Since graduating from Columbia University with an M.F.A. in acting,Wendy Rich Stetson has played saucy maids, longsuffering spinsters and quirky leading ladies on and off-Broadway and at regional theaters around the country. She has perfected the role of nerdy office girl in national network commercials for Verizon and Stride Gum; she said “One cheesecake, two forks” on an episode of “The Big C”; and Rick Sordelet (Broadway’s premiere fight director) once told her she drove a cop car as well as any stunt woman. Wendy lives in South Harlem with her husband, Peter and their almost-ten-year-old daughter, Cate.
How did you get started narrating audiobooks?
I am very lucky to count some of the absolute best narrators in the business as my dear friends. Gabra Zackman, Rebecca Lowman, Kirsten Potter, and Joy Osmanski are all good friends and have advised, encouraged and helped me along the way. My friends Neil Hellegers and Hollis McCarthy both encouraged me to take Paul Ruben’s Narrators Workshop and I am so glad I did. I learned a tremendous amount that I was able to take into the studio as I began.
You have a career acting on Broadway, in film, and on television besides performing audiobooks. How have those media influenced your narration career?
I consider myself first and foremost a storyteller. In every aspect of performing, my job is to make sure the writer’s story is fully realized, and the emotional life of the character is presented truthfully and honestly. The neat thing about audiobooks is that I get to play all the characters!
You specialize in performing romance novels. What about that genre draws you to them? And what about you makes you ideal for narrating romance?
Well, Paul Ruben encouraged me to pursue romance. He thought my voice was well-suited for it. And I am a sucker for a happy ending! I love the emotional richness of romance and the challenge of creating heroines that readers can relate to and heroes they fall in love with. And a good steamy love scene is fun too. I have been married for 22 years to my pretty dreamy husband, Pete. Yes, we are Peter and Wendy. And I think maybe above all, I really do believe in love–cheesy as that sounds!
What kinds of books do you enjoy reading in your spare time? Do you prefer to narrate your favorite types of books to read?
These days I am listening to a lot of audiobooks myself. Both to learn from other narrators and to enjoy stories with my nine year old daughter. I absolutely love the middle grade and young adult books being published right now. I feel like we are in a golden age of children’s literature. And many of the audiobooks are extraordinary as well! I would love to narrate some YA myself!
I recently reviewed the book 50 Acts of Kindness, which you narrated. I had this to say about your performance: “Wendy Rich Stetson voices the first person narration from Kylie’s perspective. She serves as a very believable Kylie, with good accents and a solid performance of this book. Her voicing of Kylie does a lot to make her personal journey from a real bitch to someone coming to find herself.” What about this book did you particularly enjoy narrating? How did you make this so believable?
Oh I loved narrating 50 Acts. I felt like I could connect with a Kylie right off the bat. She is flawed–like every one of us. And as I did the audition, something in her voice just clicked with me. Maybe it’s because I am also a transplanted New Yorker who struggles sometimes with the ruthless aspects of the city and wonders about going home to my own small hometown. But I just kind of got her. Also the humor that Ellyn Oaksmith wrote into this book just tickled me. I have tons of outtakes where I actually couldn’t get through sentences without cracking up. And her secondary cast of characters is just to die for. So delicious. I can’t say enough about the fun I had with this book.
You narrated The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, a highly dramatic book about a white woman kidnapped by Native Americans in 1675 and her struggle to survive. I read this book in my American lit class in undergrad and recall its being really intense. How did you handle immersing yourself into the performance without getting personally overwhelmed?
This book really captured me as I read it. Honestly I feel like it’s a book that wants to be heard aloud. The period language is dense and sometimes impenetrable as you read it. I think that can take away from the immediacy of this unbelievable story of hardship, faith and survival. It is crazy intense. But always, my job isn’t to get lost in my own emotions about a story. My job is to make the story come to life clearly, and to allow the emotional truth to fill every word. So I focused on being clear. And simply telling Mary’s story truthfully. And it’s an amazing story.
Besides being an actress, you write as well. How has that influenced your perception of the books you perform?
I know I sound like a broken record but story story story. As I continue to work on my coming-of-age screenplay, Jan Air it’s all about clarifying each character’s story–from the nerdy high school girl at its heart, to the jocks and choir nerds and theater kids. Also I realize after having my screenplay read by actors, just what a vulnerable thing it is to write something and have other people read it. Out loud! I respect all my authors tremendously for having the courage to share their work with the world.
You are a founding member of the Point of Entry Theater Company, where you teach Shakespeare to children. How did you get started doing this? What do you do to make Shakespeare relevant to the children you teach?
Sadly Point of Entry has taken a bit of a hiatus as all the founding members have gotten more involved with family and other theater work. But I did lead Shakespeare workshops with them and with the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival for over ten years. Another dear actor friend, John Cariani, referred me to Hudson Valley, and Point of Entry grew from those collaborations. My colleague Chris Edwards, who now runs the Actors Shakespeare Project in Boston has a background in rap and hip hop. We took a really fun contemporary approach to the language, likening it to those modern forms. And the kids really responded.
You call yourself an “eBay goddess.” Tell us about that.
Ha! My whole family has been selling antiques and collectibles on eBay pretty much since it started. I guess you can say we all have a passion for junk! And when you are an actor you have to stay open to lots of ways of paying the rent!
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
So much! As I mentioned, I love getting to play all of the characters in a story. But I also really love collaborating with authors. I like to talk to each of them about their work, if possible, to really learn what inspires them, and how they envision the characters. That collaboration is really special.