Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Might As Well Be In Fargo



“You live in New York, right?” Yes. “It must be great to be so close to everything – workshops, training, opportunities, coaches, auditions, studios etc.” WRONG! Despite common belief, you can live in New York and not be in Manhattan or anywhere close to it.
As I write this, I am sitting here in Upstate NY, actually not far from the geographic center of the state five hours by car from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal. “You can't get there from here,” is a phrase often heard “in this neck of the woods.” While that's not quite true, it is difficult to make a trip to and conduct business in any of those cities in one day. Although, it can be done.
To help you relate, it's like a trip by car from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, Detroit to Chicago, Spokane to Tacoma, Phoenix to San Diego, or Houston to New Orleans.
Let's say I want to attend a voiceover workshop in New York City. It begins at 10 a.m. Here's my day and travel itinerary:

3:00 a.m. Alarm goes off. Out of bed, grab a cup of coffee to wake up, wolf down a yogurt with some All Bran, then shower and dress for the trip.
4:00 a.m. Jump into the car and head for Albany NY – travel time: one hour forty minutes.
5:40 a.m. Arrive at train station in Rensselaer, NY. I'm taking the train as it's the same amount of time as by car but I won't have to find a place to park my car in Manhattan, a nightmare.
6:10 a.m. Train departs for New York City.
8:45 a.m. Train arrives Penn Station in New York. (Thankfully, today the train is on-time.)
9:00 a.m. Grab a cab (I could be waiting for a half hour at that time of day.), subway or bus to my destination. Although, in New York it might be faster to just walk the 15 blocks.
9:45 a.m. Arrive at workshop destination just in time to freshen up and grab a bottle of water before the session begins.
10:00 a.m. Workshop begins.
1:00 p.m. Break for lunch
2:00 p.m. workshop resumes
4:00 p.m. workshop concludes
4:20 p.m. After saying goodbye to new friends and others I met at the workshop, I'm headed back to Penn Station.
5:30 p.m. Grab a quick bite to eat and snack at Penn station for the trip back to Albany/Rensselaer.
6:00 p.m. Train departs New York.
8:30 p.m. Train arrives Rensselaer, NY
8:40 p.m. Retrieve car from the parking garage and head back home.
10:20 p.m. arrive home. Phew! Long Day. Nearly twenty hours.

Why did I just share this with you? Well, it's to illustrate that just because I live in New York doesn't mean I have any better access to workshops, training, auditions or events than someone living in Fargo. Although, Fargo IS only three and a half hours from Minneapolis. Piece 'o cake.



Monday, September 21, 2015

Ten Odd, Little Known, Unimportant Facts





They are the rage these days. It's very difficult to avoid them, if you spend any time at all on the Internet. It's like the two sentence headline that always ends with something like this: “...and you won't believe what happened next.” People love lists. They draw readers right to your site. But some inventive programmer has designed a web page template that allows the list maker to split up their lists into multiple pages, with a small area reserved for the actual text of the story, the remainder to be populated with many video ads that auto-start, and clickable links for new products, gadgets, services or other advertising which the site generates revenue from. I won't do that to you. About the only thing you'll get here is a small advertisement that Google inserts at the bottom of this page. This story is very simple.

Ten Absolutely Unimportant Facts about Jerry Reed 
that You Didn't Need to Know.

1. Owned a Chevy Vega until a piston blew through the side of aluminum engine block.

2. Won the studio audience prize of the day on the Vicki Gabareau TV Show broadcast from Vancouver on CTV - Canada – in November 2004.

3. Has touched the Royal Barge of the King of Thailand.

4. Had dinner with former voice of the Keebler Elf, Parley Baer.

5. Rode in the Vista-Dome car of the famous California Zephyr train from Chicago to Oakland California aboard the Chicago,Burlington & Quincy; Denver & Rio Grande; and Western Pacific Railroads.

