By: James Bartlet
The Covid-19 pandemic has shuttered movie sets and silenced television studios, but Belfast-born actress Alana Kerr Collins has never been busier.
She can’t go to auditions, but thanks to the current surge in popularity for audiobooks she finds herself fully-booked as a voice artist, a specialized job she found just a few months after arriving in Los Angeles.
“At the moment, my sessions are up around 20%,” said Collins, who had already been working from home for years and recently invested in a Tardis-like Studiobricks digital home studio.
“It’s fantastic. It’s a standalone booth that can be broken down and moved locations if need be and provides the perfect studio quality sound. It’s in the spare room now.”
Collins has recorded more 70 audiobooks since she came Stateside in 2013 and has snagged some awards along the way too – including a 2017 Audie, the Oscar of the audio recording world. She was nominated for another Audie this year too, though she didn’t win that time.
Her Belfast accent hasn’t changed at all in that time either, and she credits the “sing-song” nature of Northern Ireland accents as part of the secret of her narrator success.
“I imitate the sounds and the intonation as I would a piece of music,” she explained. Although she has acted in many Irish audio books including James Joyce classics The Dubliners and Ulysses, The Girls of Ennismore and The Unkillable Kitty O’Kane, she’s also tacked horror and science fiction and performed Northern English, Scottish and Mexican accents.
Acting and performing has been a life-long love for Collins, 36, who began her career aged just 10 when she joined the Youth Lyric, a Saturday drama group. She followed her passion by winning places at the National Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre in London, then took a degree in Drama/English at Trinity College, Dublin.
Her first big break was playing Cinderella at the Waterfront Hall, and then after several years of musicals and theatre – and a spell as a puppeteer and the voices of Goliath, Maisie and Claribelle on Sesame Tree– before she moved across the Atlantic.
She had also spent time training in the noted Meisner Technique in London. In Los Angeles, she had continued to attend several local acting studios – all while enjoying the famous sunshine.
Even if she’s in a commercial studio, she’ll often do double duty as her own engineer, and she says that every hour of a book takes around two hours to record. She prepares by making notes, highlighting lines, giving characters different colous and even including sound clips on the scripts, which are on a special iPad app.
At the moment, California is in stay-home-safe mode and that means that Collins’ husband Matt, who works for BMW North America, is at home – and that can make thing tricky to juggle since they also have 1-year-old Noah too.
“I’m used to recording during his naps, but even with Matt at home and no access to childcare due to Covid-19, it’s even more exhausting than usual!” she added.
Hiking trails and parks in Los Angeles have tentatively been reopened, and that means that the family can spend time in the 4,300 acres of Griffith Park, a place that she often says reminds her of the North Antrim coast, where she spent lots of time as a child.
Collins and her family live in Culver City, a noted location for film studios (most famously MGM) and she returns home to Finaghy regularly – most recently for Noah’s 1st birthday last year.
Her next audio projects include WWII mystery The House at Mermaid's Cove and Irish coming-of-age drama The Island Child, but there’s a bigger production coming later this year – her birthday is in October, and one day later their second child is due to be born!