During our interview, Guest Kathryn Nymoen, Voiceover Artist, talks about the benefits and challenges of working in the highly competitive voiceover industry, where it's important not to have an ego; how the words "Sing God" directed her career and enlivened the Bible; how learning that she's God's loved child has made her a new person, rid her of fear and guilt, and helped heal the pain of losing a brother when she was a teenager. And there's more.
How did you get into the voiceover industry?
I was doing a show with San Jose Repertory Theatre and was in a bad car accident. It was 1985, and we didn't have understudies, so the show had to be canceled. The money dried up. As the saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention." Well, I had a friend in radio who got me some voice spots, paying $20 per spot. That's when I started doing voiceovers. But the idea first came to me when I was in graduate school doing theatre. A gal gave us a lecture on how to make a living when you're not making a living on the stage. She played a tape that she had made, and I was riveted on the spot. By the time I had voiced all these spots that my friend had gotten for me, I had enough material for a demo reel, not to mention a lot of experience. So that's how I got started.
What do you enjoy most about voiceover work?
Well, to be perfectly honest, what I enjoy the most is having the time to raise a family. For me, it's an answer to a prayer. I had been bouncing around from 1985-'92 doing theatre. My husband is also a performing artist and works all the time. When we started our family, one of us needed to be with the kids (we have three). Within a year, I had to shift my career focus. I got an agent up in San Francisco who was really wonderful. Within a month, I had scored big with voiceovers: I won an audition for Delta Dental and did about two dozen national radio spots, which was huge for our family! So I was very goal oriented: How can I raise kids, be there for them, and make the most amount of money in the shortest amount of time? For me, it was voiceovers; otherwise, I think I would've stayed in the theatre, as well as continue my desire to perform in opera.
The voiceover industry is very competitive, isn't it?
Oh yes. You have to have success right away. They (the agents) give you about a month. If you're not making career connections, they put you on the back burner. You're only as good as your last gig. And in San Francisco, they don't give you a guarantee of money, while in Los Angeles, my agents got me a role on a soap opera. As the years have gone on, I have gotten recommended for jobs, for which I'm thankful. I just see the grace of God all the time in my work. My needs are being met on a daily basis.
How has the Bible fit into your career?
Years and years ago when I was in Los Angeles, this really sweet lady looked at me and said, "You need to sing God." At the time, I was doing stand-up comedy. A lot of people told me I had a beautiful voice, but this one lady so affected me that I pulled up all my stakes in L.A. and came back up to the Bay Area, where I had been raised, and got a voice teacher. I thought I was going to do opera. I did my first and last opera with my husband, which is where I met him. He was a percussionist in the pit, and I knew that when I met him, he was the kind of man I should be married to.
The message from this woman stayed with me, and in June of 1991, I got a phone call from a church looking for a soloist. I signed a contract with them. I was so surprised that the woman who was my very first voice teacher (whom I had found in the phone book when I was around 13 or so) was a member of this church. It was just amazing. So now I had to sing liturgical music -- sing God. At that point, I was really studying opera. But I started delving into the church's libraries, and I just have to tell you that there's nothing that uplifts me more than singing liturgical music -- singing from the Bible. I just can't explain it. So then this "sing God" message made sense. I was singing to uplift the soul for God, and that's when I became very interested in reading the Bible.
I'd always wanted to read the Bible, but in my upbringing, the church I attended didn't really encourage you to read the Bible. We were just supposed to listen to the sermons. It was one of those things I always tried to do, but it never came easily. About three years ago, I got The Message Bible on DVD, and that's when the stories came to life for me. I have a little blue chair in my office, and I would curl up in it and listen for hours.
So having this job as a soloist was just wonderful. I was reading all the music from the Bible and singing them all in my head -- "For God so loved the world," or "Behold what manner of love." Now, whenever I hear the Bible passages and stories read, I hear music.
How has studying the Bible affected your life?
Well, it's sort of like there was a "me" before all of this, but now there's a "me" that knows I'm a child of God. I have a real, personal relationship with God. I wanted the Bible to be more than just stories, to feel real so that I could identify with it, and now it is real. There's a new me: where once I was so afraid, I'm not any more. I was thinking about this the other day. I've read a lot of different books and things on my spiritual journey. It was so remarkable to me that when I began to read the Bible, I realized that I had reached the end of the road; I could stop looking. I didn't need to pick up any more books. The life of Jesus is so real to me, and studying what he said and did shows me that there's nothing else for me. He's a light to the world.
You mentioned that you were fearful before but aren't fearful now. What happened?
When I was young, my brother died in a car accident. I was only 14 at the time. That was one of those things in life that changed me. What I noticed was that my faith was not grounded in anything; it was just piled on. Where once I trusted life and believed that good things happen to good people, everything turned upside down, and I became very fearful. In my household, I didn't get any real support. Although my mother tried, she was in a state of utter grief herself. I felt all alone, and that began to clock itself into fear. I began to fear living, since it felt as if you could be up one day and down the next. I would say that this feeling of fear accompanied me up until about two years ago.
What helped you release the fear?
Love -- not just love in the esoteric sense. It was Love, being in the presence of Love. In the presence of Love, there can be no fear. So whenever I start getting off kilter, I ground myself in Love.
It's just what we read in the Bible: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18 NRSV).
