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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Theatre and Dance

Theatre Students Give Voice to National Park Website

Guided by Associate Professor Erica Tobolski, the four theatre majors received a Magellan Scholar Award for their work providing voice-overs for the Channel Islands National Park.

Theatre major Sam Edelson.  

Four theatre students, Sam Edelson, Ashley Graham, William Quant and Haley Sprankle, and music student Jacob Lyerly, recently wrapped up a major voice-over recording project, sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of South Carolina. Their project, Voicing the “Voices from the Field”: Increasing Accessibility through Audio Recording on a National Park Service Website, was awarded a Magellan Scholar Award and a Mini-Magellan award. The students' voices will be heard on the Channel Islands National Park website, which features researchers' essays surrounding the book The Island of the Blue Dolphins. Overseeing the project was Primary Mentor Associate Professor Erica Tobolski, of the Department of Theatre and Dance.

The Channel Islands National Park, located off the coast of California, sponsors a website that features the history of the islands and its native inhabitants. USC Associate Professor Sara Schwebel, English, and a Secondary Mentor on the project, has worked extensively with the Park, as she is editor of the Complete Reader's Edition of The Island of the Blue Dolphins. The website section "Voices from the Field" features the writings from historians, marine biologists and anthropologists, among others, that highlight aspects of life on the island in the 19th Century.  Tobolski says that the opportunity, and her connection to Schwebel, came about after word spread about a voice-over project she led last year.

"Sara read the article on my collaboration on voice-over work with my Advanced Voice class last year," Tobolski says, "and she then contacted me about collaborating with her on the Channel Islands Nat'l Park website. The folks at the Park are impressed with what they've heard, so there may be more opportunities for similar projects at other National Parks."

Tobolski with theatre major William Quant

The four theatre students recorded over 35 essays for the website, over 10 hours of recording time. With guidance from Professors Tobolski and Schwebel, they undertook research into the content and pronunciation of words from indigenous peoples of California. Rehearsal meetings with Professor Tobolski helped them capture the tone of each researcher and to speak with authority balanced with enthusiasm. "It's easy to read words off a page. It's harder to make it sound like you're not reading, particularly when the writing is originally meant to be read rather than heard," says Tobolski.

Instructor Jeff Francis (left) with student Jacob Lyerly

Recordings took place at GEM Recordings, a professional studio in Columbia. Secondary Mentor Jeff Francis, Instructor in the School of Music, ably prepared music student Jacob Lyerly in his role as audio engineer. Francis' background is as a professional audio engineer and he shares his skills in the classroom as well recording all live productions in the School of Music. Lyerly then clocked in an additional 30 hours editing the recordings into their final versions for the website. All the students benefitted from personal mentoring and gained real-world experience by working alongside the engineers at GEM Recording. When asked about his experiences Lyerly said, "This project gave me great hands on experience, both with audio recording technology and by working in a professional studio setting."

Ashley Graham, who graduated in May 2017, says, "This project really showed me the true challenge of voice over recording. There is just as much effort (as a theatrical performance) dedicated to studying the work, and rehearsing it in order to deliver a great performance! Erica’s techniques helped…my voice sound crisper, clearer, and overall more pleasant to listen to. There are many ways that the mouth and voice can get tired; however, Erica’s teachings helped me stay energized and more importantly, sound consistent."