From radios with warm voices settling in the background to soft and powerful voices bringing animated movies to life on the silver screen, voice actors have permeated the airwaves with their skilled performances.
It is impossible to deny their influence and talent—despite remaining unseen—in delivering performances that move us. However, many of these talented performers do not get the same recognition as their live action counterparts. Voice actors often receive less remuneration, and their stand-out performances do not garner the same level of acclaim in the eyes of the public. The job may not be as glamorous as the red carpet, but within the four corners of the narrow recording booth, veteran voice actors Robi Joseph and Nica Rojo thrive in a world painted by speech.
The perfect instrument
Joseph has been a voice actor for more than 16 years, having worked as a continuity announcer for Nickelodeon since 2004 and in a slew of radio and television projects since. Given his previous experience as a theater actor, he lends insight into the comparisons between the two, describing, “Voice acting is [still] acting—that means you act with every fabric of your being. The only real difference is it’s only your voice that gets captured.”
Voice acting takes as much physical and creative preparation as performing live action scenes. Joseph takes care to warm up and maintain his voice with vocal exercises, while also trying to ensure that the intentions of the writers align with his own approach to the role. He highlights, “It’s important that I’m on the same page as the writer so asking questions can be really helpful if [I] don’t understand what [they are] trying to say completely.”
Rojo similarly believes that emotions are as palpable in every pant, sob, or breath in voice acting as with live acting. The spectrum of sentiments also comes with the diversity of characters and plots that she has lent her voice to—her previous projects mainly involve Tagalog dubbing, and she has voiced iconic characters such as Ben Tennyson from Ben 10, Kim Bok Joo from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, and Dexter from Dexter’s Laboratory, among others.
As a voice actor, Rojo is not confined to certain types of roles based on her gender or her looks. She is instead accorded the freedom to explore the complexities of various characters based on the strength of her voice acting.
What the eyes can’t see
Joseph recognizes that voice acting’s foremost purpose is to communicate a message. The mark of a truly great voice actor is the ability to connect with their audience through their voice alone, meticulously conveying emotions and subtleties through deliberate changes in their intonation and delivery.
“It’s about transferring one’s thoughts to another in a meaningful way—connecting, touching lives, making people feel all sorts of emotions, [and] helping them understand a message well. There’s a lot of power there,” he remarks, emphasizing that voice actors are tasked to express ideas that are at times “nebulous and abstract”.
Beyond communicating a message, voice acting can also be a gateway for voice actors to explore their identities. As voice actors take on characters that often differ from their own personas, there arises a need to be able to see things from various perspectives. “[It’s about] expressing yourself in ways that either reflect or deviate from who you are and discovering more about yourself and your humanity,” Joseph reveals.
Apart from an individual voice actor’s skill, Rojo highlights that every project is a team effort. She acknowledges that no sole actor can carry the whole show; elements including her own interpretation of the character, the director’s vision, and the writers’ established arcs all come together to produce the final product. “It’s humbling to realize that the show does not revolve around the voices [alone]. We are merely bridges that help the material be told to those who want to watch it,” she emphasizes.
Far from perfect
Being a voice actor, however, doesn’t come without its fair share of misconceptions. “Many people think, ‘Laway lang naman ‘yan ‘di ba?’” Joseph shares. “It’s not an easy job to say the least.”
(It’s just talking, right?)
The voice acting industry can be tricky to navigate, and many have fallen victim to its dangers. “There are a lot of scammers out there who prey on the naive, take advantage of them, and make them work for little-to-no pay,” warns Joseph.
In fact, undervaluation is a big problem in the industry, according to Joseph. Aspiring actors may enter the industry and end up underselling their talents. Some clients may also have the habit of demanding unfair rates. These practices are deeply entrenched in the industry, further propagating the idea that voice acting isn’t a lucrative field, especially not for the artists themselves.
These issues emboldened Joseph, along with other veteran voice actors, to found the non-profit association VocAlliance, seeking to create a highly-engaged community of voice actors. By offering training courses and connecting voice actors with potential clients, VocAlliance has been a welcome turning point for the industry.
More importantly, they are set on tackling problems that have plagued the field for decades. VocAlliance’s biggest accomplishment to date has been standardizing industry rates after two years of research, negotiation, and other coordinated efforts from their members. As Joseph declares, “Banding together has really helped get more and more people on the same page when it comes to ethics and protocol.”
He envisions a future wherein actors won’t have to choose between their passion and earning a decent living. “Not a lot of people realize the satisfaction you can derive from this craft. It’s addicting, fulfilling, inspiring, fun—it can make a difference in your life and in the lives of others,” Joseph affirms. The narratives conveyed through speech are imaginative and ever powerful, and for the voice actors delivering these lines, there is truly nothing like walking the talk.