Yes. So whenever I find myself visiting the shores of fear, I ask the Holy Spirit to intervene for me. I also finally understood that it was okay for me to struggle; I just don't have to stay in the struggle. Instead, I could redirect my thought. This was so liberating. My whole life had been spent in the valley of fear and guilt. Now, if there's any time that I feel myself spinning into the negative, I redirect. And I'm constantly cultivating the ability to do this. We read in Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (2:5 KJV). So if I find myself thinking negative thoughts, or if I'm angry and unforgiving or whatever, I ask to have the mind of Christ Jesus. I anchor myself in those words, which arrest me and pull me up.
What have you gained from studying the Bible that correlates to your career?
Faith -- to know that you're taken care of. In this line of work, it's very easy to lose your faith. It's like you're putting all your wares out to be bid on. You have to realize that it's no different than working on a conveyor belt in, say, the automobile industry: when it comes time to put the chrome on, you put it on. When it comes time to voice the project, you're just one of the whole line of people who is doing something to get the big job done. You have to be dispassionate about it.
One company I am working for let me listen in on a usability study recently of one of the IVR (interactive voice response) projects I did. What I heard was so negative: this particular person was angry about having a "voice" respond and not being able to talk to a real person. Twenty years ago, such comments would have enslaved and hurt me. Though I had done the best job I could, in the scheme of the big job, it fell to other people in the process to fix the way IVR functioned. So you have to separate your core from what you're producing. I care deeply about what I'm doing when I'm in there. I want to do the best "chrome job" possible. I don't want my voiceover to be bad. But when the job is over, it's over.
It sounds like you're saying that you have to de-personalize it, or take your ego out of the process.
Yes, exactly. You're always doing your best; you're always trying to deliver what's wanted, but you can't personalize it; you can't wrap up your identity with it. That's really it in a nutshell. And sometimes, it gets really hairy. All three of my kids have been lucky enough to do voiceovers. But without exception, they all look at me and say, "You can have it, Mom." For example, there are times when you're on a phone patch, and people are listening to you not only in the studio but in another city. It's especially hard when you're young, like my daughter, Meghan, to bring forth all your creative energy to a project and then to be told that what you just did was not it, that you need to sound more like this or that.
One time, the producers and directors on the East Coast thought they had the mute button on when they were reaming her. Of course, it was just horrible for her. But she knew she had to continue in spite of the awkwardness. She got through it but decided after that that she really didn't think she had the stomach for this kind of work! I told her, "You can't hold onto comments like that; you have to keep your core identity intact, separate from their comments." And that's hard.
How do you deal with or pray about the criticism and all the judgment?
I just say the Lord's Prayer. I used to sing the Lord's Prayer a lot. I was a wedding and funeral singer in college, so I would often find myself doing the Lord's Prayer multiple times a day. Now, when I sing it, it brings me real, strong peace. It's a big one for me.
What does the Lord's Prayer say to you?
I am here, and I am with you.
That sounds like it was part of the healing with your brother.
Yes. When he died, my church gave out prayer cards. I used to go to sleep saying the prayer that was on the card for him. I needed something then. But now, I can't remember that prayer; now, every single night, I say the Lord's Prayer, so it's taken its place. It would have been just incredible to know earlier in life that I was a child of God, to have that reality as a kid! If you know that, you have everything.
What brought you to a sense of closeness to God?
The God of my understanding now loves me no matter what, so it's okay if I slip and fall. I really didn't know that before. Now I just do better and keep working. Rather than feel guilty, I see every day as another opportunity. That guilt is not my reality any more.
Are there any other challenges in your career?
Right now, with the work I do with IVR, the main one is to stay motivated. On any given day, I'll read thousands of prompts dealing with points of interest, explaining where an intersection is, etc. etc. etc. It's very rote. You feel like a machine that needs to be perfect. So I need to stay present. I do that by being grateful. I say, "Thank you God that I can do this." When I find myself going down the slippery slope of boredom, I get a quick thought about gratitude, which helps me pull myself up from all the repetition of the job.
Any last thoughts to share?
It doesn't matter what hand you have in life if you're anchored in the truth and in love. Know that you are God's child and that you are perfect in Love.
About Kathryn Nymoen
Kathryn's professional performing career includes multiple credits in theater, music, comedy, television, film, and voiceover. She is a member of AEA, AFTRA and SAG. She received her MFA from Brandeis University (professional actor training program) and her BA from Santa Clara University with a major in Theatre Arts.
Commercial credits include work done for Disney like "Mickey's Comedy for Kids," American Greeting cards singing "Mr. Postman," and vocal soundtracks for the motion pictures HellBoy, Spy Kids, and Mimic, among others. While in Los Angeles, she appeared in the NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara, while performing in a trio of singer/songwriters appearing in local comedy clubs.
Theatre credits include two seasons with the San Jose Repertory Theatre in San Jose as well as multiple seasons doing summer regional theater, both on the East and West Coasts. While pursuing vocal technique for operatic music, she appeared in San Jose Stage's longest running show, Angry Housewives.
Currently she works exclusively in the area of voiceover. Her clients include many high tech companies such as Apple, Hewlett Packard, Nasa Ames, Cisco, Verizon, as well as high profile banking institutions: Bank of America, Washington Mutual, and Wells Fargo.
She is married to Mark Veregge and makes her home in San Jose, California. She has three children: Meghan, Maxwell, and Molly.