Interview with a Narrator: Vikas Adam

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Vikas Adam is a classically trained BFA and MFA actor with numerous credits in stage, film, commercials, and television, in addition to his 175+ recorded audiobooks. He’s quickly established himself in the audiobook world as a versatile actor who embodies characters with distinct and clear voices. Equally at home with a light piece of literature or a dark thriller, a short story or an epic novel (his longest—49 hours!), Vikas’ work has garnered numerous awards including several Earphones, various Best of the Year lists, and the coveted Audie Award. He was recently one of twenty-one inaugural inductees in The Audible Narrator Hall of Fame. When not recording, acting, or directing, he’s Adjunct Faculty in the Theater Department at UCLA.

How did you get started performing audiobooks, and what were your early days recording audiobooks like?

My first brush with audiobooks was in a full cast production for some books that children’s author Bruce Coville (who’s still a dear friend and mentor) headed up back in the 90s. What plunged me
head first into audiobooks was a workshop I did with Audible in 2012 followed by auditions. They looked at my audition form and seeing that I could do an authentic Indian accent, asked me to cold read the sides in an Indian accent. Two weeks later I was recording my first book, The Urban Jungle by Samrat. It’s a modern retelling of The Jungle Book, with Mowgli’s grandson experiencing adventures in the urban jungle of Mumbai. I recorded at Skyboat Media and was directed by the incredible narrator and director Paul Boehmer (whom incidentally I had met around the time I did Bruce’s audiobooks). Paul became an advocate and passed my name on to other publishers and producers who ended up giving me work which begat more work. Within 2
years, I was at a place where I began self-recording and doing this full time.

You have experience in different media: live theater, film, commercials, and television, in addition to performing audiobooks. How do the others enlighten your performances of audiobooks?

Each is a different beast, but they all feed into each other. When doing film or TV I’m usually playing only one role within the context of that story, yet that role plays a part in the telling of the story. Stage —- depending on the style, direction, or production -— I may get to play multiple characters. In audiobooks, I will usually play all of the characters. So although I have to be aware of the whole story (and not just one character), there’s a scope in approaching them. It’s like looking at a map. Drop a marker or pin on a location. Zoom in, and that pin that’s on there is when I am playing one character, and when I am doing film or TV the focus is that one character within the context of each individual scene (which is usually shot out of sequence). With stage, I would zoom out a bit and look at it as if it were a state map. Multiple cities, and I get to move across it all in the context of an evening. But when I’m doing an audiobook, I’ve got to zoom out to see the whole country and how I’ll move from state to state.

Also, when doing theater or film, for the most part I will play only one character so it becomes an indulgent experience. However each particular type of project flexes and works different muscles. On film, it’s very intimate, so a simple eyebrow raise can convey a thought. On stage, I have to incorporate my physicality and depending on the size of the space, heighten the work as needed. When I’m in the booth working on an audiobook, it’s as intimate as in being on film, but I have to convey nuance through character, cadence, and intention.

You have received so many different awards for your audiobooks. Which do you find most meaningful to you?

While I wholeheartedly subscribe to the belief that it’s not about awards, but about the work, I will also admit that being recognized and acknowledged for my work is something I completely appreciate. Every time I have been commended by either a listener or critic review, an award, something as simple as a tweet or message from a fan -— it reminds me how lucky I am to be doing
what I am; that the long hard years I put into my education and professional development mean something. It’s affecting someone, connecting with someone somehow -— and that lifts me and
makes me want to work harder on the next project.

So if an award or accolade lands in my lap, it’s the sweetest reminder -— yes, your work is affecting someone. And getting a nomination but not a win? Just as important since there are so many
amazing audiobooks and narrators whose performances are compelling that don’t receive the same attention.

The Audie Award in Fantasy for Nice Dragons Finish Last was huge -— to hear my name called out and to be acknowledged by my peers in the industry—- and what really made it special was that was a book that I had self-recorded in my studio and I had taken creative risks on it that I normally wouldn’t have.

Getting the call that I was going to be inducted into the Audible Narrator Hall of Fame was very informal and sweet — Audible said, “We’re creating this and are including you in it,” I responded,
“Cool, that’s nice,” -— and then I made my morning chai. It just didn’t register (lack of caffeine?). When it was officially announced and I saw the other 20 inductees though — insert colorful form of expletive right here. Talk about perspective. Talk about humbling. It made me grateful for my training, my teachers, the listeners, and solidified the need to treat each project with even greater care and respect than before.

How do you prepare to record a book?

Read the book, try to understand what the story and tone is. Does it require character voices or not? If so, what kind of voices can I use to effectively tell this story? What role does each
character play in the context of telling the story? It’s not just about coming up with a varied number of voices. If it only becomes about the voices, it takes away from the story. I have to find
a way to connect with what the author is trying to communicate and then paint it with my sonic watercolor set. I love speaking with authors to get an idea about their thoughts and viewpoints
about characters and the story. Find out if there are any hidden clues to unlock about the character that didn’t make the book.