6. Stood on the corner of Haight and Asbury Streets in San Francisco in 1967 while Jefferson Airplane was heard coming from the speaker of the nearby car radio.

7. Worked at the same station where The Texas Troubadour, Ernest Tubb, first sang on the radio 35 years prior – KGKL, San Angelo Texas.

8. Have visited and walked near the top of Mount Etna in Sicily.

9. Has driven a 1949 Hudson Commodore (stock car) around a dirt auto racing track.

10. Has a Bacon Brothers CD personally autographed by Kevin Bacon. That would be a first degree, right?

Now aren't you excited to know that stuff?

I hear the yawn.


Friday, August 28, 2015

“You Can't Take That Away From Me”




Thank you George and Ira Gershwin for composing that song. I have decided to adopt that as my anthem. I wasn't around in 1937 to hear that song when the film Shall We Dance first played in the theaters. But, I've certainly heard it a few times, in my lifetime.

When I first decided to make voice work my full time focus in 2011, after doing it as a part-time freelancer for two decades and after two other very successful careers, one as a broadcaster and another as a public relations practitioner, I was often told: “You need to shed that announcer sound.” I took that advice seriously. But, now I'm having second thoughts.

I spent many years developing that voice, learning how to resonate from my chest, how to enunciate, how to sound authoritative, how to project, but at the same time how to sound warm and friendly and conversational.

Those are characteristics few in the voiceover community possess these days. Everyone wants to be the guy or gal next door because it has been suggested that the younger generation wants to be “told not sold.” Ok. I buy that. But what about my generation? The generation that is now retiring and has money to burn? The generation that grew up with that friendly, likable announcer on the radio. What about them? They like announcers. They feel comfortable with them. They grew up with them. Why shouldn't they trust them like they always have.

“Here's a new product that will make your life more enjoyable.” “Here's a great place to retire, trust me.” “Our health is important. Here's some advice.” “You'll love this. It's so warm and comfortable.” “I'm just like you and we're in this together.” They are announcer messages. And I believe baby boomers, my peers, respond favorably to them.

So, I'm dusting off that “announcer” that I put on the shelf several years ago. I suppose I could say I'm polishing him up. There is a bit of a shine in places where I used to have hair up there. So, I guess that's appropriate.

Announcer for hire because, “No No, They Can't Take That Away from Me.”



Monday, August 10, 2015

Fate is Good for the Voiceover Business


It's interesting, that phenomenon called fate. 

I recently changed fitness centers. I wanted one that had a little more activity and more options. Yesterday was my first day. People there seemed real friendly. It was a very welcoming change of environment for me. 

 At the place I previously worked out I seldom saw anyone at the time of day I visited except for the person at the check-in desk or an occasional trainer or physical therapist. It was a nice facility. But, after three years, it became obvious that I needed more social contact with people in my life in addition to my physical workout.


So yesterday, after a robust workout, I overheard two of the members talking about each other's business. One mentioned that he traveled around the state co-producing a Web TV show and that the company he worked for is branching into commercial production. I waited for an opening in the conversation and made it a point to drag out a business card. When the opportunity came, I introduced myself and told him that I could help if they needed a voice for one of their projects. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I couldn't help hear you talk about your production company. My business is my voice. If you need a voice for one of your projects, I can help you with that.”

I then handed him my card.

Producer: “The one day I didn't bring any cards I meet two people at the gym that could help my business.”

The two finish their conversation. Then the producer pulls out his iPhone, walks over to me and offers to show me videos of some of his work.

Producer: “My partners and I were just talking about voiceover. We just started work on a project recently and will be producing commercials that will require us to hire a voice. Your timing is perfect.”

I finished packing up my duffle while he went to the car for a business card. When I was finished, he returned and we vowed to visit each other's web site and stay in touch.

Will we do business with each other? Well it's too early to tell. But, we've met each other face to face and the next step is easy. It won't be a cold call, because we have already met. 

It doesn't get any better than that.

