Kids and Voice OverJuly 13, 2010 by: Tracy Pattin
When it comes to voice-over careers, the focus is on the adult voice-over actor. It’s a great career where we get to do everything from selling fancy cars (although the celebs get a lot of those gigs these days!) to narrating documentaries about the Amazon, to being the voice at a parking garage telling us to “take our parking ticket” to hooking audiences by voicing a blockbuster movie trailer and to playing cartoon characters on kids’ TV shows.
But what about actual kids and voice over? How do they get into the business? How do they compete and survive? Who represents them?
Nancy Carson has been representing young performers for 29 years at her New York-based talent agency, Carson/Adler. (she represented Cynthia Nixon, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Britney Spears). She’s the sole owner with the help of her daughter, Bonnie Deroski and agent Shirley Faison.
Nancy represents kids for all aspects of performing, including voice-over for TV shows like Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer (she reps Matthew Gumley who plays Benny the Bull on Dora the Explorer) and Backyardigans, commercials , film, television, Broadway and other theatrical productions, even opera.
I asked Nancy what she looks for in young voice talent. “I look for a distinctive voice, something different from other kids, a gravely voice is good, non-regional accents (she says accents stand out much more in voice-over than on-camera) and sometimes she’ll want an ethnic quality. She also emphasizes the need for a good singing voice with good pitch, because so many of the kids shows have singing, like Dora the Explorer. But she warns, “voice-over clients like kids to be able to really sing but NOT like Broadway kids. Everyone wants the natural delivery these days.”
The biggest challenge with young voice talent? Nancy says, “it’s the kids’ voices changing as they get older.” It’s not so great for her (or existing talent) but good for kids wanting to break into voice-over, because as kids’ voices change, there’s a constant need for new talent.
Other than the challenge of changing voices, the hurdles are the same for kids as for adults. “Less work and less good work, and a lot more non-union work.” She says there used to more opportunities to do National commercials. “I remember my daughter doing voice-overs as a child, years ago. She got a lot of National commercials then.”
I asked her the perennial question, “What do kids need to do to build their skills to compete?” Nancy says, “Acting classes and singing lessons.” She says the kids who do a lot of theatre, from Broadway to regional and community theatre, benefit because they have stronger acting skills and they often have voice coaching. “And voice-over IS acting! ” She insists. Voice talent often get underrated because it’s sometimes not thought of as acting. Anyone in voice-over knows how difficult it is and how important an acting background is to succeed in this part of the industry.
As far as voice-over demos are concerned, Nancy says, “I don’t need a demo for kids, just an MP3 sample.” Once again, because kids’ voices change.
Nancy says, she loves kids who are versatile. Then suddenly she stops and says, “Would you hold on a minute? I want you to meet someone.” When she came back to the phone she introduced me to a prolific young voice-actor, Matthew Gumley (he plays Benny the Bull in Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer). I heard this young voice say, “Hi Tracy. How are you?” I was immediately drawn in by Matthew’s vocal charisma. Right then, I wanted to know him, to meet him in person. Matthew had this ability to connect in an instant. It became apparent why he succeeds in this fiercely competitive part of the business.
I asked Matthew about his career. In addition to voice-over, he’s a Broadway, Film and TV performer and a musician (he sings, plays the piano and the organ and writes music). Then I asked him specifically about VO and being the voice on a TV show. “How did you find your character, Benny the Bull on Dora The Explorer?” His answer was astute, insightful and just plain smart. “I listened to the other characters in the show and thought, ‘How would Benny mingle with these characters? What would he say to them?’ So there you have it. We know with acting, whether you’re in voice over, Film, TV or on The Broadway Stage, whether you’re an adult or a young performer, it’s about listening. Sage advice from a 13 year old.