Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes. The one thing most of us know about him is that he did it his way. Except that he didn’t. He hated the song My Way, and wasn’t shy about saying so from the stage during his concerts…right before caving to his audiences’ demands and singing it. That’s one of the most ironic show biz anecdotes I know of. It’s also proof to me that even the most successful professional artists work smack dab in the realm of the service industry.
Recently I was asked “what was I selling this week?” Not what voiceover projects I was working on or on camera auditions I might have read for, but what I was selling? I’m pretty sure it was intended as a little nudge to the ribs, to tease me for using my acting training to do commercials, rather than what many would consider to be art. Now, that particular week I had mostly been working on promotions for a very worthy charitable organization, but rather than taking the bait and pointing that out, I proudly listed the commercials that I had recently recorded, and told the person how grateful I was to have the work. Instead of getting under my skin, the question got me thinking about the relationship between art and commerce, and how little distance there is between the two today, and has been throughout history.
Much of the most revered art in the history of Western Civilization was created under the patronage of the Church, and later the sponsorship of secular patrons, like the Medici family of Florence. Art history books are filled with portraits of the wealthy that were painted on commission. Today we admire the artistry and wouldn’t think of jeering “that Raphael, what a sellout!”
Ask anyone to make a list of the most famous writers in the English language and the name Shakespeare will most likely be on it. Doing Shakespeare is some of the most artistically rewarding work an actor can do, but anyone who has acted one of the many comic buffoons or fops will tell you it ain’t all high art. Some of it’s just bawdy fun. In addition to masterful sonnets and dramatic soliloquies he wrote popular entertainment for the masses! The material aside, what little we know about Shakespeare the man comes from his business paper trail. The more I learn about this shrew’d (pun intended) businessman, the more convinced I am that he didn’t get out of bed unless someone was paying him for it. Bard’s gotta eat, as they say.
No, most of the work of a professional voiceover talent might never be called high art, but many of the performance skills are the same ones needed to perform the classics. Lots of actors never get a chance to play Hamlet, but if they can pay the rent doing what they love, they are happy people. So tease if you will. My response? No apologies. “I’m happy to be of service!”