Between The Sheets With Erin deWard
Romance Narrators: deWord Audio is your company. What kind of projects does deWord tackle? What made you launch this enterprise?
Erin: deWord Audio provides voices (and sometimes writing, editing, and proofing) for a bunch of different types of projects. The most colorful ones to date were a "soothing" narration for a nursing home commercial (which creeped me out a little) and a pretty vitriolic political attack ad (which was disturbingly fun to produce). Lately, we've been providing narration for a series of videos called "CopyBites" which are being produced by the Copyright Alliance. They explain copyright and fair use in short, entertaining snippets. deWord also specializes in audio description for people with low/no vision. Mainly, it's my voice but I hire actors when I'm not the right fit for the project. In that case, I'll direct (which I LOVE) and "engineer" the session. I started deWord because I needed to be working as an actor, and so I created work for myself.
Romance Narrators: Smart! You mentioned audio description. There are likely many people reading this who aren’t familiar with this line of work. Tell us all about it please.
Erin: I could go on and on. I'll try to be succinct. Audio description, which is also sometimes called descriptive video, is a service where visual images are translated into auditory images so that people with low or no vision can experience them. Blind people and people with limited vision often miss out on the full experience of entertainment, art, parks, historical monuments around them because they can't see or see well. Audio describers write scripts that let people know what those visual markers are. Those scripts can then be recorded or spoken live. I write, voice, direct, cast, and train people in the field. I've been at it for almost 12 years and there is always so much to learn. I just had the most immense pleasure of working with a choreographer named Alice Sheppard on her piece "Descent" which had its New York premier at the end of March. Alice has been concerned for a long while that audio description for dance almost always falls short because there isn't enough time to adequately describe movement in the short time it takes for a movement to occur. She and I met at a forum run by Disability Arts New York Task Force and spoke about how description could become part of a dance piece rather than something tacked on at the end. For "Descent", Alice worked with a poet to craft a narrative that both hinted at movement AND addressed the emotional content of the movement and hired me to record it. The piece is 59 minutes long and the narrative got woven into the musicscape so that it became part of the piece, rather than something only people with headsets could hear. In this way, Alice has begun to make really accessible dance. It's super exciting to be a part of it!
Romance Narrators: Your work spans so many different fields! You are also a choreographer, yes?
Erin: I love working with dancers. My favorite part of making dance is to do it ON the dancers with whom I have worked. Not showing them how to move but rather describing the feeling I'd like them to evoke and talking them through the movement. That way, they don't try to do what I would do but rather discover it for themselves. It becomes theirs.
Romance Narrators: While we’re on the subject of movement: one of your special skills is “can climb a tree without falling out??” Do tell.
Erin: Um yeah. I can't do a cartwheel anymore. Not sure how I lost that skill. But I can, and do, still climb trees. As a kid I spent a lot of time in trees (as that's coming out, I realize that it sounds a little nuts). Trees were our forts, our lookouts, our playhouses. I grew up just outside of New York City and was lucky that I had the best of both worlds. Trees and Lincoln Center. Woods and Washington Square Park. Yes. So. Yes. It's a skill I hope I never lose.
Romance Narrators: Can you tell us about your work with people who have disabilities?
Erin: My various jobs in this area have all been about one thing: trying to make the world as accessible as possible. So, what has that meant? Our world is pretty much configured in every way for the average person. If a person doesn't fit that average model the world can be kind of difficult to navigate. I've worked for a lot of years to try and use my privilege, as someone who fits pretty neatly into the average, to make environments more universally usable. I've also worked for many years with people who have what are referred to as "intellectual disabilities" (meaning that they don't fit our view of how brains should process information). I'd like to stress that some of the most interesting people I've ever known were people who were "classified" like this. Our society does itself a disservice in writing people off because they function differently than the average. Without going on, I'll just say: we are all more alike than we are different. We all want the same things - to be loved, to be useful, to have a place where we belong, to be healthy, to be safe.
Romance Narrators: We interviewed your pal and serial co-narrator Noah Michael Levine a few weeks ago (spoiler alert: he said really nice things about you). What is it about your partnership with him that keeps you coming back for more?
Erin: Does that mean I have to say nice things about him? Ha! Really, I have nothing but admiration and love for Noah. He is an amazing actor and one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He is delusionally supportive of me as an actor and has gone above and beyond in helping me in my career as an audiobook narrator. He's generous (almost to a fault), a great cook, an amazing friend, and that voice...On top of all of that, we have so much fun in the booth. Everyone should have the opportunity to laugh like we do at work every day. How lucky we are! We get to act with another human being, like regular actors do. Play off one another. Many narrators don't have that opportunity. I love duet for this reason and I can't imagine a better duet partner than Noah.
