MomoCon 2016: An Hour with Cree Summer

Cree Summer Momocon

When you hear the name Cree Summer (@IAmCreeSummer), you may not realize it, but you’re hearing the name responsible for a plethora of iconic voices from your childhood. Grow up watching Inspector Gadget? She was his spunky daughter, Penny. Turn on Tiny Toons as soon as you got home from school? She was the unforgettable Elmyra, terror to cute, fluffy animals everywhere. Maybe you were a fan of Rugrats? She was Susie Carmichael, defender of the helpless. And as you grew past the age of Saturday morning cartoons, you might also remember her for her on camera role as college student, Winifred “Freddie” Brooks, on A Different World. And that’s just naming a few!

Her first announcement as the panel kicks off comes as a bit of a shock. Momocon is only her fourth convention. But she glides into the panel discussion with an easy confidence and good-natured ribbing of the industry, herself and the fans, affectionately greeting all the “freaks” in the audience, a term that she proffers as a genuine endearment before settling into to the Q & A.

A veteran in the industry, Cree started her career at the tender age of eleven, voicing the character Penny Gadget alongside Don Adams, a role she admits sheepishly she probably didn’t fully appreciate at the time. As the daughter of actors, she’d already done on camera work, and she was a kid. To her at the time, the role was something fun and new.

When asked what the hardest part about this job [voice acting] is, she laughs and says, “This gig is not a struggle. It’s gas!” But one of the aspects of voice acting that she finds challenging in a good way is the pronunciations and intonations of fictional language. “You have to understand that the people who create these languages take it very seriously. And who wouldn’t want to perfect their Ewokian?”

She counts herself fortunate that she gets to do what she does. “It’s a sweet thing,” she says, “a clear, good conscience job.”

The inevitable question pops up: who’s been the most fun character to play? “Foxxy Love. I really love the Foxxy.” Her quick answer delights the audience, eliciting chuckles all around. Foxxy Love, one of the main characters of Comedy Central’s Drawn Together, is a sharp-tongued, often wildly inappropriate parody of Valerie Brown from Josie and the Pussycats.

When asked by the audience what influenced her vocal characterization of “the Foxxy,” Cree quips, “Everything wrong. Foxxy is that politically incorrect, irreverent part of all of us that wans to say things you probably shouldn’t. But she will.”

Another character she loved playing was Kida, an oft-forgotten Disney princess from Atlantis. Summer jokes, “I hear there’s a Voices of Disney Panel going on today with Belle and Pocahontas and all Kida gets is shade, shade, shaaaaade. When your daddy’s a king, that makes you a princess.” She also shares that one of the unique parts of voicing a main character for Disney is the fact that the use a rotoscope to capture her expressions and movements, recording her sessions to make sure the character comes to life, matching Kida’s expressions and movements to Cree’s mannerisms as she delivers the lines, which means that she is literally a part of Kida. Cree is Kida. And Kida is Cree.

The questions transition into the more technical aspects of voice acting. Does she still get nervous when auditioning for roles? “When I was younger, I got more nervous, but this industry is a small world. You see the same people over and over again, and you also do a lot of recording at home. That takes a way a lot of the reasons to be nervous.”

How does she continue honing her skill? “I pay attention to people. People are funny. They serve as the template for what I create.” She goes onto explain that she listens to how people intonate certain words and phrases, their mannerisms and attitudes, and her voices become a study of those people.

For those hoping to get into the voice acting community, she gives sage advice that may seem simple, but makes perfect sense. “Do you know what your voice truly sounds like? Get some of your favorite books or poems and read them out, record your voice.” Voice acting is a very small, hard to get into community. In order to people to get voice acting work, you need to be able to act. “It is voice acting, after all.”

For for those who are really interested in breaking in, she recommends taking a voiceover class, but she cautions against charlatans who’ll take your money. “Wherever you live, find the top three talent agencies in your state and ask them what classes they recommend. They’ll give you a real, legitimate class.”

The question of diversity comes up, in reference to both characters and the industry. Cree admits she doesn’t even like the term “diversity.” She believes we should start thinking in the context of earthlings—“we just need to be humans.” Human beings must be expressed…and if you’re vibrating at a good frequency, you’ll magnetize the good right back at you.

She closes the discussion with words of encouragement for everyone in the audience: “It’s ok to be yourself. It’s ok to be different – wear it with pride.”