I studied ballet growing up, and one of my favorite things to do (when I was old enough to be in shows) was to sit at the studio door and watch the company girls rehearse. I’d watch them carefully, and then go home and figure out how to do what they did. I learned so much by copying those older girls.
Sadly, that copycat behavior did not follow me into voice acting. I suppose it can be forgiven. The little girl who spent her time away from school and the ballet studio watching cartoons never actually expected to be in a position to be a disembodied voice herself. I watched, fascinated by the optical illusion that is animation, and I listened to the voices, trying to connect them to characters in other cartoons I watched. But it was never anything more than that, because it was never going to need to be.
As I write this, I’ve been a working voice actor for five years (as of August 1), and really starting to wish I’d paid closer attention to all those cartoons. I’ve recently completed work on an audio drama where I play two of the main characters. For a girl who’s narrated over two dozen audiobooks with anywhere from a handful to nearly a hundred characters, this shouldn’t have been that big a deal. But in audiobooks, it’s understood that one person is doing everything. In an audio drama, not so much. These voices needed to be some shade of noticeably different.
I sat there, skimming scripts for moments where the two characters talk to each other to see exactly what I was in for, and thinking back over years of voice chasing and of smarting off every time I found a voice actor effectively talking to themself (or a screen actress talking to her disembodied voice). As the horrible thought that I would be engaging in that very behavior myself started sinking in, I panicked.
Memories of my past life as a ballerina kicked in, and I started thinking back more critically over all the times I could actively remember hearing someone talk to themself. (I even did some research. It’s amazing how much Darkwing Duck you can watch under the guise of “research”.) I’ve listened to experienced voice actors doing it. (I still do, actually.) I can recall or re-watch them. In the strangest copycat crash course ever, my inner grown-up voice actor tried to connect with my inner younger ballerina to sort out how to get through the project.
But I survived. And while it took a bit of work to make sure I was separating the characters enough, it was fun. Of course, I haven’t made it to the episode where the characters have a conversation yet, but I’m ready to mock myself when it happens.