Fate is a great business partner, isn't it?  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Will You Sell My Vacuum Cleaner?




Quite a while ago I floated an idea to some acquaintances in the voiceover community. The idea was quickly panned and I was told it would never work.  I was knocked down a couple of times (figuratively) and it was suggested that I was dumb for even considering such a concept. Pay higher commissions for voiceover sales? You're crazy to think of such a thing.

In another blog entry I mentioned that “I suck at marketing.”  I still do. That's why I shouldn't attempt it.   I have tried. Many voiceover friends have come to my rescue suggesting ideas for me to try – things like: cold telephone calling, cold emailing, social media, email newsletters, postcards, blogs, advertising and the list goes on.  Yup. I tried 'em. I still suck at marketing.  So I have come to the conclusion that I need to find an alternative.  I need a vacuum cleaner salesman or woman.

I know. What does vacuum cleaner sales have to do with voice work?  A lot. Here's my list of pros and cons.

Pros
A vacuum cleaner sales person:
1. gets a “foot in the door”
2. is a likable person (sell yourself before you sell the product)
3. can sell something that doesn't suck ( OK. In this case I guess it does.)
4. helps the customer solve a problem (gets rid of dirt, allergins, other heath issues)
5. starts by selling benefits of something small before going after the big ticket item
6. will easily rebound after rejection
7. doesn't take no for an answer

Cons
A vacuum cleaner sales person:
1.  needs a higher commission as an incentive (offset by volume of sales, of course)
2.  doesn't work off repeat business (often a one time sale)
3.  looses interest if the sales aren't there
4.  traditionally targets households not businesses
5.  can go through a lot free steak knives

So, I propose to hire vacuum cleaner sales persons to sell voice work. It would mean paying higher commissions on collected sales.  And, YES I propose to break that 15% commission barrier.  It's new territory and the greedy would never think of such a thing.  But I would, “in a heartbeat,” pay it to generate more business.   65 or 70% of a $1,000 VO job is much better than 85% of nothing.  It's a new era. It's time we started thinking differently about the voiceover sales.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Who Stole My Pronouns?



All the voiceover coaches these days have pronouns high on their target list. It's the rage. They say that the younger generation doesn't like to be targeted or sold. But, yet all the media they consume is rife with targeted messages, calling YOU to action and outright sales pitches. But I guess this generation is so busy consuming the media that they didn't realize they were being sold something. Yes they are being sold. And, I'm talking to YOU. YOU need to have the super duper watch and YOU need these cool headphones branded by YOUR favorite hip-hop star. YOU need these bright fuchsia running shoes. Don't think for a minute they aren't targeting YOU.

Smokey Bear Poster - Public DomainAnyone that ever took a sales course in college had it drummed into their brain that YOU would never get the sale until YOU asked for it. And YOU need to be direct or YOU will never get it. So what's wrong with an emphasized pronoun? “Will YOU buy my widget?” certainly is more effective than “will you buy my widget?” The second example probably will go unanswered and the widget will stay on the shelf. There's no direct call to action.

Think about this for a moment. Who was Smokey Bear asking to help prevent forest fires? It's YOU, not the other guy. He wants YOU on his side. Because he needs YOUR help. Uncle Sam needed YOU. The infomercial tells YOU that YOU need to order before midnight tonight. Who is the car dealer asking to come to his dealership to buy that fancy red two-door model with the cool wire rims? It's YOU.

So don't tell me that the pronoun is no longer important. YOU can pretend that it's not there. But, YOU are the target whether YOU like it or not. So gimme back my pronouns.  

*Smokey Bear poster - Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council [Public domain]

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What's It Like to Work with the Voice Whisperer?


First of all I am not going to reveal any secrets to the training or details of what I learned.  But, in this blog I want to share a little about my experience with the grand lady of voice training Marice Tobias.

