I would love my stories and my words to motivate, inspire and encourage other young ‘kings and queens’ to find their voice. I would love to do more public speaking in high schools or other groups empowering young adults. We ALL have a story to tell. It may be through words, dance, music, painting, or any other medium but it is ours to tell. I would love to take everything that has been given to me and everything that I have ‘worked my ass off for’ to help inspire others to believe in themselves. My job on this planet is to find out what I am good at and give that back to the world. Every one of our voices matter. Every. Single. One.
Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Actor and Award-winning Audiobook Narrator Therese Plummer. Plummer has narrated over 400 titles of all genres. She can be seen in an episode of the upcoming series Virgin River on Netflix this Spring.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was 27 years old, working a day job in a financial firm in NYC to pay the rent and trying to audition during the day. It was beyond stressful. Three years had gone by and although I landed an agent and was acting in off-Broadway shows, I was still having to make my living in the 9–5 grind. My mom was always telling me that I should try to get involved reading audiobooks and that I would be good at it. She was a Systems Librarian for the State of Delaware and listened to audiobooks all the time. I thought she was just trying to help because I was calling her every weekend crying about how hard NYC was and being stuck in a day job and not sure what to do. I had worked the previous five years as an adolescent counselor, helping kids with mental and substance abuse issues and kept thinking I should just go back to school and do that.
Coming to NYC to try and be a working actor seemed like a fantasy. Mom was so adamant that I took an audiobook class with Robin Miles at Actors Connection just to see what it was about. I read copy for Robin and she told me I should be narrating audiobooks. I said ‘great how do I do that?’ and she told me to take her class. It was a good move because it got me into the booth and reading copy and understanding how much more goes into audiobook narrating other than “reading.” It is a performance and I am responsible to perform the story and all the characters as well as narrate. Phew! Somehow a producer from Audible heard my work and called me in to audition for him. I booked my first audiobook gig and took a week’s vacation from the day job, recording during the day and at night rehearsed for an off-Broadway show. I was so happy! I remember thinking this is why I came to NYC. And then it all ended and good o’l Monday rolled around and I had to go back to my day job. I remember being physically ill on the subway thinking about being in that building all day. I prayed the whole way to ‘please have the strength to get through the day’ and not run screaming from the building.
No sooner did I walk in the door than my boss called me into his office and told me they were letting me go. He told me to take a few weeks to find something else and they would give me any references I needed. I just sat there listening and knew something divine was happening for me at that moment. The fear kicked in a few hours later and I started obsessing about how I was going to pay my bills. When 5 o’clock rolled around I was walking to meet a friend for coffee and a pep talk, my cell phone rang: it was the audiobook producer asking me if I was available to start recording another project for a woman who had to go on maternity leave and I said, “why yes I am most definitely available.” That was almost 15 years ago. I have been growing and reading and building my career a day at a time, a book at a time ever since. I have amazing relationships with producers and directors and engineers in my industry and can call myself a successful working artist.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I was given the Robyn Carr ‘Virgin River’ series to narrate about seven or eight years ago. Each book’s characters and their stories build this fictional town called Virgin River in Northern California. The series became hugely successful with the fans who also adored the audiobooks as well. It was absolutely a gift. I became super-close to Robyn Carr and she had me narrate her other series, ‘Thunder Point’ and ‘Sullivan’s Crossing’. The fans associate Robyn and me together as a team and it is such an honor. When Netflix bought Virgin River to make it into a series the fans rallied and wanted me to play a lead character. I was given the chance to audition for a guest star role and landed the part and filmed for a couple of days in Vancouver. The entire team working on the Virgin River set could not have been nicer or kinder. The best part for me was walking onto the set that was built from the stories Robyn wrote and I narrated. I had seen “Jack’s Bar” and “Doc’s House” in my head as I narrated and to see it constructed for television was amazing! I definitely had a moment of gratitude on set and felt beyond grateful to not only be the audio storyteller but now a part of the story on television as well. The stories we tell are incredible and to be able to be in this arena was phenomenal.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So the first book I ever narrated was a romance novel called ‘Delicious’ by Susan Mallery and my engineer was a guy and there were sex scenes and kissing and I pretty much had no idea how I would pull it off without dying from embarrassment. But amazingly it is acting and so I acted and when I flubbed there were a lot of laughs to be had. Years later as I recorded romance novels some of the best material is the outtakes between myself and my engineer. There I am acting like a guy and a girl and narrating and it is all seductive and then I will sneeze or burp or hit the mic with my hand and we die laughing. The best rule in audiobook narration I have adopted for myself is never taking yourself too seriously.