Feb. 4, 2020

Drama grad talks her way to a successful career

Unconventional career path of Allison Smith, BFA’86, takes her from the stage to the voice-over studio
Allison Smith
Alumna Allison Smith is the voice behind Victoria’s Secret, Samsung and Amazon’s Alexa. Elena Boston Photography

Ever wonder who’s the voice behind Victoria’s Secret or Samsung or, for that matter, Amazon’s Alexa (the recent upgrade)? It’s likely a UCalgary drama grad who’s one of Canada’s top voice talents and whose friendly, almost sultry, tones you’ve likely heard say, “Please enter your PIN number, followed by the pound key,” and, “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that.”

Here's an interview with alumna Allison Smith. 

Q: How did you swing from acting to running a voice-over company? 

A: After graduating, I did land a couple of roles with Alberta Theatre Projects and Lunchbox Theatre, but I realized I didn’t like the lifestyle . . . working late, going out for a meal and drinks late, sleeping in late. I am an early bird.

Q: What was your first big break? 

A: After trading my voice [to record ads] for concert tickets, T-shirts and albums at CJAY 92, I landed a gig with Safeway where I voiced ads for them that ran across the country. That income allowed me to buy my first condo.

Q: Do you use your acting training in your current work? 

A: All the time. I have 30 seconds to create a scene, establish a character and get a message across in a conversational way.

Q: What is one of your most satisfying spots you’ve created? 

A: It was a spot for a women’s shelter where I had to sound absolutely downtrodden and dejected and then find the strength to grab the phone and ask for help.

Q: Do you have any career advice? 

A: Be flexible in your 20s. Don’t be so firm that you miss the signs that may suggest you need to pivot.

Q: How many clients would you work with in a year? 

A: Hundreds. I could have 50 jobs in a week and do 50 recordings in a day.

Q: Where do you work? 

A: I have a home studio.

Q: When you speak at conferences, what messages do you stress? 

A: How to improve telephone systems by making them more intuitive and less frustrating. Rarely should you give someone more than four options.

Q: What are the niches in voice-over work? 

A: There can be award shows — think of Randy Thomas, who has read the copy for the Academy Awards for years. Telephone systems are my niche, but I have colleagues who do nothing but learning modules or Internet videos for oil and gas companies. Live events is another, as is animation.

Q: Who are your heroes in the world of voice? 

A: Zooey Deschanel. I find her low, gravelly voice really intriguing and I admit to having a news-girl crush on Lisa LaFlamme [anchor with CTV News]. She has a low register that is very smooth.

Q: What voices annoy you? 

A: “Vocal fry” and “upspeak.” I am thinking of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears right now.

Q: What is your favourite movie? 

A: The Wizard of Oz. Every time I see the moment when the house lands and the Technicolor starts, I get chills.

Q: When you are not in your studio, what do you do? 

A: I go to yoga three times a week, Zumba twice a week, and I love to cook, garden and walk my dog. Oh, yes, and I knit 15 pairs of socks last Christmas.

Q: What’s your guilty pleasure? 

A: Although I listen to NPR and read the New Yorker, my cotton candy is The Real Housewives of New York City. I am honestly fascinated by affluent women who behave deplorably.

Q: What is your motto? 

A: “Talk low. Talk slow. Don’t say too much.” OK, OK, I may have borrowed that from John Wayne.