The man behind the curtain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

By David Vitrano


RESERVE – Although St. John Theatre is in the habit of producing stars, rarely do real celebrities grace the venerable institution.

On Saturday, however, Kent Williams and Todd Haberkorn, voice actors for Japanese anime cartoons, drew a small gaggle of anime enthusiasts for the theater’s first vocal workshop.

“This is something I’ve been trying to bring to the theater for three years,” said St. John Theatre Board of Directors Vice President Suzette Hullette.

Hullette, herself an anime fan, met the two while attending various anime conventions throughout the region. Both Williams and Haberkorn work for Texas-based FUNimation Studios giving English voices to the Japanese cartoons that have surged in popularity in recent years.

The event was part of the theater’s recent efforts to become a more integrated element of the community. Unlike the events usually associated with the theater, the vocal workshop was aimed at preparing actors for some aspects of the business side of the profession.

The workshop opened in typical theater fashion with warm-up exercises and scene work. But after breaking for lunch, the day transformed into one not seen before on the local community stage.

Williams and Haberkorn went over elements of the acting profession such as headshots and the workings of a “cattle call”—a rapid-fire audition process in which a large number of auditioners line up on the stage at one time. The participants then got the chance to practice auditioning for commercial voice-overs and even participated in a live dubbing of an anime cartoon.

“From the moment it started, it was a perfect day,” said Hullette. “What they did exceeded my expectations completely.”

The event was a first for the theater, but it was also a first of sorts for Williams and Haberkorn, who regularly lead shorter sessions at anime conventions but rarely do daylong workshops.

“I think it went great,” said Williams. “We’re just giving people a taste.”

“It’s fun to see the enthusiasm of the people,” Haberkorn added.

The pair are already preparing for a return engagement in 2012, although it may not happen until August to avoid scheduling conflicts. They said they may even expand the workshop into a two-day event next year.

An expanded event would certainly be welcomed by the Board of Directors as well as Managing Director Denise Borell, who said she hopes the workshop becomes a regional institution like the Missoula Children’s Theater Workshops held during the summer.

She said she would also like to partner with local school systems to encourage local drama teachers and students to participate. She sees such events as filling a void in the local school systems, which venerate athletes but do little to recognize those gifted in the dramatic arts.

“We’re losing these kids,” said Borell.

She said she will explore different methods of marketing as well as grant venues for future workshops.

The fact that only 15 participants showed up for the inaugural vocal workshop, however, did not hinder its success. Quite the opposite, in fact, because of the personal, one-on-one attention the participants received.

Said Hullette, “They were the luckiest 15 people.”