It is a known fact that voice work involves regular training and re-training. I have worked with Marc Cashman & Lau Lapides, and participated in workshops which such notables a Rob Paulson. I've watched the videos of Nancy Wolfson, Anthony Meindl and Bill DeWees and am ever vigilant in my search for learning opportunities.  When at conferences, I always try to ask my peers about their voice training experiences. One name seemed to surface time and again – Marice Tobias.  Along with her name I would hear comments such as: “She's great if she'll take you on,”  “she only works with the top voice actors,” “she's expensive,” “it's a life changing experience,” “she worked with Marlon Brando,”  “It's tough to get into one of her workshops,” “she's the best.”  After hearing all of those I figured I would never get the opportunity to work with Marice Tobias. I figured that opportunity would never appear in my lifetime.

Then one morning a few months ago during a weekly accountability stand-up group, Rosi Amador mentioned that she was thinking about inviting Marice to come to Boston to do a workshop.  Did I hear that right? Boston?  That's only a few hours away. Rosi was persistent. She and Marice found a date and the workshop was announced - April 11 & 12, 2015.
Rule of Thumbs flyer
 Rosi forwarded the flyer to me. It would take place at MixOne Studios, right around the corner from Fenway Park in Boston, two days before the opening game for the Red Sox 2015 season. There's a reason for mentioning that.  Hang on.

I quickly checked my PayPal account balance. YES! There's enough to pay for the workshop. Within a couple of key strokes the payment was on its way to TobiasEnt. Fingers crossed. The wait begins. Will I be accepted?  Moments later, the email confirmation came from Marice. I was in. Then panic set in.  What have I done? Am I ready for this? Am I good enough?

Rosi and Brian Amador, being the generous, kind and welcoming people that they are, invited me to stay at their home while I was in Boston.  I am so thankful for their generosity. The three of us along with seven others showed up that Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Mix One for the intensive two-day workshop. As it turns out, a few of the people had participated in previous workshops with Marice and gave us reassurance when we arrived that it would be a spectacular event.  That it was. All day Saturday we took our turns in the booth then returned to  master control for the discussion, evaluations and direction.  I made mental and written notes of the nuggets of information Marice would share. Regardless of our level of experience, she was kind, empowering and generous with her constructive critiques. No negatives. No yelling. All positive.

Several of us went to a nearby restaurant for dinner that evening and Marice joined us.  I didn't expect that she would bless us with her company for dinner and the light chatter that ensued.  After dinner we retired to our respective abodes and our writing assignments.

Sunday morning at 10 we were back at Mix One for another day of work. When time came for lunch we all decided that it was such a nice day that we would walk up the block to Tasty Burger. When we arrived, there on display on a picnic table, were the three Boston Red Sox World Series trophies.  We figured it was just a little promotional gimmick to celebrate the season opening game that would take place the following day.  Several of the group found places to sit at a table, while the rest of us, Marice included, sauntered up to the counter and found seats there.  As we were checking out our menu, the waitress told is that The Red Sox has purchased 2,015 burgers to celebrate the opening of the new baseball season and that we were among the people that would get free burgers and cheeseburgers complements of the Boston Red Sox. I heard Marice say that is was one of the best burgers she had ever eaten.  We were in Boston learning from Marice Tobias and having lunch provided by the Red Sox. It doesn't get any better than that.

At the end of the day, after another afternoon taking turns in the booth and more nuggets from Marice, we all exchanged handshakes and vowed to stay in touch as we prepared to go our separate ways.  The crowning touch to the weekend was the hug we all got from Marice.  It was like we were saying good bye to Mom. At least, that's how I felt.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Are You Afraid of Your Own Rates?



From the conversations I have read and have been a part of, it appears to me that a lot of people in the voiceover business are reluctant to quote rates for their service – voiceover, until they find out what the client has in the budget.
There are some that feel that the new client you have been talking to may have more to spend and that you should not be too quick to quote your rate for fear that you might be leaving money on the table. I understand that. But at the same time I ask: Is that being a good business person?

