James Arnold Taylor made me cry tonight. Twice. I won’t hold it against him though. He performed his one man show, Talking To Myself, at the Chapin Theater for 3,000 fans, and it was an experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Fans know him best as the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Plo Koon in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but that’s not all he does. He’s an incredibly talented voice actor, and you’ve probably heard him in more things than you can even imagine. He shared his world and skills with us tonight.
I have a sad confession: thinking about the voices behind my favorite cartoon characters came to me late in life. I did start connecting the dots between talented voice actors and their characters, but it still took a few years for the full scope of what a voice actor does to hit me. Taylor painted a detailed picture of the various aspects of his job for the audience but instead of just telling it to us, he showed us. He planned the show masterfully because it was definitely a lesson of sorts about being a voice actor, but it was done as entertainment.
Sometimes you just don’t think about all the roles voice actors fill. They play announcers, they’re the voices of movie trailers, they play animated characters, they record thousands of grunts for video games, they read all those notes about side effects after medications are announced on television, they act as voice doubles when people like Johnny Depp can’t do a sequel or need A.D.R., and on and on. Taylor demonstrated this by running through at least a bazillion different voices. I counted.
Okay, it was probably more like 200 voices. Seriously. Two hundred voices in about an hour. He ran through what a video game recording is like and made an insane number of sound effects for being punched, for jumping off buildings, and for being set on fire. He went through a typical audition process to show us the sometimes (or often) silly things and accents directors ask for. He read the phone book and stereo installation instructions as Plo Koon, and it blew me away. I wish I could put this man’s talents into the right words to convey to you what it felt like to watch him run through voice after voice without missing a beat.
You can bet Star Wars played a role in his performance, too. A hologram of Obi-Wan appeared throughout the event to guide him along. He shared a clip of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that showcased the many characters he has voiced on the series. He created a cartoon about Obi-Wan giving Luke the lightsaber that belonged to Anakin except that Christopher Walken took the role of the Jedi Master and he played it like the scene from Pulp Fiction when Walken’s character gave the watch to young Bruce Willis’ character. It was hilarious and brilliant. That was the first time I cried – I was laughing so hard.
He also showed how voice actors utilize tone to access a huge range of characters. He started speaking in his regular voice and lowered it slightly to drop into someone else’s and did that over and over again. He would talk more clipped or speak at a higher pitch and switch between different actors’ voices at a speed that made your head spin. While he did that a visual map played out behind him showing he was voicing at any given time. The way he demonstrated it was something that will stick with me.
Entertaining as all of that was, the message at the end of the show is what really got to me. Any of you who follow Taylor on Twitter know that he is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. He told us about how he lost his voice because of problems with a toxic mold in the walls of his house. He was at a high point in his career, and that took him off track for two years.
But then he told us the important thing: he didn’t give up. He made sacrifices and did what it took to get healthy again. He told us it took him a while to get where he is today, and he emphasized the importance of chasing our dreams. He cautioned that it may not always be easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not right and it doesn’t mean you should give up. Not ever. That was the second time I cried.