In entertainment, the separation of labor is largely delineated by who stands on what side of the recording equipment. Film and television actors typically get all the acclaim because they get to mug million-dollar smiles, wear elaborate costumes, fight bad guys and save the planet. It’s the voice actors, however, who breathe life into all the facets of entertainment people take for granted. They make cartoon characters cute, video game villains vile and radio commercial breaks tolerable on long commutes. Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal are two of these heroes of the voice talent world. More than just artists behind the mike, Platt and Lowenthal are also accomplished actors in front of the camera and on the stage. In their free time they have co-authored a book, started a production company and currently write, produce and star in an ongoing web series. The married couple spoke with Working Author to try and give some insight into how two people can possibly possess so much talent.
“Well it was acting on-stage first,” Tara Platt says, explaining which of her abilities she nurtured first. “I got excited about doing plays when I was just a kid, eight or nine, when I acted in my first play. Then I went to school for acting, studying at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and London Academy of Theatre, before moving to NYC to do off-Broadway theatre. I didn’t get into VO until I was living in LA. And Yuri and I took a class on it.”
Yuri Lowenthal adds, “Yeah. Neither of us knew much about the VO world until we took that class. But I only got into acting toward the end of high-school. At that time though I still thought I was going the Foreign Service route, but once it gets its claws in you, the acting bug is hard to shake.” While the two don’t seem to have a preference when it comes to acting behind a microphone or in front of a camera, Lowenthal does mention that “it is nice that we are both working so much in VO these days.”
In 2002, Platt and Lowenthal took their first voice over class where their instructor was directing on a project, which Lowenthal managed to book. And because the voice over community appreciates recommendations, the two kept working over the last 10 years on cartoons and video games. Notable projects include Naruto: Shippûden, God of War: Ghost of Sparta, Dungeon Siege III, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien and more. “Though there are certainly highlights to the careers we’ve had,” Lowenthal says, “certain roles really stand out. After I played Superman on Legion of Superheroes I thought ‘I could retire, what’s better than getting to play Superman!?’”
While acting with just one’s voice may seem limiting, Lowenthal actually finds it liberating, explaining how his appearance would limit him in visual media. “If I can create a legitimate voice for a character, I can play it.”
“I second that,” Platt adds. “That is actually one of the most exciting parts of working in voice over. Getting to play roles you might not have the chance to play otherwise.” While the reward of playing a wider range of roles is wonderful, voice acting is not without its unique challenges, as well. “If you are just using your voice,” Platt explains, “you have to think creatively to help the audience go on the storytelling journey with you. When you are on camera you have the props, sets, costumes and whole visual landscape, but with VO, you need to whittle that all down to just what they will hear.”
Just like other recorded entertainment, there are physical realities that affect voice overs, which sometimes detract from the final product. Many video gamers understand how an awkwardly delivered line can really break the willing suspension of disbelief. “Sometimes though there really isn’t much you could have done to change it,” Platt says. “Either the game was still in process and the director of recording and you as the actor simply didn’t have the information to make the scene as playable as possible, and sometimes there just isn’t time…. It’s a matter of making uninformed choices.”
“Yeah, think about video games and the changing gameplay that has happened over the past ten years,” Lowenthal says. “Now there are so many options and in-game choice, sometimes the game has thousands if not hundreds of thousands of lines and unless they have endless hours to record and tweak, sometimes the take they select is not the best line you could have given but it is the best they could have pulled from the choices out of necessity to get the recording done in a shortened time period.”
For those interested in pursuing voice over as a career, Platt and Lowenthal co-authored a book titled “Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic”. The book details the world of voice acting and includes not only the authors’ experiences, but anecdotes from fellow actors as well as engineers and directors. “We were getting tons of emails and requests for more information, as well as people wanting to know what we did and how they could do the same. It seemed like a logical step to put all the info we had together and get it out there,” Lowenthal explains.
In describing the book, Platt says, “We couldn’t really find anything quite like what we were writing. Sure there were other books but we wanted something fun and current and practical.” The authors have also made available an optional companion warm-up CD or MP3 where listeners are led on a full body and vocal warm-up. For more information or to purchase “Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic”, visit www.VoiceOverVoiceActor.com.
Before moving on, Lowenthal offers a final bit of caution to anyone who wants to pursue voice acting, “It’s like going on job interviews every day for the rest of your life and not getting 95-99% of those jobs. You have to learn not to take rejection personally.”
On top of voice work, both Platt and Lowenthal have been acting professionally for over a decade, discovering their love for the craft as early as childhood and as late as high school. Since then, the two have appeared on shows like Attack of the Show!, Castle, Criminal Minds, Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles and more. When asked if they still enjoy acting, Lowenthal responds simply, “Absolutely. But it is still work. We work really hard.”
Platt elaborates, “And we never know where our next job is coming from. We look at the calendar and there is no work booked the rest of the year. That is a scary feeling. But you have to get out there and trust in yourself, your talent, your passion, your hard work and keep auditioning, meeting people and doing your job.” While the temptation to switch career paths to something steadier is ever-present for any actor, Platt goes on to explain while she’ll never do that. “I know that I can do other things. I’ve published books, produced films, own several successful companies…. But what I want to do is act…. It’s about taking responsibility for your life and your passion. I may have abilities outside of my passions but I am going to follow my passions til the day I die.”
That drive is one of Platt and Lowenthal’s defining characteristics. “Never sit around and wait for things to come to you,” Lowenthal says, “if you have something to say get out there and say it.” So in 2004, the couple started their own production company called Monkey Kingdom Productions. Lowenthal was an East Asian studies major, so the name was inspired by Eastern Mythology and the trickster god Songoku.
“But we also like monkeys and think you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously, so there was actually a whole lot of thought involved,” Platt adds. Monkey Kingdom Productions recently put out its first feature film on DVD titled Tumbling Ever After, which is an award-winning psychological thriller. The company is currently in post production on its second feature called Con Artists, which is a mockumentary focusing on conventions. Finally, the company also produces the web series Shelf Life, which is an irreverent comedy that follows the lives of four action figures on a young boy’s shelf. Platt describes some of the universal challenges Monkey Kingdom faces. “I think everyone in this industry, mainstream or indie, faces the same problems. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough people watching or being aware of your product. But that is what makes it exciting.”
As people who create their own quality entertainment, before the interview ended, Platt and Lowenthal shared their views on the diminishing value of mainstream entertainment. “I think sometimes with an ‘industry’ that is so concerned with the bottom line,” Lowenthal opens, “they lose their voice or the reason that they’re making the show in the first place – beyond money…. The quality of independent projects keep getting better, but they have to, or they disappear into the millions of videos people are putting up on YouTube. Hopefully that will eventually force the quality of mainstream to do the same.”
“At the end of the day people voice what they like and don’t like,” Platt says, “we vote everyday with our dollars and cents. Purchasing tickets for something, or sometimes online, simply clicking and watching, is voicing your opinion and will ultimately affect the bigger industry and the bottom line of [the box office].”
It’s people like Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal who can affect change within the entertainment industry. They are driven, dedicated and imaginative enough to create new and lasting entertainment. Even in Hollywood, it’s rare to find people this talented. Help them on their way. Watch their shows. Support their projects. And you, too, can become an agent of change.