Let's take a quick look a three scenarios:

1. You need to have some carpentry work done on your studio. You call a contractor. He learns about your project, might even come for a visit, and then he gives you an estimate for how much the work will cost you. It's an estimate based on what work he expects to do for you, the time he will have invested and any supplies he will need to complete the job.

2. You call an audio engineer to install that pile of equipment you just bought from BSW. She asks: What equipment do you have and what do you need to have done? She will give you an estimate for the work that she will do for you.

3. You just backed into light pole across the street. You didn't do any damage to the pole but your car has a big dent and a broken tail light. You stop by the auto body shop and the fine folks there consult the flat rate labor guide, with that information and their posted hourly labor rate will come up with a price to fix the bumper and taillight.

In all the above cases, never does the craftsman ask you how much money you have to spend or what's your budget. No one wants to spend more than they need to for any service or item. So why would a client risk having to pay more than necessary to get the job done?

If you look at your voiceover business “as a business” you first of all should feel comfortable with your own rates. After all, if you set up the business properly, you have an idea what it costs to run your business and what income you need to generate in order to pay the bills and come away with a comfortable profit. You set your rates accordingly. That's what the contractor, engineer and bodyshop did. Why should you be any different?

Mock Rates SignSo when someone asks my rate for a project. I first ask: What do you need to have done? How soon do you need it and how will it be used? With that information I can easily quote a price for a project. I believe it's an insult to ask: how much money do you have to spend?

This doesn't mean that you can't accept a project for less than your normal rate if presented to you. But I wouldn't publicize it.

I'm a firm believer in knowing what my value is. So if prospective clients find that my rate is less than they were ready to pay, then they just got a great deal. I'll be happy that I got my quoted rate and the client will be happy he got a good value. Everybody is happy. If you constructed your rate card properly, you also built in a little room for a first time buyer discount or a discounted long term contract or retainer that will help seal the deal. And, you probably have a repeat customer in the works.

That's just good business. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Would you like A or B?




You might be surprised to learn that the correct answer is not a choice between A or B. I'll elaborate in a little bit. Back in the 1970s a man by the name of Jim Graham entered my life. Jim was a former executive with the defunct Dumont Television Network in New York City. In the mid 60s he and some associates in NY purchased AM radio stations WALY in Herkimer, NY and WOTT in Watertown.

WOTT - RCA 77 - Pin
I worked at WOTT, or as we called it “watt,” before I entered the U.S. Air Force and when I returned to the area after my discharge I had the opportunity to work there again, this time with Jim Graham as the owner/general manager. He was a rather rotund man who sat in his office most of the day behind a big round table. His office actually was the conference room. He was a likable character and if he liked you, your life there was much more pleasant. If not, he was “on your case” all the time. I managed to be on his good side most of the time.

I learned a lot from Jim. He was a stickler on diction and was a bit of a legalist when it came to the English language. It wasn't but a couple of weeks into the job, second time around, that I made the mistake of asking him a question similar to the headline above. I think it went something like this. “Would you like me or Mark to record these spots?” To which he answered “yes.” You can imagine the puzzled look I had on my face. But, he was correct in answering yes or no. You see if I had constructed the question a little differently, Jim might have given me a decision. Perhaps I should have said: “Which person would you like to record these spots, Mark or me?” He also was not a fan of pronouns and passive text and tried unsuccessfully to get all his “on air” staff to stop using them improperly. Lost cause. So, today I think I can write a pretty good piece of commercial copy. Since we all had to write commercials for the small station. Jim's goal was to get his staff to write better copy.

Speaking of copy, we weren't allowed to say things like, “Come on over to Joe's. Buy one widget, you'll get one free.” You see, Jim believed that if you had to make a purchase to get something free, then it wasn't free. You could say “Buy one and we'll give you a second at no additional cost.” The only time you could say it was free was when the listener could walk into a merchant and get one for free without having to buy something. Jim's rules, and he had many, made us better copy writers as we had to make sure nothing was misleading or unclear.

