Today we have with us Georgia Mckenzie: voice actor, writer, director, and much more. We discussed her role as Monica in the Ostium podcast and her experience as a black voice actor in the podcasting industry.
Hello and welcome to the Inn! First of all, how are you and how have you been?
Hi! It’s great to be here. I’m doing pretty well and feeling fine!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your creative journey so far, and how you got into voice acting?
I’m a Jamerican (Jamaican-American) from NYC. I started writing & drawing as a kid, decided to be an artist when I grew up and have pretty much worked in every medium I could get my hands on. I’ve acted on and off, not seriously, but I’ve trained in it as I felt for a director, they should know how to act some so they can give the best directions to their actors and be aware of what they need to hear from me. I got into voice acting mostly because Alex Telander and I are old friends, work buddies and fellow writers. I like to support my friends in their endeavours whenever possible, I’m fairly serious about performance, have the time and could buy a microphone so, why not?
You wear a lot of creative hats. Writing, directing, voice acting, film, photography, etc. How do you divide your time between all these? Does your experience directing influence your voice acting?
I usually earn my paycheck through PSAs, science & government outreach communication spots and event photography, so that’s my 9-5 and I work on those projects as they come in. Writing is often the last thing I do before bed and what I squeeze in between all those adult duties you tend to on the weekend.
How do I divide my time? I stick to a disciplined time structure. Up by a certain time, a plan of what chores need doing and by when. Meal prep for the week to make it easy to stick to a healthy diet, a workout schedule and a writing target for the week. I have no kids but stories and cats, which is definitely easier. It’s work, but I get a lot done.
Directing absolutely influences my voice work. The actors I’ve worked with know I am a rehearser. I’ll do it over skype individually, I’ll do group, I will make time to refine the performance. I want everything you have to give before I turn on a camera or roll tape. That’s how my recording days go. I read & reread; practice the character’s voice or refresh my memory if it’s a follow-up. I go over pronunciation – which isn’t often because I have a perspicacity problem, but I do. By the time I start up Audition, I want to at least feel like I’ve got my voice & my body as aligned to the character as possible. Yeah, body. I often record standing while moving a bit if it helps the character portrayal. Sometimes I multi-task and do it wearing a facemask in my jammies. Arting is hard.
The podcasting industry seems to be mostly dominated by white and male creators. Can you talk a bit about how your experience as a black voice actress has been?
On the internet, nobody knows you’re a black woman. It’s rather like that for me. I believe in colorblind auditions unless there’s a specific reason that character is black or any other ethnicity. The only issue for me is if I get a “you don’t sound black”, which I will say most every person in the audiodrama community has had the good sense not to say. Blackness is more than the stereotypes of blackness, even if some of them have been embraced as black identity due to popular culture. I’m black AF, I also speak how I speak, enjoy taiko, ballet, a good double handed sword and Air Supply. If I do it, it is a black thing, thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Outside of the thorny issue of roles – breaking in to also point out I have turned down roles where people are interested in booking me but want my picture, can we talk about the isolation? There was a study done that showed when women participated in discussion groups at a 25% rate, the men said the women participated over 50%. Minimal participation was felt to be maximal participation. I feel that’s often how black presence in this medium is treated. The few that are here and known give a perception of greater amounts than really are getting opportunities to perform. I can safely say as I keep tabs on a multitude of casting sites, most roles are written white, young. This doesn’t mean actors can’t perform them, but depending on what the casting director believes this character sounds like, that means you may not get the opportunity. It’s human nature to write characters that reflect you and those around you. The upshot of it is, resources to more black writers, producers and creators will increaser the population of black voice actors. And signal boosts by larger pods to smaller pods can help too.
Also, if you can write elves and vampires, guess what? You can cast a few as POC. Frankly, I want to see representation from more Asian, Native, disabled and LGBTQIA peoples in audiodrama. Story is an infinite ocean, there’s tons of room, so jump in.
Do you have any advice for POC looking to break into the voice acting industry?
If you can download a recording app to your smartphone, you can get a book of actor’s monologues and practice delivering those lines. Get into it, feel the character, live the story. When you’re ready, record it and listen to yourself. What do you need to work on? How nasal is your voice? Do you believe the person performing? Do that as much as possible. When you’re ready, take your best monologues, record them and cut yourself a reel (I know, easier said than done, but you can do it!), go to places like Casting Call Club & Wil Writes’ blog. Submit to as many auditions as you feel you can nail the character. Repeat… even after you land that role. Acting life is a grinding life.
How can an average listener show support for POC in the audio drama community?
I’m stealing this from Tea with Queen & J – listen to that podcast if you haven’t before – Pay Black Women. And Men. And Nonbinary. Support us on Patreon if you like our content. A buck or two a month. If you like somethings, then hit us up with a tip via kofi. If you don’t like us, we’re annoying, why do we have to bring race into it & you made it without help etc., etc., then carry on ignoring us. Podcasts have much lighter budgets than filmmaking but uuuhhh, they take time and last I checked, rent, food, equipment and Adobe subscriptions aren’t paid off with appreciation. Let me know if that’s changed so I can negotiate with my landlord. I’ve been lucky. I was able to subsidize all of my creative projects with my own savings. That’s changing. So pay POC creators who are making content you like.
