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  • Writer's pictureS.K. Keogh

Meet the Man Behind the Voice

So far The Prodigal and The Alliance have been produced as audiobooks (available on Audible and iTunes), and the production of The Fortune has recently begun. All three novels have the same narrator voicing the wide array of characters in the Jack Mallory Chronicles; not an easy feat. Today I want to introduce you to the man behind the voice--Jon DiSavino.

Jon, you have a varied background in theatre, from acting to directing. Tell us about this and how you first got started.

I made my acting debut in junior high school playing Fred, Scrooge's nephew in "A Christmas Carol". I made my own costume from a Navy peacoat, a white dress shirt with the collar turned up, and a top hat I fashioned out of cardboard. But that isn't where I was bitten by the bug. In my sophomore year (first year at my high school), the big musical, by chance, was another Dickens adaptation: Oliver! I was made aware of this when my English teacher, who was going to be directing it, insisted I try out for the role of the Artful Dodger. I was feeling very small and inadequate as an underclassman my first year at high school, so the notion of auditioning for a lead role in the big musical filled me with terror. I dutifully complied, however, and was asked to come to the callbacks. The day of the callbacks, I sat in the dark in the last row of the auditorium, and watched a senior do his callback audition on the stage. He was full of confidence, sang well and was solid in his acting. After seeing him, I decided against going up after him, and quietly left the theater. He got the part, and I was awarded the small role of Charley Bates, another boy in Fagan's gang. But the experience of doing that production was the thing that had me hooked.

Which do you prefer--acting or directing?

I can't say I prefer one above the other - they are such different endeavors. Acting is much easier. As an actor, you are responsible only for your own performance. That comes with its own particular set of challenges, but it pales in comparison to the requirements of being a director. The director is responsible for pulling all the aspects of the production together into a cohesive whole. It requires being prepared to make countless decisions, often on the spur of the moment, throughout the process. And to be able to answer any question that might come up - from actors, production staff, house staff, etc - in a decisive and confident manner. A big part of directing is inspiring confidence in others - and actors, by nature, it would seem, require a good deal of encouragement and validation. That's where my experience as an actor helps me most when I'm directing. I know what it feels like to be hanging out there in the wind when starting rehearsals in a new role. That gives me an advantage when communicating with actors about the job they're doing. I've been in their shoes, and I understand what the actor is looking for from their director.

While performing The Prodigal, I came to the realization a short way in that what I would be doing, in effect, would be directing a production in addition to reading all the parts. It became an almost cinematic experience in my mind, one where I was required to imagine every detail of the action in a way that would help me to convey, using my voice alone, all the elements necessary to bring the story to life for the listener. I found that many of the skills I had acquired as a director had become extremely useful: knowing how to create the proper dynamic between the characters, managing shifts in tone, appropriately modulating the energy and pacing, etc. After that, the process no longer felt uncertain, and became increasingly more fluid.

Who in the business most inspired/inspires you?

In the realm of acting, there are so many. I am going to be 65 this year, so I'm afraid the majority of people would have no idea who most of those actors were. They're the greats who were around when I was coming up - and I am a bit reluctant to admit that most of them were Brits. Laurence Olivier, of course - and Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Paul Scofield. The old British vanguard going back to John Gielgud. The American who will always be the greatest in my mind is Marlon Brando. He was an oddball - but that's what makes his work so compelling. He never chose to do anything in a conventional manner. He made bold, unexpected choices that kept you watching for what he'd do next. There aren't too many people acting today whom I can say that about. More Brits perhaps - Ralph Fiennes and Daniel Day Lewis. Then there's the great American actor - Meryl Streep. Anyone who can convincingly play another gender (the rabbi in "Angels In America") or disappear so completely into a role that you forget you're watching a movie star (Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady") is an inspiration and someone to learn from.

Jon (right) as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night

What made you decide to go into the business of narrating audiobooks?

I had always wanted to make my way into voice-over work at some point - but it's a very hard field to crack. So many celebrities are doing it now, and there are so many established artists that you really need to find someone influential in the business who can open up doors for you. The audiobook field, I was surprised to find out, has developed a unique presence on the internet that has made it easier for unrepresented artists to connect with each other and create projects independently. No affiliation with a large publishing house or talent agency is required. A friend who has been doing voice-overs and audiobooks for years told me recently about the Amazon-owned company called ACX, which is where we connected with each other. As you know, it allows authors and audiobook narrators to find each other - through an audition process, naturally - and collaborate on the process together. I was thrilled to see that there was a real opportunity there. And I was also very happy (and relieved) that my first project turned out to be as enjoyable and rewarding as it was - thanks to your terrific narrative that made reading it great fun.

What motivated you to audition for narrating the Jack Mallory Chronicles?

I have always loved tales of the sea. The first "grown-up" novel I ever read was Mutiny on the Bounty when I was eight. So the idea of narrating a story about pirates and sailing ships, which would offer the chance to create a large variety of character voices, was very appealing. I knew it would be a more exciting challenge than reading a text that was mostly exposition, which is what most of the other offerings seemed to be.

Do you read regularly or when growing up? What type of books do you prefer?

I am an avid reader, and always have been. I have fairly eclectic tastes when it comes to subject matter. I do have a special appreciation for historical fiction, when it's done well. I've always been fascinated by the notion of time-travel, and have felt an almost nostalgia-like attraction to particular periods of history, so the novel that is set in an historical context holds a unique sway over me.

When not involved in the theater or audiobook production, what do you like to do for relaxation?

Relaxation? What's that? Just kidding... I go see as much theater as I can. It's a 30-minute drive into New York City from my home, which is something I am very grateful for, so there is always plenty to see. We also have a family membership to the Whitney Museum, which has become a favorite place to spend time. I am blessed to be living in the Hudson River Valley, where there is so much beauty in the geography here, and spectacular places to hike and commune with nature. And that stuff's free.

Selfie time during a dress rehearsal for "1776"

To learn more about Jon, check out his website here.

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