Interview with Robert Keiper

And now, the long awaited interview with Robert Keiper, who voiced the majority of the iambik audiobooks production of The Painting and the City. (He handled the contemporary parts and Ulf Bjorklund read the Philip Schuyler journal sections. I’m hoping to interview Ulf later.)

To go with this interview, iambik will be offering a give-a-way. Please check their blog for details.

Keiper began his theater career in the fifth grade, singing in operetta and acting in child roles with the Cleveland Playhouse. He studied theater at Ohio State University, and has directed educational television, toured the country as a platform speaker, worked as an actor in New York, and directed and wrote shows for the stage, one of which has had 2500 performances.

photo of Robert KeiperHe took a 30-year break from theater to work in business, and returned to acting because of his daughter, Alex Keiper. Since getting back into acting, he has worked in stage plays and film, training people in businesses to improve their presentation skills, and, of course, as a voice artist, including commercials, audio plays, and audio books.

Keiper is appearing in a new movie, The Sophmore, with Amanda Plummer and Patrick Warburten, out in January 2012.

Laconic Central: Hi Bob, thanks for doing this interview.

In your bio, you say you got back into theater because of your daughter’s love for acting. I’m assuming that her interest was sparked originally by your past–or did you stop before she was born?

Robert Keiper: My daughter got the theater bug all on her own. Then, taking her to an audition landed roles for both of us, and I got bitten again. So she’s more responsible for my theatrical aspirations than I am for hers.

But some of my fondest memories—and hers—are her childhood hours we spent in the living room working on monologues.

LC: Your bio mentions a theater piece you wrote that has had 2500 performances. Please tell me something about it.

RK: The piece was a one-man-show entitled Sons of Liberty. It included the voices of several characters, re-living events of the first year of the American Revolution. Patrick Henry speaking at the House of Burgesses, a British soldier at Lexington and Concord, a New England farmer telling what happened at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill, Joseph Reed, secretary to General Washington, and Nathan Hale. I wrote and produced it, but most of the performances were done by other actors on year-long Chautauqua circuit tours of high schools, colleges and clubs. Tours included mid-west, southern states, Pennsylvania, New York and New England. It also had performances at Lincoln Center, Faneuil Hall, and Williamsburg.

LC: How does working as a voice artist on audio books differ from performing a play on stage?

RK: The immediacy of feedback on stage is galvanizing, a creative condition when all my resources are simply there without effort. In film work there’s always crew, director and other actors to bring about that same “heightened state.”

Narration is a solitary effort as, I’m sure, is yours. The opening of resource paths requires more and more consistent effort. I am my audience, my admirer and my critic.

But the rewards are delightful and amazingly identical, so long as approbation doesn’t creep in. It’s never about me, it’s always and only about the story.

LC: I’m pretty thrilled that someone did an audiobook of my writing, and I love how it came out. But I have to say I was pretty apprehensive at first. It was very strange hearing someone else read my words. How did voicing The Painting and the City compare with other narrations that you’ve done?

RK: Even though I’d done several books prior to yours, I was still fairly new to this performing art as I started The Painting and The City. So I was making lots of mistakes, backing and filling, getting disgusted with myself and swearing I’d never finish the darned thing. Then I’d come to one of the interesting plot twists and get hooked all over again. I particularly remember the first time the puppet appears in the story, and the galvanizing effect that had on me. I was delighted with the character and my choice for a voice for him—but I knew he would appear again later, so I made a short recording of his voice and kept it handy as a reminder when needed again. Consistent character voices are as fundamental to the story as any other character traits, but when their appearances are far apart you have to take special care.

Yours was also the my first venture into fantasy/science fiction. I particularly enjoyed the story transitions from here-and-now to there-and-then. Altogether, it was a delight to work on, very different from some of the others, such as Franklin, the Essential Founding Father by James Srodes. That history was fascinating and I hope to do more of that sort. Not a fun romp, but gratifying. Give me more like that, but then one like yours to lighten my spirits.

LC: Interesting, because I know you as a voice and not a face, that the trailer for The Sophmore has you doing voiceover. Is that the case throughout the movie, or was it put together just for the trailer? Hearing the voiceover got me wondering if you voice work (invisible acting) has changed/influenced your screen/stage (visible) acting.

RK: My voiceover in the trailer is lifted from my on-camera lines as Cap, the history teacher, and were done, I suspect, to give continuity to the trailer segments. The audience must endure watching me in order to hear me in the actual movie.

I don’t think my voice work has influenced my stage or film work—but as I pondered your question I realized that my daughter’s acting work has. She is preparing for her opening in the lead in Proof, at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia—an extremely demanding role. As we discussed her approach to it, I’ve appreciated again how much her strong work ethic has incented me to work harder and be more creative over the years.  And people think we influence our kids.

LC: What’s next for you?

RK: I have one little piece of an audiobook to finish. I’ll be giving presentation skills workshops in Oregon, then Costa Mesa, then Anaheim over the next few weeks while waiting for other audiobook or film opportunities to pop up. My wife and son and I will be going to see Proof next week, and I’m having lunch with my golfing buddies tomorrow.  I wouldn’t be surprised if something else interesting appears unexpectedly, too.

And last, here’s the trailer for the new movie that Bob is appearing in.

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3 Responses to Interview with Robert Keiper

  1. Pingback: “I am my audience, my admirer and my critic.” Author Robert Wexler and narrator Robert Keiper on narration, theatre, and literature | The Iambik Audiobooks Blog

  2. Dale Barnard says:

    Good (and concise!) interview. I liked watching the movie trailer after having heard The Painting and the City.

    • Robert Freeman Wexler says:

      After listening to his reading of my book, absorbing the sound of his voice, it was really strange (and jarring) to hear him in the trailer, reading someone else’s words.

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