Several voice actors have worked and grown up here in Canada, starting off where everyone has started off and then creating the characters people of all ages watch and fall in love with.
Have you ever wanted to be a local actor or voice actor in Canada?
William Colgate, Krystal Meadows, Ron Rubin and Debra Toffan, four veterans of the voice acting industry who have worked and grown up here in Canada have pitched in to tell you the best ways to become a Canadian voice actor and what to watch for when you become one.
Ron Rubin has been a performer and voice actor for almost 40 years, appearing in hundreds of cartoons for Disney, Marvel Ent. and Warner Bros. as well as multiple anime series. He has also voiced countless national commercial campaigns. Some of his most notable roles include Artemis in Sailor Moon, Morph in the 1992 X-Men cartoon, Doom Buggy in Beetlejuice and Vision in The Avengers: United They Stand.
Krystal Meadows is a Gemini-nominated voice actor with over a decade of industry experience in animation, commercial and promo. She has leant her voice to lead and recurring roles on Grossology, World of Quest, Justin Time Go, Detentionaire, Arthur, The Dating Guy, BeyWheelz and more. In addition to her acting work, Krystal has behind-the-scenes experience assisting on a variety of pre-school animation series.
William (Bill) Colgate became a bar singer in the early ‘70s of a band who was born during his last year of high school and they kept performing well into university. Disco was big at the time so they went by The All-Star Disco Band to promote themselves, and during the school year and weekends they went by Uncle John’s Dirty Secret. Later on, Colgate was approached and said he has the talent to act, and became one who also does voices, including Mr. Mole in Franklin, Johnny B. Dead in Monster by Mistake and Mr. Dickenson in Beyblade. Colgate is currently the lead singer for the Canadian band Cadre.
ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
The first thing you need to do is be ready and confident to express your voice and talent. Rubin, Meadows and Colgate suggest you train with a professional in the field. Options include private tutoring and workshops.
“If you’re not an actor, singer, etc. and the use of your voice is pretty well confined to normal conversation, training is helpful, in that it gives you a certain degree of confidence,” said Colgate.
Meadows does coaching sessions in Toronto at Kim Hurdon Casting. She says theatre and improv are two skills highly relevant to voice-overs.
“Some of the most talented voice actors I know come from a theatre background. Theatre trained actors are not afraid to use their bodies and go big with their choices,” said Meadows.
Improv is important because Meadows says a casting or voice director may have a totally different take on a specific scene or the character; a big part of the job of an actor is being comfortable not knowing what is going to happen next. “You just gotta go with the flow and start playing in this new direction.”
“When I was starting out, and even up until 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a lot of voice classes,” said Rubin. Now there are.
Rubin teaches animation workshops and classes at Humber College, as well as coaches and produces demos.
Melissa Altro, a voice actress who has been Muffy on Arthur for the last 23 years, and has also been the star of Pippi Longstocking and Gretchen in Camp Lakebottom, is also a voice coach and owner of Voice Pro Studio in Toronto.
“Voice acting is much more about crafting characters than having an interesting voice,” said Meadows. “Make some strong choices for your character in the scene and have fun playing them! Beware of locking yourself into only one way of saying each line – this will cut off your spontaneity in the moment.”
Some voice actors manage to disguise their voice, changing maybe their accent, maybe their gender, and still becoming the character. Practicing different accents and listening back can help you identify what needs improvement.
“I want you to become the part,” said Rubin. “You literally have to know how to cough and sneeze and laugh and exert and everything like the character.”
Altro, Rubin and Meadows also all do private tutoring.
As coaches, the three of them help record demos. A demo showcases recordings of the voices an actor can do to agencies, advertisers and animation directors.
According to Altro, “It’s better to have fewer distinctive characters than too many similar sounding ones.” She says each voice segment should be about 10-15 seconds to show you can hold onto the attitude and impersonation of the character.
Once you feel confident you’re ready to go out into the field, it’s time to find an agent.
“You have to have an agent or else you wouldn’t know what’s going on [in the field],” said Debra Toffan, casting director of over 60 cartoons and also a voice and acting coach.
Acting agencies hear from voice casters, animation directors and advertising producers looking for freelance voiceovers and calls the performers they see fit to run an audition.
If you earn a role, the agency works out payment details with the company. Agencies are not supposed to get paid until you get paid.
There are two types of agencies in the entertainment field: union and non-union.
‘Union’ means you’re a member of Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). ACTRA has guidelines, you’re paid a certain amount and there are residuals, which means you will be paid whenever your work is broadcast.
Non-union agencies generally pay $250 to $300. Sometimes an actor does not need as much experience, but non-union does not mean non-professional.
“A lot of the work is going non-union because some people, producers, don’t necessarily want to pay the union rates, residuals, the backend, etc…” said Rubin, who goes on to say most of what you see on Saturday morning cartoons are still union.
Getting an agency to hire you may take time. Read the contract. Make sure you don’t end up working for a company that won’t let you work elsewhere or forces you to pay fees.
Voicing is competitive in Canada. Be patient after an audition because choosing the final voice can take weeks to months, according to Toffan.
“I’m very encouraging and supportive with my students but I’m also realistic with them. They’re probably not going to walk out of a workplace and have an agent by next week,” said Rubin. “Nowadays, the good news is there’s a lot of production. The bad news is there’s lots of competition.”
Be prepared for rejection, otherwise the anxiety will remain and without the energy and optimism, you won’t get other jobs.
“In Canada, yes, you can have absolutely up to a hundred people auditioning for a part easily. Other times you go in and you book it and you start recording in two weeks,” said Rubin.
So do voice actors in Canada manage to make a living with all the competition? Or do they have side jobs? It depends.
Colgate is also a singer and songwriter. Meadows, Altro and Rubin are coaches, though Rubin became a coach just recently.“I have been a professional actor for 40 years and I’ve been lucky enough. I haven’t had to have a side job,” said Rubin. “There’s a group at the top that absolutely makes a living doing voicing full time…and others might have a side job.”
“Singing, songwriting and acting are all equally rewarding. I enjoy performing and creating and [being these things] scratch both those itches,” said Colgate.
“One of my favourite parts of being a voice actor is the range of characters to play is really wide. There is so much freedom in voice-over because actors don’t need to look the part and that’s incredibly exciting to me!” said Meadows.
You can be a part of the excitement too. You can look into these workshops to get started on training:
His next workshop takes place the last weekend of April.
Meadows’: khcasting.com/anim_classes.php or krystalmeadows.com
The next teen workshop she is teaching at Kim Hurdon Casting is the weekend of June 16 – 17 and the next adult workshops are June 2 – 3 and August 11 – 12.
You can visit William and his band at cadretheband.com/gigs/ or billcolgate.com
You can also contact Debra at chatterpinc.com.