Capital Hill Lawyer takes a class, finds his voice
By Ellen Ryan | July 2008
Coming soon to a theater near you: a Washington lawyer you’ve never heard of. If that makes you raise an eyebrow, just think how it sounds to a federal prosecuter who last acted for an audience in law school 20 years ago. When “The Six Wives of Henry Lefay” opens mouths from now, amoung the leads will be Tim Allen, Elisha Cuthbert, Jenna Elfman, Paz Vega, Andie MacDowell, S. Epatha Merkerson – and Tony Quinn of Capitol Hill.
Quinn, 46, did summer-stock theater in Vermont “with a lot of Broadway types” while in collage. During law school at Emory, he acted out – literally – at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company rather than clerk or research. But at 6-foot-7, “there aren’t a lot of parts for someone my size,” he says. “’Starving artist’ was not appealing.” Quinn took a law firm job in D.C., and in 1991 he joined the Justice Department.
Chances to play to the crowd were few. “I’m a courtroom lawyer. There’s a bit of the theatrical to that,” Quinn notes, and he has performed a bit for free: as an MC at awards ceremonies and in the Department of Justice and Boy Scouts training films. Seeking other creative outlets, he wrote short stories and hid them in a drawer.
Quinn’s wife, Anne, suggested he take up voice-over work or acting again. Last year, he spent an evening at First Class (Takeaclass.org; 202-797-5102), the “center for lifelong learning” near D.C.’s Dupont Circle, at a seminar called “Getting Paid to Talk: Intro to Professional Voice-Overs.”
During the class – put on by the New York company Voice Coaches – students read from a script, get a chance to record and hear how they sound, and receive feedback on their performance. They can phone someone at the company the next day for further assessment.
“We tell the good and the bad about voice acting as a business,” says producer and marketing director Warren Garling. “Radio and TV are only 10 percent of available work.” But wait, there’s more: “Everything that needs a voice, from voicemail answering systems to videos for business [called ‘industrials’] to narration, documentaries, audiobooks – a huge growth industry – podcasts, Web voices, the Disney World tram voice, elevator recordings.”
At First Class, the next voice-over seminars are Sept. 22 and Nov. 5, 6:30-9 p.m.; tuition is $45, $35 for members. Voice Coaches (Voicecoaches.com, 866-887-2834 x 100) also teaches at Montgomery College Gaithersburg and through local public school adult-education programs.
Quinn signed on with Voice Coaches for extra training, cut a demo at an affiliate studio and circulated it. A month later, fate called.
Actually, it was Howard Michael Gould, a college friend who’d written for “Shrek the Third”, “Mr. 3000”, and hit TV shows. Gould had occasionally consulted his old buddy on such real-world concepts as “What does your office look like?” and “Where are the big mansions around Washington?” For his “Six Wives” screenplay, Gould had pictured Quinn while writing the part of a police officer. As director, he had the power to cast whoever he liked. Why not Quinn?
Before filming began last fall, Quinn took voice workshops and worked with Brenna McDonough at her On Camera Training studio in Kennsington (Oncameratraining.com, 301-262-2796); her one-on-one coaching is $100 an hour. McDonough also teaches a $400 introductory course that runs three hours a week for four weeks.
On the set, Quinn looked around, awed: “He’s won an Emmy … What was most striking was how nice they were to me. They didn’t have to be.” During two weeks of annual leave, he was paid to get fitted and made up; the production picked up his transportation, hotel room and meal costs. Besides all that, “my two paychecks I pretty much handed over to the union and Uncle Sam. But it’s better than a vacation!” Eventually, he may get residuals, too.
Clearly, luck brought Quinn the role – but talent and preparation made it possible. “I don’t know what would have happened without the First Class,” he says. “Would I have had the confidence otherwise?”
Lucky breaks aside, voice-over work is rarely a full career. Wannabes pay for training, demos and studio time. According to the Washington/Baltimore office of American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Screen Guild, union members making a local commercial earn at least $279 for a 90-minute radio recording session. For a two-hour off-camera session, the minimum is $533. For an eight-hour, on-camera session, the minimum is $722. Any residuals are extra.
“This is a fallback. I have no plans to leave my job,” Quinn says. But he’s approaching 20 years of government service, which means a second career could prove irresistible. “If someone sees the film and is eager to hire me,” he says with a grin, “I’m open.”
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