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I just wrapped narrating ‘A Bend In The Stars’ by Rachel Barenbaum, alongside Eduardo Ballerini (Male Narrator of the Year 2109) for Hachette Audio; an epic historical fiction.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My favorite story was working on ‘Law and Order SVU’ which was my first TV gig and my character was crying in the morgue, identifying her dead girlfriend and also being interrogated by Elliot and Benson. Mariska Hargitay rubbed my back at one point between takes and whispered to me, “you have everything you need inside of you.” She could tell how nervous I was and at that moment I took a deep breath and did my job. I will be forever grateful to her for her kindness and compassion that day. I try to pass that love and service on to whoever I am working with. It makes such a huge difference on set or in the studio.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Get plenty of sleep. And most importantly know your worth. It is so scary to say no in our industry because we are afraid they will never hire us again or we will be letting someone down if we say no, but sometimes I need to say ‘no thank you, I cannot do that’ if the material or schedule is a conflict and trust it will all be ok.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love my stories and my words to motivate, inspire and encourage other young kings and queens to find their voice. I would love to do more public speaking in high schools or other groups empowering young adults. We ALL have a story to tell. It may be through words, dance, music, painting, or any other medium but it is ours to tell. I would love to take everything that has been given to me and everything that I have worked my ass off for to help inspire others to believe in themselves. My job on this planet is to find out what I am good at and give that back to the world. Every one of our voices matter. Every. Single. One.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
— Don’t take yourself so seriously: I fled some auditions, where casting directors yawned in my face, in tears and took it out on myself and doubted myself and beat up on me. It took years to start laughing about the awfulness of this business at times and blow it off. Nothing is ever that deep.
— It’s never personal: unless the casting director or agent says to me, “um girl that was awful why are you trying to act?” I am going to choose to believe that it is not about me. They are filling a puzzle and the piece I brought in may not fit their picture.
— Stay on your team: no matter what, stay on your team. Learn to be your best friend because this business will chew you up and spit you out and move onto the next tidbit. Know your worth!!
— Find a hobby: the best advice I ever got was to find other things I love besides my art. My world needs to be full and rounded and not all about acting. I love yoga and hiking and traveling and decorating. I try and stretch my comfort zone every day.
— Family first: yes the people in my business who employ me are important relationships but no one comes before myself and my family. That is the safe space after everything is said and done. I get to come home to my sweet, supportive, loving husband Brian and my fat orange cat, ‘Chucky’, who only wants to eat, sleep and snuggle. Best buddies ever!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quotes are “to compare is to despair.” With social media, this one is an easy and lethal one to get caught in. The reality is I cannot ‘judge my insides by your outsides’. I did this for my first ten years in NYC and realized very quickly the only person I can perfect is me, so the heck with trying to be you or something I am not. I sleep so much better when I can do this. The other is “This Too Shall Pass.” No matter what has come up in my life, although it has felt like it will destroy me or kill me at the time, it does not and it passes. I understand why they say ‘growing pains’ now.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Kristen Degnan was my modern dance teacher in college. She was the first example of a working artist I saw and admired and basically wanted to be when I grew up. She saw something in me before I did and gave me the keys to the dance studio and said ‘use that room Therese and work it all out in there’. And so I would go into the studio and play Tori Amos on full blast and in my bare feet would pound that floor and twirl and dance and lose myself until I was a sweaty heap on the floor and completely at peace. I don’t know how she knew I needed that, but she did, and I am forever grateful.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Pema Chodron or Oprah Winfrey. I would call it THE TABLE OF QUEENS. I would like to say to each one of them, “THANK YOU” for teaching me and so many others what a true Queen of grace and dignity looks and acts like. Thank you for having the courage to be messy and vulnerable and powerful individual and collectively-focused. Thank you for showing me and so many others that, regardless of where and how I grew up, it all happened for a purpose. That growing up poor and isolated and with all the drama that comes with being one of eight kids made me the woman I am today. Thank you for making me laugh through my tears. Thank you for teaching me how to take a breath, pull my ‘big girl pants on’ and try again. Thank you for showing me how it’s done.