Richard Bristow: Voice Actor & Teacher (Gordon Central High School)
WFU MA Class of 1986
Richard Bristow walks us through his path since Wake’s MA Theatre program, including acting and networking experiences across the country and enlightening us on the art of voiceover work. He leaves us with a gleaming kernel of advice at the end- read on to find out!
DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake? What year did you finish your Masters?
Richard Bristow: I was in Wake’s graduate school. Theatre was my concentration. I went to Brenau for undergrad. And to IU for my MFA.
DL: Why did you choose Wake for your Masters?
RB: My mentor at Brenau was a Wake product. He highly recommended it. I went and interviewed and loved it. They gave me an assistantship, too, which was great.
DL: Please walk me through your path from graduate school to your current job.
RB: My path has been all over the place. Right after graduation I worked at an outdoor theater in North Carolina (Horn in the West), and then I went to the Denver Center Theater Company and worked the school year there. It’s a professional theater company that won the first Tony award for a rep company. Then I went to La Jolla Playhouse in California. I went back and forth between those two for a few years. Then my wife, who I met at La Jolla, was a student at Indiana University. I spent a spring break with her, and then I worked at IU for nine years. Then I went to Denver, then Shorter, Berry, and now I am teaching high school. I currently am in Rome, Georgia, and I teach in Calhoun.
DL: What is it like teaching high school?
RB: The kids’ energy is boundless. They are really open and they are eager to learn. Especially for someone who taught in college for nearly thirty years, these students are thriving, and as a result, I am thriving. I love it. We have been to the Shuler Awards. It is the Georgia High School musical theater awards. It is sponsored by Shuler Hensley. It is a really big to-do in high school. We have won three awards in the short two years that I have been at Gordon Central. We have done really well with our one act competitions as well. We have won the region competition for three years in a row - and state one of those! We will be competing in the state competition again this year. I’ll let you know! We are not technically an arts school, but we consider ourselves one.
I also do voiceovers on the side. I got into it when my children were in high school. The were in a place where they didn’t want anything to do with me, so I had free time. So I started pursuing voiceover, which I had always wanted to do. I have done national and regional commercials. I have been in video games and audio games (video games for the blind). I have been everything from grunts and screams in a video game to the end boss in a video game.
DL: How much did your studies and general experience at Wake inform or drive your career path?
RB: The thing about theatre, in undergrad and graduate school, you learn a lot of different skills that are applicable in real life. The main one is deadlines. You can't push opening night. You learn to work as a team. Theater is a big collaboration and you can’t function without your team. You are also pushed to think outside the box. There are times where you don't have the budget of Disney, but you still have to do something and be creative in your problem solving skills.
DL: What sort of tips and suggestions do you have for the student audience on networking, interviewing and applying for jobs?
RB: Just don't burn your bridges. It is incredibly true that theatre is a very small world. The more I work in it, the more I realize everyone knows everyone. Even if you don't know someone, you know someone that does. If you make one person mad, you’ve burned a bridge and you won't find work. Don't be a diva. Be nice to people.
There’s a helpful tip I learned in a voiceover workshop. If you are networking somewhere and there is someone with power there, don’t give them your business card - take theirs. If you give them your card, you are one of fifteen to twenty people to do so in one night, and they will likely not remember you. Whereas if you take theirs and send a personal email the next day, then you are more apt to make an impression on them.
DL: Tell me more about some of these workshops you’ve taken.
RB: I am interested in all things theatre, including voiceover. Bob Bergen, who’s currently the voice of Porky the Pig, I’ve taken classes with him. I’ve done workshops in LA and Atlanta. I have taken a workshop with Katie Leigh who is the voice of Connie in Adventures in Odyssey. We’ve become friends. I have also delved into stage combat with the Society of American Fight Directors. I was an Actor Combatant for a while, but I let my membership lapse. That type of work is fun. I am a very physical person, so I love the stage combat, and my high school students love it, too. I am also a big fan of Michael Chekhov’s acting technique. The National Michael Chekhov Association is a wonderful caring place to learn about this amazing technique. Great people run both organizations and I’ve learned a great deal about acting from both!
DL: What do you think schools could do to better to prepare students for life after graduation?
RB: For actors, it would be great to teach them how to audition well. I think Wake did that somewhat, but I've learned a lot since then. Also, a very important lesson I learned at Wake is that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I came in with such an egocentric attitude, and I learned at Wake very quickly you can't bowl you way through life. You have to be able to work with people and collaborate. Not just “Here’s my idea.” but “Here’s my idea and what are yours?” and relish those other ideas and accept them.
For technicians or designers, the portfolio is most important. That’s a big thing now, but it wasn’t while I was there. It’s changed a lot since I was there. You have to have a really solid portfolio, and it has to be digital these days. You should have your own website. Actors should, too. You also need to have a social media presence as well.
DL: What is your favorite part about teaching high school students?
RB: They aren’t tainted yet. They are so open to learning new things. They are eager and that’s what I love about it - their eagerness. Undergrads and graduate students aren’t that way. The longer you are in school, the more tainted you become. They are so new, especially the 9th graders. They are so wide-eyed and eager to learn. I have one student now that is so talented and may be on Broadway. She is always asking what she can do to get better. I love that. I have a student that just graduated, and after every performance, she would come up and ask “Any notes?” and I absolutely loved that.
DL: What is next for you?
RB: I will do voiceover until I die. June Foray, who was the voice of Rocky from Rocky and Bullwinkle and Cindy Lou Who in the animated Grinch (among tons of others), did voiceovers until she died. As long as I can speak and record, I will do voiceovers. I have another eight-and-a-half years before I retire from teaching high school. I am looking forward to retirement, and I am under double digits now which is exciting.
DL: What kernel of advice would you like to impart to the readers?
RB: It goes back to what I said before. Be nice to everyone and don't burn your bridges. Don't talk badly about anyone to anyone. You don't know who that person is. The audition starts in the parking lot. That person you cut off for the prime parking spot . . . that was the casting director. The whole world would be better if we could be nicer to each other and stop talking badly about people. You don't know who knows that person, and you don't want to be “that person” and have a reputation of talking trash.
Readers can go http://bristowvo.com to listen to Richard’s demos and resumes.