The Mendelsohn Journey – A story from Debbie Irwin

Posted on October 21, 2011 by


I’ve been a member of Voice123 since 2005.

Getting gigs has been an evolving process. As I have grown as a voice talent and business woman, the work I get has grown and evolved as well.
The variety of jobs I have found on Voice123 have ranged from small to large, short term to long term, and local to national and even international.

In October of 2009 I saw a posting for a documentary film titled, Letters of an Architect, that required a narrator. The project description said:

It is a mixed-genre art historical documentary about the modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn. The story is told through a letter exchange between Erich and his wife Louise. The storyteller is Louise – the “little woman behind a great artist” who understands, after the death of her husband, that the marks he left on 20th century architecture, are her marks as well.

So I submitted an audition with three different takes to show my range. Two of the three takes were with the slight German accent they requested and a third was in my normal English voice– which has no discernible accent.

45 people submitted auditions, 44 were screened. The next day I heard back from the Producer/Director, Duki Dror, with a request to rerecord the audition….

“Hi Debbie,
Thank you for the audition. Your voice is good and you carry it well with Louise’s motivation to claim her trophy. I can see Louise Mendelsohn…. I liked the first take, but the German accent was too strong. Would you mind auditioning a few more lines?”

Which I did, gladly, and in the process asked lots of questions about this woman, Louise Mendelsohn, whose head I was trying to inhabit so that her voice would be spoken with authenticity.

“Dear Duki;
Can you give me a bit more information about her? I did some research online, and read lots of factual information, but can’t find a profile of her. Clearly she was strong, passionate and intelligent– just wondering what other colors there are to her character, so that I can bring that to the audition. Otherwise I will go with my gut and you can always direct me later!”

And that was the beginning of our long journey. There were fits and starts of sessions, we would work over a couple of days then there would be no contact for a couple of months. We spoke via email, Skype and our recording sessions happened with a Phone Patch, accommodating a 7 hour time difference because I was in NYC and Duki was in Israel.

As the movie was taking shape, the script evolved as well, and there were times when I recorded without Duki– to give him some new lines that they had written to improve the story line.

It was great having him direct me, (something he had never done before it turns out, as this was the first time he had worked with a voiceover artist– though he was already an acclaimed documentary producer), because he was able to explain the motivation behind certain sentences, to help me understand the context of Louise and Erich’s lives, and the subtext of the words.

As the narrative unfolded, and the sound of the co-narrators (Louise and Erich) were woven into the fabric of the film, the direction of the delivery changed too. Over time I was asked to modify, then finally drop, the German accent and towards the end of our work, Duki realized that Louise’s story would best be told in an interview format– with he, the director of the film asking me, the wife of the subject of the film, about my memories of our lifetime together.

On June 15, 2011, twenty-one months after my initial audition, we had our final recording session. This time we didn’t use Skype or the Phone Patch, but rather a free app on our iPhones, Viper, which allowed us to speak/hear each other even more clearly than with the Phone Patch!

Looking back on the project and the creative process there was an arc of motion which propelled us from start to finish.

The film had its world wide premiere at the Jerusalem International Film Festival and its US premiere at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in July of 2011. I decided to attend the SF premiere with my family, which was held at the renovated and stately 1920s Castro Theatre.

I’m not sure I can accurately express the magnitude of emotion I felt when the lights went down, the movie came up on the huge screen, and I heard my voice. I cried off and on for the entire 70 minutes, because ever since I was a little girl I’ve been passionate about acting and dreamed of doing it “when I grow up.”

I’d performed in plays during elementary school, high school and college. Then I came to NYC to pursue my dream to perform.  But after a couple of years of struggling as an actress, getting small parts in small productions, I left those hopes on the back burner assuming they would stay there forever.

In the ensuing 25 years I worked in public relations for the Guggenheim Museum, as a stockbroker on Wall Street and as a full time mom to three kids. When I finally decided to go back to work 8 years ago, I found a class in voiceovers, which I knew nothing about. Immediately I knew that my old passion  would find its voice in this new career.

Little did I know that someday I would be involved in such an important, historic and beautiful film. Watching that film, sitting in that 1,400 seat theater, was a pinnacle in my life. A moment I will never forget and can only hope to experience again in my life.