We had the good fortune of connecting with Gail Shalan and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Gail, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
Finally honoring my intuitive knowledge of self by taking the leap to apply for an MFA in Acting across the pond at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, leave behind everything I knew when I got accepted, and fully throw myself into a new chapter of life.
In 2016, several years out from my BFA Acting training, I was feeling incredibly restless. I’d moved to New York City, Boston, and then out to rural Western Massachusetts, I’d worked with various theatre companies, independent filmmakers, toured with a couple puppetry projects, and narrated my first few audiobooks. In all that experience (and before) the moments when I truly felt grounded in myself, in the work, and in community with like-minded creatives was always when working or training in the U.K.

The seedling of wanting to move over there to continue my training was planted years ago when I first went to London as part of a Children’s Choir tour, but it took over a decade to sprout. When it did, it came up surprisingly fast– even the application to the course was very spontaneous — and utterly changed my life by reinforcing a new-found power to trust my gut and take big chances on opportunities that felt really right. Not only did I receive a training that gave me so many technical skills I use every day in my work and in my life, but it gave me a real knowledge of and respect for myself. Without that, it would be impossible to know when to say yes (or no, which is important, too).

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In early 2020, right before the Pandemic hit, I made the choice to leave my survival job in the restaurant industry and dive full-on into Voice Over. The timing was incredibly fortuitous and truly a tremendous silver lining of the past few challenging years.

By early 2021, I was narrating frequently enough for it to become a full-time job while peppering in other Voice Over work, Theatre work, and other creative projects at will. Again, the seeds for this dramatic shift were planted several years before, but when the time to sprout came, the growth was very fast.

While I’m pretty sure most actors decided that the Pandemic was the perfect opportunity to start working in voice over, I was privileged to have positioned myself well for the push it takes to dive all in and make it a full-time endeavor:

First off, I’d already narrated a handful of audiobooks before graduate school and during, as well as a small handful of other Voice Over gigs. I was very lucky to get cast on an Audible UK book right out of grad school that needed a young-sounding American voice and had just been brought on board (by an author I’d previously worked for in an Indie capacity) for my first big publisher gig with Blackstone Audio months before school started.

I’d also decided that I wanted to incorporate more VO work back in 2019, so I had participated in several wonderful classes, workshops, coaching sessions, and conferences during my first year out of school, living in New York. And, literally only a few months before the pandemic hit, had invested in professional VO equipment and set up a very workable, acoustically fabulous, studio closet — so I was very ready to work from home when the world shut down.

And, perhaps most importantly, I came to narration with the foundation of really incredible training and acting experience on both the stage and screen. I’d done years of work learning how to be a storyteller, strengthening and discovering how to access many different aspects of myself, various skills, and how to appropriately assess what the various medium or container of the story is and therefore calls for.

Beyond acting training, I have a deep love of words, language, story, and the most intimate parts of human vulnerability — which is so often found in books — especially books I tend to work on most like Middle Grade and Young Adult. My passions for literature, language, and learning as well as my rather insatiable curiosity for how humans work, interact, speak, and think makes me particularly suited to the world of audiobook narration. It’s a very self-selecting sector of the entertainment world. Folks often compare it to marathon running, and although I’ve yet to run my first marathon, I think it’s true– it’s a test of endurance and a very solitary endeavor most of the time. A lot of actors find it’s just not for them, so in that way, if you have the skills and you actually do enjoy it, it’s a pursuit that can yield rewarding results relatively quickly.

I certainly wouldn’t say it was easy– it took a lot of work, patience, and persistence– but I will say that what was and is right for me has come very naturally. I’ve always felt like audiobook narration was something I understood innately. It made sense. Sure, over the past couple of years immersing myself in the specifics of the craft, industry, and community, I’ve honed skills further and become a better narrator (as I’m sure I will continue to do) but I never felt stumped by how to make this train roll down the tracks and it has always filled me with the purest fountain of joy and creative fulfillment.

I think so much of being a “successful” (whatever that means) creative is about staying in the game, authentically connecting with your community, and continuing to learn as you go. So whatever it takes to keep that spark alive is essential. There will be storms where the wind, the rain, and the harsh weather make the flames nearly die out and there will be sunny calm spells where the fire roars and rages… so long as the spark remains, you will be able to stay in the game. It’s important to do what you need to do to protect and nurture that spark. It’s important, also, to invite others to share in your warmth and light and to not be afraid to ask for help in sheltering and fostering your own.

