Allyson Ryan is a native New Yorker whose diverse talents have led to a career in voiceover, theatre, TV, commercials, and films. She began on the New York stage and then onto Los Angeles to work in film and TV. She played “Mom” in national commercials. She landed her first gig narrating an audiobook for Penguin Random House and fell in love with voiceover. She has been narrating for several years and has an Audiofile Earphones Award for The Divinity of Second Chances by Kaya Mclaren. She narrates all genres and loves bringing books to life. She can be also be heard in commercials, animated shows, and video games.
How did you get involved in audiobook narration in the first place
I was doing theatre in New York City but moved to LA 11 years ago with the intention of acting in film and TV. I catered to support myself while I made contacts and ended up as a server at the Random House Audio party. I met Dan Musselman and asked him how actors got into the world of audiobooks. He said I could send him a demo. I sent him a commercial demo I had made in NY, and a couple months later, he asked me to come in and read a few pages of my favorite book. At that time that was Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I had no idea what I was doing! But a few weeks later, I got the call. I landed my first book, Short Change by Patricia Smiley, a female detective novel. With over 30 characters. Yikes!
Do you think narrators need to have a love of books to be more effective in their job?
I don’t know if it’s a requirement but it definitely helps. We spend long hours immersed in these worlds, essentially reading a book twice, once to prep and once to narrate. So it helps if you enjoy reading.
You co-narrated Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman with Cassandra Campbell and Simone Lewis. Is co-narrating a book with others any different from performing a book by yourself?
The difference is that you have to be cognizant of what the other narrators are doing and what character voice choices they’ve made. Also, it’s good to get a feel of their tone and interpretation of the book. If I am recording with a director, her or she is the one keeping it all in check, but if I am engineering and directing my own sessions, then I ask the other narrators to send me clips. I also go on Audible and listen to their voices to get a sense of where they are vocally.
Your website says you especially enjoyed narrating Ally Hamilton’s Yoga’s Healing Power: Looking Inward for Change, Growth, and Peace because you are yourself a yogi. What did your own experience help you bring to the narration?
I was so excited for that one! Ally had organized her book by writing about the eight limbs of yoga, The Yoga Sutras, and illustrating each one with a personal story. Then she followed it up with a meditation and yoga poses to help practice each Sutra. It was a real education for me because I only practice the asanas, the physical poses, so it was great to be exposed to the other Sutras while working at the same time!
I have been really enjoying your performance of Jenn McKinlay’s Library Mystery Series. In my review of On Borrowed Time, I wrote, “Allyson Ryan provides a strong performance in reading this book. I really like the job she does with this book, making it seem real in a dramatic situation without making the book overly emotional. Ryan’s voice strongly suited the book and its tone.” Your enjoyment of the book comes through in your narration. What about this series did you really enjoy?
First off, I love Jenn McKinlay’s writing. It’s smart and charming, and her characters are so unique. It’s a fresh take on the mystery genre and on the librarian stereotype. And I love the quaint seaside town it takes place in with all these quirky characters that I get to play with. I wish I could spend a “Crafternoon” with the ladies of Briar Creek. I had to make their voices very distinct from each other because there are several scenes in each book with the five main women, but then as the series goes on, Jenn McKinlay keeps adding members!
Have you ever had to narrate a book that you strongly disliked but had to record anyway? How did you deal with that? Or if you haven’t run into such a situation, what do you envision doing?
I have read a textbook here and there, and those are NOT fun. You have to try to make the text interesting without being too interesting. But even the books that are not really my cup of tea, narrating and reading are two different things. You can still have fun with them because acting is acting.
How do you prepare to narrate a book, as far as reading through the book before starting to record? Do you read the whole book out loud first to practice? In one whole or piece by piece? How do you decide which voices to use for the different characters?
I don’t read whole book out loud, but if there are intense dialogue scenes and I’m trying to figure out how a character sounds, those I will read aloud. Deciding what voice to use is informed by instinct and descriptive clues about their personality, sound, and look in the book. If I’m totally lost, I will just start reading their words until something emerges. I’ll then record and listen back to see if I like it. It’s a lot of pressure because you want to be the voice the author hears in their head, but that’s impossible to do!
How do you keep from laughing in the funny parts or books or crying while reading the deeply emotional parts?
IT’S HARD. I narrated The Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin, aka Andrew Shaffer, a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. It was a short five hour audiobook that took forever to record because it was so laugh out loud funny. And for titles that are emotional, you can’t let yourself experience the emotion in the moment because if I start crying, I sound like I have a head cold. I was one of the two narrators for Buried Memories: The Katie Beers Story by Carolyn Gusoff and Katie Beers. It was so upsetting that after every chapter I would have to stuff down my tears so that I could continue. When I finally finished it and was able to let myself go, I couldn’t stop crying. That book stayed with me for months.
What do you like to read for your own personal enjoyment?
Who has time for that? Ha, I enjoy reading fiction and lately I’ve been into political non-fiction. I’m currently reading Elizabeth Warren’s This Fight is Our Fight.
What is your favorite part about being an audiobook narrator?
My favorite part is that I get to act every day and get paid for it.