Joel Froomkin builds a winning career in audiobooks
In the past five years, Bermudian actor Joel Froomkin has narrated more than 450 audiobooks and won numerous awards, including 11 Earphones from Audiofile magazine.
The 49-year-old credits part of his success to his time at Saltus Grammar School in Pembroke.
His said his teachers at Saltus played a big role in getting him into acting.
“Nigel Kermode [retired Saltus teacher and headmaster] was a brilliant actor and had the most extraordinary voice,” Mr Froomkin said. “He had a major impact on me growing up.”
And his teachers’ accents, from all over the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, northern England – also played a role in his current career.
“I grew up with American parents [Saul and Donna Froomkin] at home,” he said. “But I heard accents from all over Britain at school.”
Today, 80 per cent of his work as a voice actor is done with a British accent. He feels Saltus helped to familiarise him with all those different UK sounds.
“I rarely do things in my own voice,” he said. “I also do dialect coaching.”
He got into voice acting for audiobooks on the suggestion of another Bermudian audiobook narrator, Beverley Crick, who narrated novels such as Project Duchess by Sabrina Jeffries.
“I have known her since I was 16,” Mr Froomkin said. “She said why don’t you give it a go?”
He has worked for a number of different companies such as Brilliance Publishing, HighBridge Audio and Penguin Random House.
The first audiobook he narrated was part of a cosy, gay romance series.
“After that, I got into it more and more,” he said.
Since then he has narrated many LGBTQ+ audiobooks including On a Midnight Clear by Lily Morton and Ever After: A Gay Fairytale by Christina Lee and Riley Hart.
“I love doing young adult LGBTQ+ material,” he said. “I feel like it can change people’s lives and inspire people to be their authentic selves. I worked on an amazing non-fiction book called Queer Ducks: The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer. It is written by this amazing scientist who studied gay and trans behaviour in the animal world. It was absolutely thrilling to narrate.”
For branding purposes he narrates LGBTQ+ books under the name Joel Leslie. Other genres are narrated under Joel Froomkin.
He has narrated Dad’s Guide to Twins by Joe Rawlinson, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters, among many others. His narration of JJ McAvoy’s Ruthless People was a number one romance bestseller on Audible.com.
When he first started recording audiobooks, he was running a theatre in New Huntington, Indiana, with his husband, Rich Najuch.
“We renovated an old theatre building and ran it for ten years,” Mr Froomkin said. “It was called the New Huntington Theatre.”
But things did not work out the way they hoped.
“It was a difficult political climate and we just couldn’t find the target audience we needed,” he said. “We needed a change.”
So he and Mr Najuch closed the theatre and moved to Orlando, Florida, in 2017. Mr Froomkin now works as a full-time audiobook narrator. His office is a soundproof booth in his home.
Mr Froomkin said some people underestimated how challenging audiobook narration was and thought all you needed was a good voice. He said that while it could be very rewarding, it was also gruelling work that took a lot of self-discipline.
“It takes a solid acting foundation,” he said. “An actor is normally hired to play one role but we are playing everyone.”
For some books he does 40 different voices that include different genders and accents.
“It can get crazy,” he said. “I have done quite a lot of Dickens. He will write a bunch of minor characters but those will get three-page monologues.”
To keep track of all the different characters he is performing, he creates voice notes.
“I have a system where I try to imagine my characters very cinematically,” he said. “I try to celebrity-cast them in my brain. I don’t try to imitate that character, but channel their energy.”
He said working in a “little box” for six to seven hours a day could be isolating.
But this had its advantages during the pandemic lockdowns when audiobook narrators were some of the few actors to have continuous work.
“Audiobook narrators, in general, who were established in the industry, were very lucky,” Mr Froomkin said. “I am booked about six months in advance. The only thing that changed for us was the occasional job where they want you to go to an in-house studio. That stopped.”
In fact, he said the lockdowns actually helped his industry because people were listening to more audiobooks while stuck at home.
“I was encouraging some of my actor friends to pursue audiobook narration,” he said.
He finds high fantasy to be the most challenging genre to narrate because it is usually the most character heavy.
“But I really enjoy it,” he said. “I was an audiobook listener before I was a narrator. I love the art form.”
He said as a voice actor, you cannot always be that discerning about what you take on, but he will not accept jobs for books that he does not think are right for his voice.
“The voice casting person does not always know you well as an actor,” he said. “I have learnt to be more proactive about shaping my career that way.”
He attended the University of Southern California, where he did his undergraduate degree in performance and his master’s in directing and design. After graduation he worked in London and New York, primarily directing. In 2015, he directed the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Bermuda’s performance of The Drowsy Chaperone.
He no longer has much time for stage acting or directing but would love to return to Bermuda one day to direct Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to help raise money for charity.
“I do miss acting and directing,” he said. “I got out of onstage acting because I got really bad stage fright. I would become afraid of not knowing what came next. It just took the fun out of it for me, to a degree. I am very comfortable on stage if I have a script in my hand.”
For young Bermudians, who are going into acting, he said audiobook narration was something to consider, but once you are trained in acting.
“You need to have the vocal training, vocal stamina, and character facility,” he said. “You need a grounding in acting technique. Once you have that, it can be an incredibly satisfying career choice.”
His next audiobook will be: A A Milne’s, Now We Are Six to be released by Dreamscape Media on January 3.