“Squirrelina” Extract from Casting Queen: in a career-highlight-so-far, Elektra has been hired to voice the second most important squirrel in a nutty-treats commercial… (the script sections are in bold)
A very stressed man with absolutely no hair and a very abundant beard jogged into the waiting room. ‘Elektra?’
‘Yes.’ I stuck my hand up. ‘Hi, that’s me.’
Great, I’m Martin, the director.’ He gave me a very assertive handshake. ‘And is this Mummy?’
Mum looked like she was about to throw up. ‘Yes I am . . . “Mummy”.’
‘Great, well, Mummy, if you want to just wait out here, we’ll have Elektra done in no time.’ He made it sound like I was going to have an HPV jab, not become the voice of the second most important squirrel in the advert. I followed the creepy bearded man (as you do) into the recording studio. The ceilings and walls were all covered in light grey padding and there were spaceship style control panels with big computer screens down one wall. Two guys in T-shirts with sound guy written on the back (so that cleared that up – I had a feeling if I stood still long enough around here someone would label me too) and baseball caps introduced themselves and I straightaway forgot their names.
‘And the client is here too,’ said Martin, pointing at a large speakerphone.
A disembodied voice boomed, ‘Pleased to meet you, Elektra.’
‘You too,’ I said, which just sounded weird.
‘So, let’s give you five minutes to read the script,’ said Martin, pressing a single page into my hand, but then carrying on talking at me so that I could barely read it. ‘We’re all very excited about this project and I think that we can really make the audience, the potential buyers,’ he looked at the speakerphone, ‘feel a connection with Squirrelina, yes? Great. Well, why don’t we go for a read-through? I’ll be reading the other parts for now…
Squirrelina, I have a present for you! (Martin was getting into character.)
Oh, Colonel Kernel, do you really? A present? For me? (I tried my best to get in touch with my inner squirrel.)
Yes, he stole it from those silly humans.
Naughty Colonel Kernel! (I couldn’t quite believe Squirrelina was actually flirting with a guy called Colonel Kernel. She was a strong, independent woman. She could no doubt provide her own nutty treats. She really needed to raise her standards. My script directed me to make a loud crunching sound followed by a noise of appreciation.) It’s just so utterly nutterly!!
Well, as we say in the Squirrel Special Services, Nuts Nuts No Ifs No Buts.
Nuts Nuts No Ifs No Buts! I like it!
‘Good job.’ Martin nodded. ‘You just really got her.’ The sound guys tried not to laugh.
‘Can we try it again with her voice a little bit higher and more musical so she sounds a bit sweeter and more girly, yes?’ suggested the client- in-the-phone. ‘Also her “gentle crunching noise” sounded like she was crushing bones so maybe tone it down a tad.’ There was the distinct sound of a loo flushing in the background; I struggled not to snigger.
‘Righhht,’ said Martin. ‘And could you give me a bit more variation on the first line because Squirrelina is genuinely surprised by the present? And if you could build up “utterly nutterly”? Make those double exclamation marks really count?’
‘So we really feel it’s a moment of taste epiphany, yes?’ contributed client-in-the-phone.
‘Er, yes, “taste epiphany”, sure.’
‘Amazing,’ said Martin. ‘Also it would be great if we could give “Nuts Nuts No Ifs No Buts” a bit of a wondrous quality; take your time over it like you’ve just discovered this amazing new idea, yes?’
By the end of the read-through, I was starting to feel a real affinity for Squirrelina. Granted, she wasn’t exactly a feminist icon or a particularly complex character, but she seemed like a genuinely sweet girl/squirrel. And you have to hand it to her: she knew how to wrap Colonel Kernel round her little finger. I didn’t actually know if squirrels had little fingers. I’d google it later.
‘Right, let’s get her into the box,’ said the older of the two sound guys (which is not a good sentence to hear when you’re under pressure). The ‘box’ was just a small soundproofed room to the side of the studio, divided off by a glass wall.
‘OK, Elektra, can we have you standing right up close to the microphone?’ The younger sound guy was setting me up. ‘Literally so your face is nearly touching that gauze circle in front of it. No, no, that’s not gonna work – you’re too tall.’ He adjusted the microphone an embarrassing amount. And I’d thought voice work would be the one time my height wasn’t an issue. ‘Headphones comfy?’
I nodded; he gave a thumbs up to everyone on the other side of the glass and left me on my own. I looked at them through the glass and they looked back at me. Martin gave me a little wave and I waved back. I hoped I was waving not drowning. I’d never think goldfish had it easy again.