I’m still adjusting to the rollercoaster of a career as a freelance storyteller but I know, when it comes to narrating audiobooks that my spark is well protected and nurtured. One of the best things about being a narrator, aside from getting to spend the majority of my time actually telling amazing stories/playing amazing characters rather than chasing opportunities to do so, is the absolutely wonderful, generous, endlessly kind and supportive audiobook community. I’ve never been in a professional “room” that’s felt quite as genuinely warm, helpful, and grounded. For me, that is an essential component to keeping the spark alive.

Most of the time the other voices in the room are all just me, but on the delightful occasions I get to work with a director, collaborate with other narrators, connect with my authors, or just show up at audiobook social events and spend time with audiobook people as people the energy, the love for the work, and the support for each other is infectious.

Most days, for many reasons, I truly love my job, my business that I built with the support of so many wonderful people. And I’m very proud of that.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love the opportunity to be a tourist in my own town! Especially in a city as exciting as New York. One of my best friends in the world, Alice, has been living back in Melbourne since 2020, but is NYC bound next week. Here’s what we’re going to get up to:

In the morning we might meet for an early riser yoga class at any of the wonderful studios in Manhattan or Brooklyn. I love Baby Cobra in Bushwick or VERAYOGA in Lower Manhattan that has amazing rooftop yoga. There’s nothing like early morning NYC light.

Then we’ll get a smoothie or a juice at a bodega around the corner. It still blows my mind that I can get a fresh juice any time of day or night pretty much anywhere in New York.

We’ll then take a little walk through one of New York’s beautiful parks… I’ve been a huge fan of Bryant Park this summer which has all kinds of incredible events and is right next to the iconic Public Library.

Perhaps we’ll wander over to The Drama Bookshop since it’s been redone and is totally lush! We’ll browse some new plays and have a coffee there. Did you know there is a theatre downstairs?

Then we’ll wander down the Highline and take a little look through the Artist’s and Fleas market in the back of Chelsea Market.

We’ll stop for lunch at The Standard– oysters and a photobooth! Then check out The Whitney Museum.

After that we’ll make our way through the Village over to Washington Square Park where hopefully we’ll spread out a picnic blanket and listen to some street buskers, maybe take a little nap, rest our feet.

Then, if we’re not heading back up to midtown to catch a show, we’ll have a round of negronis and stuffed squash blossoms at Via Carota followed by a glass of wine and the best cacio e pepe ever!

Finally, we’ll head over to Mezzrow Jazz Club for some late night jazz. Then hop on the train back towards Brooklyn and make a stop at a friend’s rooftop to look at the city skyline before heading of to dreamland.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to shout out Robert Biggs and Deborah Sims who are the incredible creative team behind Outcast Cafe (Lee,MA).

They gave me my first big professional gig out of undergrad — well, actually the summer before I graduated– and my foundational experiences as a puppeteer/puppet builder bringing myself & a brilliant company of creatives to the Edinburgh Fringe, New York Fringe, and — on another project– on set in rural Illinois.

They kept me creatively employed and engaged during a patch of rather dry and otherwise uninspiring years of my life and helped foster a belief in me that being an out-of-the-box creative is a powerful and wonderful thing.

But I also grew up in their house–being very close friends with their daughter, Emma– and watched them set such a wonderful example of a creative lifestyle filled with love, respect, autonomy, symbiotic support, beauty, and fun! They showed me that you can make meaningful and delightful entertainment without sacrificing joy and good relationships in life. And they showed me that investing in stories you really believe in is a worthwhile endeavor (which you can really see exemplified in their award-winning documentary “One Year’s Crop”).

Every project they make is so full of heart, is so full of raw, relatable, utterly human vulnerability, and is always masterfully made.

Website: https://www.gailshalan.com/

Instagram: @grshalan

Linkedin: Gail Shalan

Twitter: @grshalan

Image Credits
By Air or By Land Photography Sasha Kay Photography Wahhab Photography “Coyote Girl” still – Outcast Cafe-D.P. Rick Sands “Here We Are” still- BOVTS Film – D.P. Annabel Lee “Mr. Dad” still — Dov Torbin — D.P. Sarah Karpati The Importance of Being Earnest” Stag & Lion – photographer Lisa Kramer

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutColorado is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.