- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

Elisabeth Noone’s voice is usually enough to pay the bills.

But toward the end of this day’s recording session, she’s asked to use her feet to finish the job.

Miss Noone and two other voice-over actors must walk across the studio’s hardwood floor so the engineer can get the background sound she needs to build a 60-second spot extolling home-heating oil.

Miss Noone, part-announcer, part-actor, is no prima donna. She walks.

“Having a good voice is a small part of it,” Miss Noone says. A good voice helps, but voice-over actors rely on more than just their vocal talents to build a sound career.

She is a freelancer who digs up her own jobs, reading an average of seven scripts a week for radio and television commercials.

And she is an engineer. While many advertisers hire recording studios to produce radio spots, voice-over actors increasingly are investing in equipment so they can make commercials in their own homes. She could not have guessed 10 years ago that her career would require her to operate the same equipment found in recording studios. But since she has become a technical wizard, she can tape a script from home on a digital recorder, then e-mail it to an engineer who will combine it with music or blend it with other scripts to produce a commercial.

“I was trained as a theater actress. I never envisioned this. The first time I went up to a microphone I went to the wrong end, so I had to learn a lot,” she says.

At the studio in her Alexandria apartment, Miss Noone has just received 12 scripts from WUSA-TV, Channel 9. She works for the television station regularly, recording sponsorships and promotions for the station’s newscasts once a week.

When she is ready to record, Miss Noone slips into a closet that she transformed into a recording booth. A microphone rests above a stand holding her scripts. She replaced the sliding metal door with a wood panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor.

Her feet — no shoes, just white socks — are visible from the room. The closet is covered in sound-proofing material.

After she reads the scripts, she saves them in a file on her laptop, listens to them to make sure they are free of errors, and sends them via e-mail back to the station.

“I started doing this as a convenience. I don’t have to go to a studio late at night. Now it’s a necessity. You can’t be in the business without a studio at home,” she says.

Miss Noone is heard, not seen, but she didn’t start out that way.

The native of Chicago has worked for more than 20 years as an actor, working in plays off Broadway and in television.

Now in her 50s, she has a vast resume. She has appeared in shows including “Bob New-hart,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Homicide” and “Days of Our Lives.” She has done movies for cable networks and still auditions for films.

Acting fulfilled a lifelong dream. She went to New York City in 1978 from the District, where she worked as a secretary at the Library of Congress, with $500 and her son.

Her heart was in theater, but she soon began making money by appearing in television commercials. Then someone asked her agent if Miss Noone would consider doing voice-over spots for radio, and by the mid-1980s she had started a new career. She earns up to $1,500 for a commercial.

Her acting career gave her the foundation to prosper as a voice-over actor, said James O’Reilly, a producer who has worked with Miss Noone about a dozen times.

“Anybody can be an announcer. When you’re asking a person to create a character and interact with other characters, acting experience is important,” he says.

She estimates she has done 1,000 radio commercials and narrations by now for car manufacturers, food companies, politicians and others. She has given voice to a garbage can, a frog, a robot, a cranky old woman and a young boy.

On this day, at a recording studio in Towson, Md., her role is straightforward. One script Mr. O’Reilly has written for the Better Home Heating Council requires a conversation with another actor, Chip Brienza.

Miss Noone and Mr. Brienza take their spots and read over their scripts to prepare for the first take. They will do their best to mimic a real conversation — even though real people don’t talk about home-heating oil.

They nail it on the fourth take. When she is done, Miss Noone relies on her feet again and nearly breaks into a run as she heads off to another studio and another recording session.

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