How to Scream in Japanese

michele o medlin headshot
5Writers welcomes first-time guest blogger, Michele O. Medlin.

Michele is a comedian and voice actor. She’s written and performed sketch comedy and continues to entertain audiences as an improviser. She graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City and works at SiriusXM.

By Michele O. Medlin

When I was 5 years old, my mom wanted me to experience live theater, so she took me to an audition for Annie Get Your Gun. Apparently, she couldn’t afford an actual show so she figured this was the next best thing. The audition was in Fort Lewis, an Army base located in Washington State where my mom worked as a nurse for a brief period when I was in kindergarten. Legend has it (ie: my mother’s repetitive story of my first brush with acting) that I said that I wanted to also audition and went up and sang Happy Birthday. I didn’t sing the version by the Hill sisters. Oh no, not I. I sang the monkey version (you look like a monkey and you smell like one too) to uproarious laughter, which caused me to cry. A nice lady pulled me and said “we’re not laughing at you; we’re laughing with you” to which I replied, “But I’m not laughing,” and ha ha ha BOOM: I was cast and stole the show (again, that’s according to my mother).

This, naturally, led me to a life on the boards and an eventual move to New York City from a small Southern Baptist college in North Carolina, where I majored in Musical Theatre. So, I got here in the early 90’s, and to pursue my dreams of staring on Broadway, I bought a copy of Backstage – a newspaper actors purchased to find auditions. It’s now online because everything is but back then, you had to get up at like 7 am and go to your local news stand and buy it, and start sending out your headshot and resume through the MAIL, GUYS!

Through Backstage, I stumbled upon the voiceover industry and went on a VO (voiceover) audition for a Japanese Animated video. It was a booming industry, but to me it was an industry of utter confusion. Animation, I completely understand. Japanese Anime is a horse of another color. The plots are rife with heroes battling dragons and demons and, I guess, it’s like Godzilla but animated with people with big eyes who scream a lot. I understand that it’s popular, but yeah – I don’t really get the appeal. But since I wanted to be an actor, I figured, I’d go the voiceover route. I could do VO’s in the morning and be on Broadway at night.  For ART!  And never would I wait tables.  Ha.

The thing about Japanese anime is, for the most part, it’s a non-union gig which means it is all slightly sketchy. The studios aren’t high end. Think egg crates on the wall with a mic that is on a teetering stand that if you accidently brush up against, you’ll have to readjust it to get it back where it was. You usually have to clean up after the actor before you, their tissues and water bottles and scripts, and the bathrooms do not have the fancy spray deodorant and tampons that some of the fancier studios have. There are always couches to sleep on for the guys who edit these things into the middle of the night and those couches are so grossly stained that you never really want to think about what you’re sitting on, so you sit on your bag on the couch—never on the floor, because who knows what’s there too? It’s like going into a guy’s dorm room filled with Mac computers and smelling slightly of pizza. So exactly like going into a guy’s dorm room.  And because you are waiting tables, as is all the talent, the studios cater to when you can do the recording, so I did a lot of these things at 10 pm to 1 am. One of the studios I did the work in was downtown by the World Trade towers which back then shut down by 10 pm so walking in and out was spooky.

I was young, though, and this was an acting gig! I was gonna be a huge, huge star! So what if I couldn’t pronounce half of the Japanese names; I was getting somewhere. In this business, especially in building your career, you assume that doing work is the same as moving up. When actually, and definitely in this case, you’re just a cog in the spindle of the thing that is a wacked-out Japanese animated show of which there are thousands. Hugely popular in a very specific kind of way of which I am not familiar. I was going to say in a very specific nerd way, but why?  I have my own brand of nerdiness, though (to see it in action, please go to my twitter account @molaikowski and see that I live-tweeted the premier of The Outlander … by myself … before it’s even been premiered), so I’m trying to remove the disdain from my tone, but holy shit, to repeat myself, anime makes no sense to me.

I did several of these videos and I was always a little fairy or a little sister or a little animal or a little, well, fill in the blank, I probably vocally animated it. I knew a few directors and became friends with some, and one of them approached me to do Japanese anime porn. A field I had NO desire to ever do. In fact, I feel like what I was doing was close enough, but my director friend was in a bind. (Not literally! Oh porn!). It seems a girl who was the lead in this anime porn, which I’ve seriously forgotten the name of and yes, I’ve been Googling for the last hour, couldn’t do the sequel. She was going to an inpatient program to help fight her anorexia. So they asked me to be the voice of the lead for the sequel. A porn so popular, they did it again. I thought it would be a lark, a story to tell at a party.

Here’s what I learned. THAT SHIT IS NASTY. I was a school girl who was a princess who was kidnapped to marry a guy who was actually a demon, and on her wedding day, NAY, during the ceremony, she’s raped in every single orifice of her body by a demon who has a penis on every extremity. Wait – what’s an arm called? Or a leg? Or a penis?  So, anyway, all this takes place in a church in front of a priest who, if memory serves, was also a demon. The whole thing was really awful. Funny now, but at the time, it was just this awful, awkward recording session where I had to scream as if I were being raped. I had a great director who tried to make me as comfortable as possible, actually had water for me, so I didn’t have to bring in my own (which sounds crazy but they rarely had water in their water coolers). The sound technician was really great and tried to make it as uncreepy as possible, but it wasn’t cool. It was less of a good story and more of a cautionary tale about how you can go down a very sad road towards fame.

My throat was raw from the screaming and my mind went places that you don’t want to go but we’ve all thought about – being powerless and overpowered. I still wonder what happened to the girl who did the original. I hope she came out on the other side, and found her self-worth. I hope to GOD she never did another of these things again. I never did, that’s for sure.

Eventually, I got an agent and moved full tilt towards being a voiceover actress. I haven’t made it to Broadway, but I did get to audition for Tommy Tune which is another story for another day. If you want to Google me, you’ll see a ton of books on tapes, and if you spell my name wrong, you’ll see many of my animes. I’m still waiting to just do my art for a living but I’m doing OK with the art of living.

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  1. #1 by Bryan on September 17, 2014 - 2:36 pm

    Medlin? That name looks famiilar. Wasn’t she in Pokemon?

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