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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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Versatile voice is key to success

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Tara Strong

You may not have heard of Tara Strong, but if you’ve watched any cartoons over the past 20 years, you’ve almost certainly heard her voice.

It’s hard to pinpoint which of her roles is the most famous. Many would recognize her as Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls, while others might first think of Batgirl from the New Adventures of Batman and Robin, or maybe Timmy Turner from The Fairly OddParents.

Her highly versatile voice has helped her land roles in some of the most popular shows in the last decade or two.

Strong’s career in voice acting began when she was just 13 years old, when she landed her first starring role in Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater. But she began practising years before then.

“I remember at [the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto] at four or five years old singing in my classes,” the 40-year-old voice actress said, adding that she liked animation, but her dream was to perform in general, not specifically to do voice acting.

But she was always good with voices.

“I always did funny voices with my mom. I’d say, ‘Lets pretend we’re from England’ when we go into a store, and every stuffed animal had a funny voice.”

By the time Strong had moved to Los Angeles when she was 20, she had more than 100 animated series on her resume. Although she said she sometimes misses members of her family who still live in Toronto, she really hasn’t looked back.

“I just don’t miss the cold. The weather in L.A. is so incredible,” she said.

This year, she headed back to her hometown for the first time in five years, this time as a guest at Fan Expo, the Toronto fan convention that drew more than 100,000 people in August.

Among the crowds at the convention were a number of men dressed as unicorns or sporting shirts with Strong’s My Little Pony character, Twilight Sparkle. These fans are known as “bronies” and there are a ton of them.

Although many would expect My Little Pony to target mostly young girls, Strong said it’s not completely shocking that so many men are interested in the show.

“The creator who built this world also worked a great deal on Powerpuff Girls, which you could also say looked like a girl’s show, but appealed to all ages and sexualities,” she said, adding that she’s never seen a fan base quite like the Pony fans. “They are the loveliest people watching a show that makes them laugh.”

It was mostly thanks to these fans that Strong was able to raise more than $100,000 for a family whose child, known as Kiki, was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

Her son met Kiki in kindergarten, and the two families became very close. Strong said Kiki and her family would attend all of Strong’s Chanukah and Passover dinners. She described Kiki as the cutest, fun ball of energy.

But one day, she completely shut down, Strong said.

“It sent a shockwave through the school,” she said. The family had to pay for expensive treatment, so Strong took to Twitter to ask for help.

“Literally from all over the world, donations poured in for this little girl,” she said.

Unfortunately, Kiki passed away this year at seven years old.

But Strong is continuing her involvement with charities, one of them being Bronies for Good, a group of fans inspired by the altruistic messages of My Little Pony, trying to have a positive impact on the world. Last month, the group held a fundraiser with Strong on what would have been Kiki’s eighth birthday.

Strong said her Judaism is a big part of her identity – she loves the traditions, such as lighting the candles every Shabbat. It’s also helped her with tweaking some of the Yiddishisms or Israeli accents in some of the scripts.

She also spent time as a teenager performing Yiddish theatre in Toronto, even though she doesn’t actually speak Yiddish. She would memorize the lines phonetically, and was so good that sometimes, after the shows, audience members would come up to her and speak to her in Yiddish, expecting her to understand.

Although Strong has an incredibly successful career, she warned that voice acting isn’t a particularly open-arms industry. Anybody thinking of a career in it should remember that it’s a tough business, Strong said. People often tell her that they have a funny voice, so they are thinking of become a voice actor, but it’s not about that.

“It’s about bringing these characters to life,” she said.

Follow Tara Strong on Twitter @tarastrong.

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