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The voice: Creating a satisfying, rewarding life in theater and beyond

By on November 29, 2017 in Arts with 0 Comments

The Lamb’s Theater is “Good theater that reflected Christian values. It’s a dark world, and we intended to be a light in it.”

By Susan Lagsdin

By Susan Lagsdin

“Being an actor kind of caught me by surprise,” explained David Cochran Heath, recently retired from a satisfying and life-sustaining 31 years in the theater.

To local actors, most of whom freely donate their years of hours to the stage, this sounds like a dream come true.

It wasn’t so much a dream as a plan that got sidelined for a while.

How did he luck into a long, full life in the theater?

In 1986 David had a perfectly usable drama degree from Western Michigan University but had knocked around Leavenworth for a few years doing a total of seven unrelated odd jobs.

However, with a wife and kids and some strong resolve, he got himself over the pass to an open audition in Seattle hosted by Christian-oriented theaters from around the country. There his skill set, which included a deep, clear voice and scenery-building experience, won him a position at non-profit Lamb’s Theater in San Diego.

Off went the Heaths to sunny Southern California, where his wife Beth soon took a job in Lamb’s front office, his young kids grew up hanging around the theater, and David worked steadily for three decades.

The Lamb’s Theater staff and crew and repertory company were paid close to equity wages (to the envy of regional theater neighbors) and because they all needed to multitask on and off stage to keep the theater solvent, they created strong bonds.

David dispelled a misconception. “We weren’t ‘bathrobe drama’ (picture Christmas and Easter at the altar) — we were just doing really good theater that reflected Christian values. It’s a dark world, and we intended to be a light in it.”

They did plays by, among others, Shakespeare, Shaw, O’Neill, Ionesco and Albee, some heavier or more profound than the rest, but, “Each one demonstrated,” David said, “some kind of faith and hope. They show us that we are not alone.”

He calculates a life-list of 150 different roles. Enviably strong leads like Salieri, Quasimodo, Bottom, Elwood Dowd and Atticus Finch were pure pleasure; he admits of some of the smaller parts he played, “Sometimes those supporting roles seemed not especially creative — they were just hard work.”

Theater drew him in as a young student actor and it held him as an accomplished stage veteran until just 18 months ago, when he and Beth retired to Leavenworth.

Back to family, back to the Northwest, and back to a kind of drama that piqued David’s interest years ago: talking books. Audiotapes, discs, devices, downloads… the terms change, but ever since his fascination with The Green Hornet on his parents’ radio, he has loved listening to stories. And he loves reading them.

Halfway through his stage career, a small audio publisher was impressed with David’s Scots accent on stage and figured his voice could bring verve to some pretty dense material. It did, and suddenly a new career was born.

Over the last 15 years, he has done radio ads, children’s books, video game voices, three versions of the Bible, heavy non-fiction tomes and multi-cultural voices in a variety of novels.

The Heath’s new house in Leavenworth includes a soundproofed recording studio with a microphone, a converter and a Mac laptop, where he freelances for favorite audio publishers.

David can choose his titles. “I just can’t do a reading unless I find something to like in the work; fortunately, I can peruse a book and decide if I want to spend 80 to 160 hours on it.”

For audio books with several characters, he says he finds a key phrase that exemplifies the character (like “Yessssss my precisssssious”) and that audio-image helps him lock the voice in to his memory for when he needs it again. He has some favorite readers in the genre, and he still listens and learns.

So far, the recent transition from acting with applause under the lights, to reading for an unseen public has been smooth.

David’s stage presence and character-creating skills — as well as his sonorous voice — have served him well in both professions, even if each one “caught him by surprise.”

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