(Author’s Note: I apologize for not getting this online sooner, but I came back from the D23 Expo with a cold, then experienced the big earthquake the next day — I live in the DC area, now getting ready for Hurricane Irene. Yes, this week has been a doozy! Anyhow…)
Aside from the Friday night performance by Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix, my favorite program of the entire 2011 D23 Expo Weekend was the Voices of the Park session earlier that night. Featuring nearly a dozen actors whose distinctive voices are more familiar to us than their faces are, this session looked at what it is like to leave an unusual but oh-so-important mark on a Disney attraction.
Hosted by Brian Nefsky, senior casting administrator with Walt Disney Imagineering, the panel included a mix both of names that were familiar to me (Corey Burton, Dee Bradley Baker) and those I’d never heard of before (BJ Ward, Audrey Wasilewski, Chris Edgerly, Stephen Stanton, Bill Rogers, Jeff Fischer, Mark Silverman, Bob Joles, Fred Tatasciore).
After introducing each actor by way of airing a short clip of his or her more popular vocalizations, Nefsky went down the panel asking each member a question about how they got their Disney gig, or what inspired them to pursue a career in the voiceover field. Some of the answers were serious, such as Corey Burton’s story of how he had emulated veteran voice actor Paul Frees (voice of the Haunted Mansion’s “Ghost Host” and several buccaneers in “Pirates of the Caribbean”).
Others were hilarious — I absolutely loved Mark Silverman’s demonstration of how he eases into Rod Serling’s (from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) cadence.
Still others were the stuff of future trivia questions. Who knew, for example, that Baker, now known for his work on the animated Star Wars series “The Clone Wars,” and “Family Guy,” got his start at Disney working as an Anacomical Player in Epcot’s old Wonders of Life pavilion? Or that he vocalizes the popular Perry the Platypus on the Disney Channel series “Phineas and Ferb?” Or that he can mimic a chirping cricket with an eerie believability?
Of course, he wasn’t the only one with long and strong ties to Disney. Most of the actors’ lengthy resumes include turns with Disney animated series, video games, videos and movies. Burton voiced the popular General Knowledge in the old “Cranium Command” attraction in 1989, and has been involved with many old Disney series dating as far back as Duck Tales and Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers (if not earlier). Bill Rogers, known as the voice of Disneyland, has been with the company for 20 years, warning park visitors of the impending fireworks programs, and more. Here he is talking about how he got the job with Disney:
No matter how these actors found their way to Disney, their stories were all alternately fascinating and funny, heartwarming and inspiring. And not surprisingly, they all revealed what big hams they were, each clearly trying to draw bigger laughs from the audience – and also not surprisingly, they succeeded.
Instead of trying to TELL you how immensely entertaining this program was, I thought I’d SHOW you with a series of clips. See how many of these voices you recognize! This is just a short snippet from each of these talented actors, whose behind-the-scenes contributions are integral in creating the Magic that we all enjoy every time we visit a Disney park:
The program ran late, as it was clear that no one wanted it end, not even the actors themselves. The only thing that convinced most to leave their seats was the promise of the upcoming Dick Van Dyke show… well, that and the cast member who said we really had to get out!
Oh, would that all D23 Expo sessions had been this entertaining and enlightening. I can only hope I have a chance to see (and hear) these actors in action many more times in the years to come!