I like that Ostium makes sure to specifically describe Monica as a black woman. I think it can be easy to let listeners interpret characters however they want in an audio format, and I appreciated the explicit acknowledgement of Monica.
I also appreciate that Monica is far more like me than most black characters out there. I don’t think Monica has ever played basketball in her life. Boujy as hell.
What kinds of things do you think writers and voice actors can do to improve the representation of people of color in audio dramas?
Hire us. Produce us. POC make content built around their experiences, their cultures and their own unique voices. This doesn’t create an exclusionary space for people open to new things. It’s always curious that art for the public often gets a question from the white audience of “is this for me”. POC of all types have hardly had the option to decide if it is or isn’t for them, we just had only this to consume. As long as there’s not a request from a group that this space be held as a community only space – join in and hear our stories. Listen to our voices. This is how you get to know us in full just as we can listen to you and know you in full.
What types of choices have you made in your portrayal of Monica that haven’t been in the script? Can you give any specific examples?
I did mention I am Jamaican by birth & Jamerican in culture. Alex once attempted to write a patois and I believe my rendering of the lines was “If you think I’m ever doing this, you have another think coming.” Because I wasn’t going to do that.
You’ve mentioned before that if you could travel through any door in Ostium, you’d want to go somewhere into the future to see if humanity has evolved into something better. Is there any particular place and time you’d go? What about humanity would you like to see improved in the future and how would you know when you see it?
I’d really like to see selfishness & brutality gone. I’d like to see faith understood as an individual, personal matter. I’d like to see conscientiousness of the world as a shared space where we’re all responsible for keeping it clean and sharing the bounty. As individuals, I believe we all know this. We fall down on it because otherizing people is very effective and it takes an unflinching look at our good and bad sides and accepting the bad side to overcome it. But it’s not really something we do as a large group of people. Which means obviously my Ostium door leads to fairyland.
Looking forward, are there any projects on the horizon that you can talk about?
Looking forward to Season 5 of Ostium! I start recording that after this interview. I have some guest spots in other podcasts coming up. The Aliens:Defiance motion comic I voice should be back for the next season. I should also be starting a new audiodrama podcast next year, tentatively called Djeli. It’s retellings of folktales and fables from non-western lore worldwide. The idea is the story, the music and the actors are all connected to the region. I’ve had a book of african tales I’ve been inspired by for over a decade and always wanted to do as a cartoon, but I simply don’t have the time for animating it by myself. Then I realized, duh, it could be a podcast. Derp. 6 episodes, 2.5 are written. I’d like to get up to 12 so we can do it monthly, but let’s get 6 in the can. First season is African tales, the next season is Appalachian folktales, and if we get to season 3, we do Phillippine myths. It’s very exciting, very different from my usual work or Ostium and designed to be all ages so parents and kids can listen to it, talk about it and use the resource links on the website to find more books because books.
What are you reading or listening to these days?
Working my way through Victoria’s Lift audiodrama, I’m a regular listener to The Black Guy Who Tips, MTR Network’s Insanity Check & Molecules & Shit. Love & Luck is my soothing relaxant. Waiting desperately for We Fix Space Junk & The Big Loop. Lore Watch because I’m such a Warcraft nerd.
Books I’m reading right now are Adele Abbott’s Witch PI mysteries (a love hate relationship, I swear), Brad Magnarella’s Blue Wolf Series, The Getaway God, The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan, Boogers, Witches and Haints: Appalachian Ghost Stories. I get a lot of kindle books and when I’m editing video, I just plug in headphones and let it tell me a story. But I also read very fast when I get to sit back and zone out. Reading, working out & Warcraftin’, my guilty pleasures.
Thanks for visiting the Inn and chatting with us! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?
Oh man, just thank you to the fans! We didn’t know how it would go but here we are heading into season 5! I want to see where the story goes as much as you do! Excited!
And multiple thanks to all the great audiodrama podcasts out there that make my work days fly by. Bright Sessions, Magnus Archives, Flyest Fables, White Vault, Janus Descending & Within the Wires. Also to the tireless reviewers and teachers of podcasting, Elena Fernandez, Wil Williams, Sarah Werner (also creator of the fantabulous Girl In Space). Thank you, good teachers, thank you LIBRARIANS! Bless you, chocolate & coffee. And much love to Team Ostium, Alex, Chris, Sara including our newest branch, the Circe crew – Dwayne Farver. If I didn’t see you at PodCon, hopefully, I’ll meet you at Podtales this year. Keep telling people about us, guys, you make this all possible.
About Georgia Mckenzie
Georgia Mckenzie is a writer, director and performer in Northern California. She’s been location photographer for events such as the Davis Music Festival and film & TV productions like “Rellik”. Her directorial debut was in the short, “RomCom Studies”, the script for which was a finalist in the First Time TV Writer’s competition. See more of her work at gpmckenzie.com.