Now I'm not someone that you should point to as an example of a good writer. I'm far from it. But I can say that my experiences with Jim Graham made me more aware and a more careful writer. I still can't spell without the help of “spell check.” At this point in my life, I don't think anyone can fix that flaw.
So my answer to the headline above is “yes."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's All HAL's Fault


One winter day recently, while stuck in the house as the winds howled and the snow kept coming down, I set out to find out why it is that the casting directors today are commonly asking for a younger sound. I have been feeling a little glum over the fact that I'm aging (68 yrs this July) and feeling a bit discriminated against. I have a nice sounding voice and articulate well. I was told that my voice has a warm tone, with a natural quality.  So I chose a similar line as my brand and it is now registered as my Trademark - “Warm Tone, Natural Finish (r).”
Jerry Reed - Voice Talent   "Warm Tone, Natural Finish(r)"

I began looking up research about voice and behavior. I found all sorts of theories, academic papers and news articles.  Since this is only a blog I'm not going to go to the trouble of formal citations. I will paraphrase what I learned.

One article suggested that men that have lower-pitched voices are more dominant and attractive. These men are more successful political candidates than those with a high pitched voice.

Another study suggested that age, gender and tonal quality impacts health behavior, suggesting that a woman's voice is more effective in healthcare communications, yet if a behavior change is needed, a male voice is a bit more effective. That same study also discovered that young people (18-35)  are more sensitive to perceived vocal age &gender and react better to a peer age group voice.  Older people don't seem to be affected negatively by the perceived age of the voice.

I also set out to see if I could find any evidence that seniors and baby boomers would respond better to a voice similar to theirs. If I could come up with some evidence to support that, my intention was to use it in my marketing efforts.  I learned  that there are as many beliefs and theories as there are facts to support them.

I did find one really interesting article by Mark Waldman and Andrew Newberg M.D. published July 2012 in Words Can Change Your Brain.  It was titled: “The 8 Key Elements of Highly Effective Speech ...and why your words barely matter!”.
While they don't specifically apply to voiceover or voice acting, I think there is a definite correlation.  While we don't have control of all eight (casting directors, the client and copy writers are ultimately in control), employing as many of them as possible will certainly have a positive effect on how we carry on our day to day dealings with people we meet, specifically those we want to employ our services. They are:
1. Gentle eye contact
2. Kind facial expression
3. Warm tone of voice
4, Expressive hand and body gestures
5. Relaxed disposition
6. Slow speech rate
7. Brevity
8. The words themselves.

And finally, another article I read suggested that female voices are now used almost exclusively in computer generated text by Apple, Android and GPS devices for one major reason – HAL. The male voice of the computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey had such long lasting negative connotation that developers were afraid to use a male voice for those devices.

Cue the audio:  (engineer rolls The Blue Danube, establish and then fade out.)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

You Blog Too Much


Everyone defines “oldies” differently when it comes to pop music. But, I have one favorite that I've always loved and to me it's an “oldie but goodie.” It's from an R & B artist from New Orleans that happened to have worked with B.B. King and to his credit is responsible for discovering the 60's girl group The Dixie Cups.  His name is Joe Jones.  As far as his recorded milestones are concerned, he would be considered a “one hit wonder.” He and Reginald Hall penned and Jones recorded “You Talk Too Much” which went to the top 10 on Billboard in 1960. The lyric went something like this: “ You talk too much. You worry me to death. You talk too much. You even worry my pet. You just talk, talk, talk too much.”  So replace the word “talk” with “blog” and you'll see where I'm going with this.  
 

