Actor leaps from Truckee to South Park
Where would Mrs. Cartman of Comedy Central’s South Park go if she visited Truckee?
As the voice talent behind Mrs. Cartman, among other characters on the popular animated show, April Stewart can guess.
Stewart graduated from Truckee High School in 1987 with a hope of becoming a stage performer. She was active in the Truckee Actor’s Guild as well as a participant in high school musicals.
“I loved acting from when I was a little girl, but it was really solidified in Ashland,” Stewart said.
The 12-year-old Stewart was introduced to Ashland, the location of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, by her junior high school teacher. After the trip, Stewart said she knew that acting was her passion.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said. “I wanted to do live theater.”
Her pursuit of the theater led her to the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria, north of Santa Barbara, to hone her acting skills. After completing two years at the school, at the behest of a friend Stewart moved to Los Angeles.
Once there, Stewart said she was “frustrated with the lack of theater.” Grey Delisle, a voice actress and friend of Stewart’s, proposed a career in voice acting.
“I had never thought of it before she suggested it,” Stewart said.
A month after obtaining an agent, Stewart booked her first job ” without knowing it. Thinking the radio spot for Lexus was just another audition, Stewart approached the day like any other, until they offered her coffee.
“They didn’t treat you like they would at a normal audition,” Stewart said.
But not until she was in the studio, behind the microphone even, did she turn to another woman there and ask if it was an audition. The woman said no, this was a job. She’d been booked.
Stewart laughed, saying she was fortunate not to know it was an actual job, or else her nerves would have been frayed before she got there.
But that wouldn’t be the last time Stewart headed into an audition oblivious to the whole truth. The day she walked into South Park Studios, the voice actress was under the impression that she would be auditioning to fill in two weeks for the woman who had played the series’ principal female characters.
“They sent a tape of the original woman’s voices. When I did the audition the booth director said I sounded just like them. I had to wait two weeks to find out if I got it,” Stewart said.
When the two weeks had passed, Stewart was handed good news ” with a twist. She had not received the job for the allotted two weeks: Instead, they wanted her as a permanent member of the cast.
Of the female voices on the show, Stewart voices Mrs. Cartman, Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. McCormick, Shelly Marsh, the Mayor, Principal Victoria, Mrs. Crabtree and Wendy Testaberger. Mrs. Cartman, however, is her favorite character to voice.
Besides South Park, Stewart has lent her talents to the new show El Tigre on Nickelodeon, as well as several video games including Final Fantasy and Star Wars. For these characters, Stewart had no role to emulate and had to create the character’s voice from scratch.
“When I’m creating a character organically, I look at the artwork and take my clues from that,” Stewart explained. “What I have in my head is a repertory company.”
She added that she had several core voices to use as frames. After examining a character, she picks a core voice to start with and builds onto the base to make a completely unique voice for that character.
But Stewart is not completely restricted to her repertory of voice characters.
“When I meet interesting people, I can guarantee they’re going to be in a cartoon,” Stewart laughed. “I definitely pull from real life.”
For instance, Stewart described meeting a woman who had lost her voice, but did not speak in a hoarse whisper usually associated with the condition. She had an extremely high-pitched, wheezy sound emanating from her throat that Stewart said she found hilarious, so she decided to throw that into her repertoire as well.
Though a sore throat may just be annoying for some, the same ailment can be the difference between South Park being recorded and on the air in one week, or the episode being halted until she recovers.
“One time, I got a sinus infection and my voice started to go,” Stewart related.
She also explained that some Los Angeles doctors specialize in treating voice actors. Worried about recording the episode that week, Stewart rushed to a doctor who used every trick in his medical bag to restore her voice for a single day so she could record the episode.
After cortisone and steroids shots, Stewart was able to perform, saving the show from a delay.
Because she supports herself through her voice, Stewart takes special precautions to ensure that it isn’t damaged, much like actors maintain their physical appearance.
“No screaming, I had to quit smoking, I don’t drink,” Stewart explained.
In the future, Stewart hopes to remain in voice acting as long as possible.
“I love the fact that what I look like doesn’t matter,” said a smiling Stewart.