Emily Durante is no stranger to the world of the spoken word. With softness, subtlety, and versatility she has been enchanting the ears of audiobook listeners for almost 20 years. Her number of audiobook narrations nears the 300 count mark and continues to grow, including a wide variety of genres. She got her start as an acting student living in Grand Rapids, Michigan which is situated conveniently close to the beautiful western shores of Lake Michigan and also home to one of the industry’s leading audio publishing companies, Brilliance Publishing in Grand Haven, MI. While living there, she had the great honor of working at Brilliance, learning the ropes of great storytelling under the tutelage of some of the greatest audiobook veterans of our time while also enhancing her acting skills in college and local theatre.
She moved to Philadelphia in the year 2000 and continued to pursue a career in performing, while also quickly falling in love with her now husband, Christopher. She and Chris now reside in southern New Jersey with their two sons, Nicholas and Zachary. Emily continues her work in audiobook narration for many publishers including Brilliance, Tantor Media, Dreamscape, Bee Audio and lots of wonderful indie authors – all from the convenience of her home studio. Conveniently located between Philadelphia, NYC, D.C., and Baltimore among other big markets she has also been fortunate to be able to provide commercial and other voice over services to a number of local clients. Her greatest joys in life are spending time with her family (including her fur babies Freddie, Drake, and Sully), hiking, rock climbing, painting and drawing, and spending quality time with friends.
How did you become interested in being a performer of audiobooks?
I’ve always had a passion for performing. My parents are both actors and I grew up in and around the theatre in MIchigan where I’m from. When I was in High School my mom started working for Brilliance Audio, an Amazon owned audio-publishing company which is located about 45 minutes from where we were living at the time. I went on to pursue a theatre major in college nearby. Back then, most audiobook narrators were selected from the local pool of talent. A title came across that a young voice was needed for, and I was asked to audition. I did, got the gig, and the rest is history!
What kind of training did you do to be able to become a narrator?
I studied theatre and acting from a young age. My stage work prepared me well for narrating and the wonderful mentorship of my mother, Laural Merlington, who is also a prolific narrator, and other Directors at Brilliance helped me along the way when I was first starting out. My dad, Buck Schirner, has also narrated some great books over the years.
Among the types of performing you have done are singing telegrams. Do you have any interesting stories about doing that unique job?
I did a specialized act while I was performing telegrams. I was a “nerd.” I’d dress up in a hideous outfit, complete with coke-bottle glasses, lipstick on my teeth, and t.p. on my shoe and surprise unsuspecting guests of honor at parties. I would walk right up to the gentleman and confess my undying adoration and love for him. His family would prepare me ahead with lots of funny/embarrassing stories to share about him in front of all of his friends. I’d finish the act by singing an off-key rendition of “You are My Sunshine” while smothering him with lots of hugs! Usually the guy would be mortified, red-faced and humble, but I had this one that took place in a biker bar. I walked in and was directed to the birthday boy. He was over 6 feet tall and well above 250 lbs. I approached him, prepared to lay on the humiliating act by tapping him on the shoulder. He spun around and caught me by surprise by lifting me off my feet in the biggest bear hug I’ve ever experienced and spun me around in circles. He went on to participate in my show by singing and dancing with me. It was a riot!
You serve as a director of audiobooks in addition to being a narrator. What does a director’s job involve? And why do some narrators have directors but not others?
A director’s role in the audiobook production involves doing all of the research for the project ahead of time and helping the narrator throughout the process by providing pronunciation notes and character descriptions. A director is really useful for helping the narrator to keep the energy of the book balanced, pronunciations of all of the words perfect, and the characters sounding spot on. Many times directors are not used in order to save on production costs. Many times directors are still used for celebrity narrators who aren’t used to recording audiobooks, it makes the process easier for them. For example, I had the great privilege to direct David Morse reading Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. David was wonderful and it was such a cool experience.
I really enjoy your performance of Molly MacRae’s Haunted Yarn Shoppe series. You indicated that you have really enjoyed narrating these books. What makes them so fun to perform for you?
Thank you! I love cozy mysteries! Giving voice to elderly ladies with a lot of spunk and sass is so much fun. Molly’s characters are so nicely developed, it makes my job easy.
In the Haunted Yarn Shoppe series, you have to read a character who is a ghost. Did playing a ghost pose any extra challenges for you?
That character was challenging for me. I had to make a decision about how to make her sound in the first book, but Geneva really develops as the series continues. Even though she’s a ghost, she certainly has feelings!
Your first audiobook that you narrated was actually done on cassette. What was it like recording to tape? How much longer did it take to record a book to tape than recording digitally now?
Yes, my first book was The Quickening by Laura Catherine Brown and it was released on cassette tapes. I honestly don’t remember much about the technical process, but I do remember that starting out in the narrating business in general was hard work! There is so much technicality involved in narrating. You have to sit very still, be conscious of noises your body makes, and back then we had to stop anytime the tiniest sound was picked up by the microphone because it was not possible to go back and fix those things digitally. Also we didn’t have tablets to read from so we’d have a HUGE stack of pages that we had to be careful not to rustle while turning. It made for a much longer process!
You have recorded over 300 audiobooks over the last 10 years. Which have especially stood out to you as memorable?
I have actually recorded over 300 audiobooks over the last 20 years! I’ve been at it for a long time! My favorites include The Yarn Shoppe series, of course!, Impossible by Nancy Werlin, Casting Off by NIcole R. Dikson, and Erin McCarthy’s Fast Track series. Among many others! I’m sure I’m leaving off some really great ones.
What advice did you find especially useful when you began recording audiobooks that you like to give to new narrators now?
Don’t assume this job is easy. Telling a story itself is a very intricate process, but narrators now are most times faced with the added challenge of handling the technical aspect on their own as well. There is a lot to it! Get a good coach who knows what they’re talking about to help you. It will be so well worth the investment!
What is your favorite part of performing audiobooks?
I get to read so many books I would never have chosen on my own. I am constantly learning something new. For example, I just finished narrating a book called Lady Death, a memoir by Lyudmilla Pavlachenko. She was a sniper for Russia’s Red Army during WWII. It was fascinating! I didn’t even know there were female snipers during WWII. I love it that I’m constantly learning about new things, it’s so cool!
Check out Emily’s list of books on Audible