To bring characters to life is always a creative challenge. Whether your medium is text, voice, or live performance, there are a million and one factors that go into creating a character. Voice acting can be notoriously tricky as it involves recreating a world, characters, and situations using nothing more than sound. How a performer shapes the sounds dictates everything from tone, atmosphere, intensity, etc. For the first time since Ex Luna in March 2016, Master Mystery Productions returns to audio storytelling as our talented voice actors become a doomed field team desperate for answers. In this final behind-the-scenes installment, we interviewed veteran MMP actress Devanne Fredette (The Last Garden Party, Bury Me in Paris, Ode to Agatha) as she joins us in her fourth show as Kyra Gainley in The Silent City. The transition from stage to microphone is a complex one, and Devanne will share her experience in bringing her voice to life.
IN THE FIELD: The Making of The Silent City (part 3)
MMP: Welcome Devanne to the Master Mystery Productions blog! You’ve been a fixture at our company for a while now, especially in the 2017 season. So tell us how you got into acting?
DEVANNE: I think it was the need to be creative. I love writing and drawing, and acting just felt like the next logical step. I once attended a seminar where a writer was discussing ways to become a better writer. He said it’s best to know and feel what the characters are going through, and acting is the best way to learn, because YOU are the performer.
MMP: We love that! We like to think learning theatre provides a wonderful backbone for great writing. So what was your first show?
D: It was a Christmas show at my church when I was eight. It was this two-person scene between Santa Claus and this little girl. Santa was placing presents under the tree, and the girl spots him and asks him what is the true gift of Christmas. I played the little girl, but I almost didn’t get the part. They thought I might be too old. But I auditioned and they were like “Wow, we really like her.” Another funny story: I was the only one in that show who memorized all my lines. I watched Santa read his off the side of a present.
MMP: What was your first show with Master Mystery Productions?
D: The Last Garden Party where I played Phoebe Walliscroft. It was one of my first years out of high school, and I was really nervous to try out for other theater companies. I thought Master Mystery Productions would be a good first step into acting and that it would be a fun thing to do.
MMP: And was it fun? What did you learn from the experience?
D: It was a lot of fun. I learned how I have to memorize lines. I take on a hands-on approach. I learned how my voice works, and I’ve been working on getting stronger with each show. Phoebe was really memorable because she was my first major role in a professional show. She was the main character and sleuth, so that carried a lot of responsibility.
MMP: You’ve returned for several other Master Mystery Productions since The Last Garden Party. You’ve played the mysterious Zoe Fox in Bury Me in Paris (Spring 2017) and the prim and proper Caroline Shaw in Ode to Agatha (July 2017). What have you learned from all those roles?
D: From Phoebe, I learned all about hand gestures and the fine art of stage business. [Business is the gestures performed by actors onstage that have not been planned out by directors. These are gestures like tugging on a strand of hair when nervous, running a finger along the rim of a teacup, fussing with a purse, straightening a necktie, etc.] I remember reading an article in Dramatics magazine that contrasted a scene with business and a scene without business. What made the scene special and memorable were those gestures.
From Zoe, I learned about reacting to others. Bury Me in Paris had a large cast. I wasn’t the focus most of the time. So I learned how I needed to react to everyone in the space.
And from Caroline, I learned about improv. And it was my first show with an accent.
MMP: You have built a career as a stage actress, but you have quite a lot of experience behind the microphone as well. Tell us about some of it.
D: I would help my dad make commercials for the radio station where he works, and my family once made a Christmas album where we got to sing songs and tell holiday stories as a gift. I was also an actor in Ridgecrest Community Theater Troupe’s radio show, A Spirited Christmas: A Christmas Carol Radio Show written and directed by Katie Cozine.
MMP: What are the differences, in your opinion, between stage acting and voice acting?
D: At the Ode to Agatha panel we did in July, I talked about how I always start with the voice and finding the one that fit both the character and me. Stage acting, for me, is about putting your voice into your body, to let what you do with your voice inform what you do with your body. There are more rules to voice acting. There’s limited movement. Like you’re in a box and you have to imagine how your character moves inside that box.
MMP: In A Spirited Christmas, you played The Ghost of Christmas Past among others. That’s a pretty major role. How was the experience, and what did it teach you about voice acting?
D:It was a really new experience, but I always had an interest in voice acting. Once I got the role, I went straight into researching the part, watching all sorts of A Christmas Carol adaptations to figure out how my character was played before. Who was the Ghost of Christmas Past? Was she more of a child? An adult? How was she played? The experience was positively interesting. What I learned from it was a lot about self-direction and acting without a large cast. I was by myself when I recorded my lines.
MMP: Let’s turn to your latest show–The Silent City. How did you approach this show?
D: Well, first there was what my director told me about the show and my character. It was mostly horror with quite of bit of screaming and terrifying things. So I started with research. I watched “Try Not to Look Away Challenges” on YouTube which were horror focused. The goal is to not look away or close your eyes. I watched more animation ones, so I could learn how their voice actors portrayed those emotions. I deliberately terrified myself!
MMP: Now that’s commitment to your art. What’s your process for performing as a voice actor?
D: First, I learn from the director who and what the character is. Then research. Then I focus on creating images in my head that explain what my character is going through to give my performance the right energy.
MMP: Tell us about Kyra Gainley, your character in The Silent City.
D: My director and the writer gave me notes on how she was loud and conceited, but there’s also this tragic backstory. We got interviews with our characters from the writer, and Kyra had been abused by her parents and sister until she discovered science. But that ultimately leads to her downfall. It’s really sad. So I try to put as much as that as I can into my performance even though I only have a few lines.
MMP: How has the experience been working on The Silent City?
D: It’s one of the most emotionally taxing performances I’ve ever done, but it’s still lots of fun. I’m putting all of my energy into the performance and my voice at that moment instead of acting it out onstage in my body. So it can be exhausting. Sometimes I end my performance shaking. But I love voice acting, and I want to take what I learn from voice acting and put it into my stage acting.
MMP: We’ve seen you rehearse and wow…you really go for it. We’re excited to hear the end product. Since this is your most intense role, how do you build up that kind of energy?
D: I visualize the kind of pain the character is going through. This intense pain. I focus it all in one spot. I focus on it, focus on it, focus on it until it all comes out really naturally.
MMP: It’s going to be an amazing show and one of your best roles. Do you have any tips on voice acting you’d like to share?
D: Find what motivates you specifically to perform that action. Whether it’s visualizing scenes or research or using all your senses when you record (like touching something to make you react the right way), find what will give you the energy you need. And don’t pressure your voice into tricks that will hurt it.
MMP: Thank you so much for your time and insight, Devanne. One last question before we close: If you had to play any of your roles again, which would you do?
D: It would have to be between Phoebe (The Last Garden Party) and Kyra (The Silent City), because I learned the most from them. Phoebe taught me to be an actress. Kyra is, I think, my strongest role yet, and she taught me to be a voice actor. My goal with every show is to do better and better and better every time.
MMP: A wonderful philosophy. Thank you so much. We look forward to hearing your work in The Silent City!
You can hear Devanne in her role as Kyra Gainley, alongside her fellow cast members Katie Cozine, Sam Johnson, Matt Bradford, Thomas Cozine, Nicole Johnson, and Monica Lorenz, in The Silent City, opening September 23. Hear what our doomed field team encounters in C. R. Rowenson’s intense interactive thriller as the final part of Ridge Writers Weird Weekend 2017. Tickets are on sale now at Red Rock Books!
We can’t wait to see you all at the show!
–Master Mystery Productions