I only blog once or twice a month, primarily because I don't want to be bothersome or appear too aggressive. After all,  blogs are a glorified bit of self promotion. I only blog when I have something to say not because I am obligated to say something.  Despite what some so called experts proclaim, I believe you can blog too much.  There are several who write blogs that I see being promoted in my world of voiceover that I would classify as prolific bloggers.  Some are voice talents, some offer services to the voiceover community and others are functions of casting P2P sites (“on-line marketplaces”) that use their blogs to promote subscriptions.  I'm not about to name names here, because of the nature of the performing arts world.  If you dare to criticize one of your own, you are often chastised as not being a team player.   I'm not going there either as the only team sport I have ever played is curling and there are only four members on the team. 

I do believe some people just blog too much. There comes a time when the blogs go un-opened and un-read.  Why? I get tired of seeing their “stuff” in my face.  I worked in the world of public relations and promotion for more than 25 years. One of the lessons I quickly learned had to do with press releases and communications. One of my employers was selective in the number of documents being pushed out to the  media and consuming public.  Another issued several releases each day to the point that they often went directly into the recycle bin.  The one that was selective got much more “pick-up.” The reason? Frequency. There was a perception that we only issued them when we really had something worthwhile. 

Blogs have replaced press releases in today's media world. So putting myself in the “reader's seat,” I look at them in the same fashion.  There are some blogs I would never miss. But there are some that get posted to the social media sites that I no longer open. Sorry.  You just “blog too much.”

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Mark Lynch Mystery


This first blog entry for 2015 has nothing to do with voiceover. However, it is an opportunity for me to play the role of storyteller. So here goes.

I am the self-designated family historian for many of my ancestral lines. Genealogy is one of my many hobbies. So, over the years I have been the repository of old photographs. I always try to identify the subjects or location and then digitize them for safe keeping. In so doing, I often find some that are either unidentified or if their identity is known, I may not know how the photo connects to my families. Mark Lynch is subject of one such photo.

There's one cabinet photo that was handed down that has always intrigued me. It's one of a woman dressed rather handsomely and manly as a gun toting character out of the Old West. Fortunately the photo has the following written in pencil on the back: “Mark Lynch also known as Esther Cushman” For years I have tried to connect the photo to someone in our family but was never able to. Then,last week I decided to query some old newspapers and finally solved the mystery.

On Friday evening December 11, 1896 a play was performed in what was then “The Bullion House” in the tiny village of Schuyler Lake in Otsego County NY. The building was once located on the lot where the U.S. Post Office now stands. From 1927 to 1953 the building also housed a hardware and general store operated by my grandfather E.F. Washburn, long after it ceased to operate as a popular hotel and public meeting place. The play performed in the ballroom of the Bullion House was titled: Joe Ruggles or The Girl Minor.

An advertisement placed by the Dramatic Publishing Company describes the play, written by Frank J. Dean as: “A vigorous, stirring play depicting peculiar types of life in a large city and in the mining districts of the west. The parts of Joe Ruggles, the minor, Hans Von Bush (Dutch dialect), and Richard Hamilton, the scheming villain, all afford opportunity for clever work, while the part of Madge (soubrette), who afterwards assumes the character of Mark Lynch, is an excellent one for a bright young actress.” 

The article I found containing the play announcement was a local column for the village of Schuyler lake published in the Richfield Springs Mercury on December 3, 1896. It states that there would be a fund-raising event for the school library and that a play would be performed by the Dramatic Association. Then at the bottom of the announcement for the play I found the one line that solved the mystery. “Madge, a brave girl in spite of disheartening circumstances assumes the character of Mark Lynch, a young minor – Miss E. Cushman.”

Esther Cushman was the daughter of George and Mary Jane Cushman, born in 1876, and twenty years old when she performed in that play. The Cushman family was well known for many years in Schuyler Lake. Esther's brother, Keith and nephew Gordon would later operate a very successful farm implement dealership. The buildings housed the business and would include the site of village's first blacksmith shop which was recently restored. Esther was a close friend of my grandmother Hattie Allen Washburn and later married a gentleman named LeGrande Southworth. Esther died in 1934. So all other guesses as to the identity of the mysterious Mark Lynch photo can now be put to rest. Mark Lynch really was Esther Cushman.