Romance Narrators: You have worked extensively in the theater, particularly in Shakespeare’s plays. Are you a big fan? I imagine it’s no coincidence that you went from that wordy fellow’s work to the wordy work of audiobooks. How does one inform the other?
Erin: What a question. Do you have a week to talk? Kidding. Sort of. I am passionate about Shakespeare. Most people roll their eyes when I say that but that's because they only have the experience of reading him in high school. I wish we taught Shakespeare in school like we teach science. Experimenting. Discovering. Uncovering. In Shakespeare's time there was no such thing as a director, as far as we know. Shakespeare himself was an actor as well as a writer. Because of this, he left clues in his plays for actors to find that were, in essence, directions. Those clues appear in the rhythm of the lines, in the repeated sounds in the lines, in the line endings, in the language he chose...and on and on. You can spend hours looking at just one little piece of a Shakespearean soliloquy - there's so much to find. It's like detective work and it's ridiculously fun. I know I'm not doing this justice but I'm afraid I'll just go on and on. I could. Easily. But yes, there is a connection for me between preparing to work on Shakespeare and preparing to work on an audiobook. There are clues there too. There's the cadence of the authors words, there's the clues about the characters based on what everyone else says about them - or what they think about themselves. There's the difference in how each character speaks, what words they chose at that moment to express themselves. There is conveying setting through words and phrases. Oh. I am so lucky to be able to do what I do for a living!
Romance Narrators: You don’t love when people say you “live upstate.” Tell us why so we don’t offend you in the future;)
Erin: Ok. So, New York is a really BIG state. And it has lots and lots of really great places. I live in the "tri-state area", the suburbs of the city. It takes me a half hour to get to mid-town Manhattan by car (and by the way, there are people who live IN the city for whom travel time to midtown can be an hour or more). Upstate New York is Buffalo, Rochester, Ithaca, Niagara Falls, even the Adirondacks. North and West of downstate New York. When someone who is a transplant to New York from some other part of the country cheekily says "oh, you're from upstate" as if New York City is so much cooler than any other place in New York, it does rub me the wrong way. I have lived most of my life along the Hudson River. Sometimes within the city limits and sometimes just outside. My formative years were spent both in the city and outside the city. I climbed trees and took dance classes at Alvin Ailey. My parents both grew up in the city. My mother's parents came through Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century. My experience is uniquely a downstate New York experience. Different from, not better than, an upstate New York experience or the experience of someone who grew up in one of the boroughs.
Romance Narrators: This interview series is called "Between the Sheets" so we like to get a little saucy around here. As narrators of romantic fare, we have heard (and voiced) countless descriptions of lovemaking and endless variations for naming body parts. What are some of your favorite descriptions you've had he good fortunate to narrate?
Erin: Ha! Noah and I spend A LOT of time giggling hysterically about the anatomical descriptions we get to say on a daily basis. I think what I've learned is that "to each his own" applies to sexy terminology as well as other things. What I find to be a sexy word for a body part, might not be sexy to the next person - and vice versa. There are always a lot of things springing out. That one delights me. There are also all kinds of pops and occasionally plops, which send us into peels of laughter. The comparisons to other things - like rods, flowers, fabric, stone - can be really fun. One thing that I've learned is that breasts can swell. I'd never noticed that particular phenomenon. So that has been edifying.
Romance Narrators: Tell us about an audiobook that you are particularly proud of.
Erin: Wow. I don't think I could pick out just one. Each book has it's own unique set of circumstances and challenges. I can say that I think I'm better at fiction than non-fiction. Although I did have the pleasure of co-narrating The Last Ring Home by Minter Dial II for Audible, in which I got to read personal and touching letters from the authors grandmother to his grandfather. But mostly, non-fiction is just really really hard to do well and there are a few remarkable narrators who excel at it, in my opinion (Sean Allen Pratt, Tavia Gilbert, I'm looking at you). I love the books in which I get lost. The ones where I am swept along with story no matter how much prep I've done. I've wept, I've laughed, and inevitably when it's over, I feel a little bereft.
Romance Narrators: What exciting projects do you have on the horizon?
Erin: I'm so excited to be working on the Rose Hill series by Pamela Grandstaff. These are cozy mysteries with sweet romance in them. The characters are quirky and funny (and there are A LOT of them - so I'm really flexing my muscles). There are 10 books in the series so I get to live with these people for a nice chunk of time. Noah and I are also working with Lilly Atlas on a new series of hers that is very different from her MC series. Emotional and beautiful in an entirely new way. We also are continuing to work on series with Renea Mason, Cherise Sinclair, Deb Orton, and May Sage. When I say all this I get choked up and am filled with gratitude that these authors have entrusted me with their characters and their words. It's really amazing to me and I couldn't be more grateful.
Keep up with Erin online:
Erin deWard’s Audible catalog: https://adbl.co/2qtsB4G
Here are the people Erin mentioned in her interview: