never been one to sit in the wings twiddling my thumbs. My passion for what I do rules my life be it working out my body, working on any of the numerous shows I voice, performing my lecture for students at a university, doing my one-woman show, cultivating relationships with new and old friends, supporting and guiding my children to achieve their own goals or even going off for several days volunteering with friends to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Be Your Own Producer
I am also the founder and owner of SportsBlast, a production company that produces The Kellys, an innovative animated series for the Internet, in partnership with TurnerSports Interactive. Not unlike a proud parent, I am proud of what we have achieved with The Kellys thus far. And so like a proud parent, I will brag just a little bit. The Kellys has received numerous industry and independent film awards, including a Silver Remi at WorldFest and a Gold at the Aurora Awards. It has received good reviews from multiple media sources including Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Animation Magazine, among others.
Heres some insider information if all goes as planned, we even intend to do a full-length motion picture sometime in the future. How does that sound for taking your career into full drive?
I remember being asked by someone 15 years ago, What are your goals, Nancy? What do you think you will be doing in 15 years? In retrospect, I have to admit that I think I was a little glib when I said, I want my own production company. Honestly, I had no idea what energy went into putting a production company together, and making it work. It takes a lot! I did not have any formal training, and certainly had no business administration under my belt. After all, that is usually the furthest thing from an artists mind, but that is why it is important to have a great team behind you who understands how to manage all the little details.
Artists usually leave the business to the managers, the agents and the attorney, but I have enjoyed sitting in the drivers seat, especially with this stockcar racing family, as I am the voice of Chip Kelly. And you can see/hear me this week as The Kellys returns to www.Nascar.com in just a few days. Check it out!
Fast forward 15 years later and here I am with not only a production company but I am the co-founder of a fledgling non-profit organization called Happy House (www.happyhouse.com) whose purpose is Building Better Families. I am so fortunate that at this time in my career I have the resources and support to be able to give back to my community, and it feels great! My muse has taken me to higher heights that I only had an inkling of, back in 1990. I truly began to listen to my own muse, and opinions of others remained just that opinions.
Many artists fall into the trap of putting all the responsibility on his/her agent/managers lap. That is a big mistake one that can cost not only a lot of time, but also a lot of misplaced energy. The only true way to fully take charge of your life and your career, is to fully take responsibility for your life and your career, and everything that goes into the making of it and the rest will follow. I had help along the way, and I offer you a little help right now.
First off, you have to actually be able to name what it is that you want be specific. Go into details about your goals and dreams. Do not leave out anything in your plan, especially if it makes you passionate Do not carry it around in your head put it in writing, and read it over often. Once it is written, you can then get even more specific about what you need/want, and once you have accomplished those things, check them off, and create new goals.
Second, do not let others opinions sway you from achieving your goals and dreams. That is certain death for an artist. I mean that sincerely.
Finally, let the muse in you flourish and expand, taking you to higher levels of creativity. You will be amazed what effects you can create if you are willing to create huge effects. Are you willing? If you are not, then you should change your mind right now, and decide that you can and will create huge effects that will spin your career into fast forward. And if you really want to go wild, you will surprise not only others, but also you (and your muse) will even surprise your most important asset you!
Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in her career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disneys Kim Possible and Chuckie on Rugrats and All Grown Up. To learn more about Nancys career, listen to her new audio book My Life as a 10-year-old Boy.