What books from your varied audiobook career stand out to you the most?

The Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron because I’m a fan as much as the fans. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie for the rich writing and characters he provided. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon for being an Indian-American rom-com and providing diverse characters of color who are American yet have another cultural identity YET are accessible to readers and listeners who are not Indian. Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill for being an urban
paranormal tale that got me in touch with a Neil Gaiman-esque world that I so loved. And recently, Life of Pi by Yann Martel -— it had always been a favorite book -— that last section (wow!), and one of my graduate school professors was working on the movie and tried to get me seen for it, but alas —Hollywood. So when the book was offered to me, it was a special full circle experience.

You are a theater lecturer at UCLA. Has teaching given you a new insight to use in your own performances?

Absolutely yes. Teaching is one of the most important aspects of my life. I’ve been teaching acting to various ages in some capacity for over two decades now, and what I have learned is that I must practice what I preach. If I’m encountering an issue in my own work, then I have to pause and ask, “Okay, Vik— if a student were asking you how to deal with this same problem in their
work, what guidance would you provide?” and go from there. Sometimes I’m being lazy and skipping steps I shouldn’t; sometimes I need a kick in the keister; or maybe a reminder to trust the process and not be so hard on myself for the result.

What characteristics are necessary for a person to have in order to make that person an effective audiobook narrator?

Audiobook narration is a performance -—even a non-fiction book. So, some form of acting training, and text deconstruction is vital. You must have an ability to trust in your work, to let go and know that every line you read will be lovely and fine, and no, you can not go back and correct everything because . . . well. . . you’ve got a whole book to finish recording.

You have jointly recorded a number of books with other audiobook narrators, including some with casts of several performers. How do you coordinate team narrating and making your styles balance each other?

Oh that varies -— for the most part, we narrators communicate and discuss character voices -— any distinctive choices we are making, pronunciations of names, places, etc. But otherwise, we are on our own. Certain projects are handled differently based on studio or publisher, and you’ll have a producer or director overseeing it, so you can focus on your performance exclusively.

I was really impressed to see how you are active in fighting sexual assault and helped to found the Dallas County Sexual Assault Coalition. What inspired you to adopt this cause? What kinds of activities do you do to fight sexual assault?

My work in sexual assault awareness stemmed from my personal experience growing up as a survivor of sexual assault. I originally began speaking publicly about it as an undergraduate student as a form of spreading awareness in regards to male survivors. As I continued speaking about my experiences over the years, I focused on my journey of healing versus spending time speaking about the acts of violation -— despite personal questions being asked that for some reason, were not considered insensitive. That led into joining a group that used theater as a tool to educate university students regarding the issue of sexual assault. I also created a workshop on the Eroticism of Rape in Film that I presented over a number of years to university students and eventually at conferences for social workers at the state and national levels.

The Dallas County Sexual Assault Coalition (DCSAC), which is made up of social workers, law enforcement, government officials, and hospital staff was formed by a group of incredible
individuals with a desire to improve services to victims of sexual assault, and I consider myself fortunate to have been among them as it was created -— I was odd man out -— an artist -— what the
hell could I bring? But in interacting with these amazing people, I worked on creating simulations with actors for hospital staff as well as for training volunteers who’d be manning emergency phone lines. We created an official Sexual Assault Awareness Month for Dallas. And that’s the tip of the iceberg, but sexual assault awareness became a movement for me -— something
which was a regular part of my day for several years. Sadly, in the last decade since moving to Los Angeles to start anew, I had to step away from this work in order to focus on other aspects of
my life, but the recent MeToo movement was a powerful reminder that there’s still much to be done. I’ve felt a calling to see how I can be of service at this point in my life and how I may
contribute once again to this task in areas where my particular energy can be used.

What advice did you find especially helpful as you started out performing audiobooks that you like to share with new narrators now?

As hard as it is and as solitary as it can be, we get to reach out and affect people and connect with others in a way that other art forms cannot. When we record, we get to reach back in time and connect with the ancient Storytellers . . . and when I remember the power that archetype has — a kid sitting
criss cross applesauce and being hypnotized by a tale -— that is the experience I aim to invoke within the listener.

You can learn more about Vikas at the following websites:
http://www.imdb.me/vikas
https://soundcloud.com/vikas_adam

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Interview with a Narrator: Vikas Adam
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Interview with a Narrator: Vikas Adam
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Vikas Adam has had a career as actor, professor of acting, and audiobook narrator. He just got inducted to the Audible Hall of Fame and discusses his life and career with us today.
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Fangirl Nation
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