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Alana Kerr Collins in good voice during pandemic

Big surge in popularity of audiobooks has helped NI actress to thrive during the Covid-19 lockdown

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Alana Kerr Collins and son Noah  in Griffith Park, LA (before lockdown)

Alana Kerr Collins and son Noah in Griffith Park, LA (before lockdown)

Alana Kerr Collins and son Noah in Griffith Park, LA (before lockdown)

The Covid-19 pandemic has shuttered film sets and silenced television studios, but Belfast actress Alana Kerr Collins has never been busier.

She can't go to auditions but, thanks to the current surge in popularity for audiobooks, she finds herself fully booked as a voice artist, a specialised job she found soon after arriving in Los Angeles.

"My sessions are up around 20%," said Alana, who had already been working from home for years and recently invested in a Tardis-like Studiobricks digital home studio.

"It's fantastic. It's a standalone booth that can be broken down and moved locations if need be and provides the perfect studio-quality sound. It's in the spare room now."

Alana has recorded over 70 audiobooks since she came to America in 2013, and has snagged some awards along the way, too. She was nominated for an Audie (the Oscar of the audio recording world) earlier this year, and already has one on her shelf from 2017.

Her Belfast accent hasn't changed at all in that time, either, and she credits the "sing-song" nature of NI accents as part of the secret of her narrator success.

"I imitate the sounds and the intonation as I would a piece of music," she explains, and though she has acted in many Irish audio books including The Dubliners, Ulysses, The Girls of Ennismore, Grounded Hearts and The Unkillable Kitty O'Kane, she's also tackled horror and science fiction, and performed Northern English, Scottish and Mexican accents.

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Actor Aidan O'Neill, who plays George Best in Dancing Shoes -The George Best Story, with Alana Kerr who plays Miss World

Actor Aidan O'Neill, who plays George Best in Dancing Shoes -The George Best Story, with Alana Kerr who plays Miss World

Actor Aidan O'Neill, who plays George Best in Dancing Shoes -The George Best Story, with Alana Kerr who plays Miss World

Acting and performing has been a lifelong love for Alana (36) who began her career aged just 10 when she joined the Youth Lyric. She followed her passion by winning places at the National Youth Theatre and National Youth Music Theatre in London, then took a degree in drama and English at Trinity College, Dublin.

Her first big break was playing Cinderella at the Waterfront Hall, and then after several years of musicals and theatre - and a spell as a puppeteer and the voices of Goliath, Maisie and Claribelle on Sesame Tree - she moved across the Atlantic. She had also spent time training in the noted Meisner technique in London, and in Los Angeles she has continued to attend several local acting studios - all while enjoying the famous sunshine.

At the moment California is in stay-home-safe mode, which means that Alana's husband Matt, who works for BMW North America, is at home - that can make things tricky to juggle since they also have one-year-old Noah, too.

"I'm used to recording during his naps, but even with Matt at home and no access to childcare due to Covid-19, it's even more exhausting than usual! But I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to work at all, and safely, I'm very much aware of that," she adds.

Alana still returns home to Finaghy regularly - most recently for Noah's first birthday last year - and she jokes that she's lucky to be able to see so much family when she is there because "they virtually all live in the same street".

Her next audio projects include Lindsay Jayne Ashford's WWII mystery The House at Mermaid's Cove and Irish drama The Island Child by Molly Aitken, but there's a bigger production coming later this year. Her birthday is in October, and one day later their second child is due to be born.

Belfast Telegraph