In the minutiae of childhood the yellow bricks that pave the way to life up ahead are laid down through play. For actress Erica Schroeder, her path was paved while watching Saturday morning cartoons and brushing her teeth with her brother.
Schroeder has lent her voice — or numerous variations of it — to more than 100 different characters during her career. She has the distinction of being associated with several franchises, having earned credits with Marvel, Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh! and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Next year she is will star with Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney of “Shameless” and Matthew Modine of “Stranger Things” in the Signe Baumane directed animated film “My Love Affair with Marriage.”
Schroeder’s love affair with voice acting started as a kid. She and her older brother John would goof off in front of the mirror as they brushed their teeth. Erica would do impersonations, changing the register of her voice. Schroeder’s childhood friend remembers Erica experimenting with her voice, doing impressions while trying to make the kids in her neighborhood laugh.
“We used to pull out the tape recorder and makes tapes of our shows,” said Rachel Noonan, “where her dynamic talent and incredible personality always made her the star…. I’m not sure how she landed in the voiceover industry, but looking back on life; she was truly born for it.”
‘She was special’
The Selkirk native graduated from Bethlehem Central High School in 1993, but not before leaving a lasting impression on longtime teacher and director James Yeara. Having just retired in June, Yeara is in the midst of writing his final letters of recommendations for students applying for college. It’s a process that keeps him keen on his students’ achievements, both from the present and the past.
“In 37 years of teaching, Erica Schroeder is one of my all-time favorite students,” said Yeara. The former theatre director said he tells time “by the plays that I’ve directed and the roles people played.” On this watch of his, there is a swatch of time where he can recall Schroeder’s freshman year doing an improv performance from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” to her senior year as Rosalind in “As You Like It.”
“She was special.”
Schroeder’s heart still resides somewhere in theatre, whether it be on stage or in a closed meeting to help playwrights bring characters to life. Despite 15 years of lending her voice to moving pictures, she is quick to say, “I’m still a stage actress.” It’s where she earned roles in several regional and off Broadway productions. In 2000, she made her Broadway debut in the musical “Jane Eyre.”
But, the demands of Broadway productions placed on her time competed with a growing family life. In the playbill for Jane Eyre, just a line before Schroeder gives thanks to her parents for supporting her education at New York University, she gives thanks to her then-fiance, Ken. Today, they are married, and Ken co-stars in the role she cherishes above all else, that of being the mother of their two children.
Her biggest role
“So, I took some time away from that. I can always come back to that,” said Schroeder. “I can be an actor at any age. I can portray a woman at 70, 80, whatever I want to do. But, I can’t be the mom of two young children again, because they will have grown up. So, I shifted my focus even moreso to voice over and away from production until they are a little bit older.”
So, she set aside a lifestyle of eight shows a week for that of a more “creative” vocation.
Before a play comes to Broadway or goes regional, there’s a process. The first thing is usually a staged reading (or closed reading, that involves only the writers). Then there’s a workshop involving more week, and more time. Some plays develop over several months while others can take years.
“Which is what I find to be most creative,” said Schroeder. “You’re there with the author, and they’re basically saying, ‘we want this, but we want to see what you bring to it.’ So there’s not a preconceived notion about what it’s going to be. You can kind of get in on the ground level. Sort of have the biggest influence on that character. I love that aspect … But, that doesn’t involve as much time. So, when you’re trying to raise two kids at the same time, readings of work are fulfilling to your passion, but then you can still put your kids to bed at night.”
In 2002, thanks to the recommendation of someone from NYU, Schroeder landed a small voiceover part in an “Ultra Man” feature. From there, she said she credits her theatre training for landing subsequent roles. Being both punctual and easy to work with, the doors have opened for Schroeder to take on roles such as Sonic’s Blaze the Cat, Yu Gi Oh!’s Akiza Izinski, Marvel’s Emma Frost and more than 40 different characters in the Pokemon television series. Another “huge key” is her career longevity is versatility, she said. In Schroeder’s portfolio of voices, she has voiced girls, boys, old women, a cat, dragons and various other creatures.
Marvel’s Emma Frost is perhaps Schroeder’s favorite character to voice, she said. Though it is difficult to choose one above the scores of characters she portrays, she said Frost allowed her to play an iconic personality. Though Frost’s voice closely matched her own — something she tries to avoid — it was the depth of the antagonist’s character that made the role fun.
In addition to the Baumane animated film next year, Schroeder will continue her work with Yu Gi Oh! and the Pokemon series, which just celebrated its 20th season on television in 2017. She will also continue her role as Astoria Rapunzel in “Regal Academy” as the series goes into its second season on Nickelodeon. And, she’s already taking steps towards getting back on stage.
“I’m still a stage actress,” she said. “We just recently moved closer to the city again, so that both my husband and I can be more involved with theatre, again.” She’s also considered getting in front of the camera for television and film, something she’s curious about exploring, “but I don’t know if I need to,” she said. In the end, it goes back to the stage. “Now, I’ll see if I can fit it into my life. I want to start auditioning for theatre again,” she said.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.