CULTIVATING CREATIVITY: Peter Wood and the art of voice acting

By Peter Paylor/Quinte Arts Council

Peter Wood is a successful voiceover actor based in Trenton, Ont. Even if you haven’t met him, you’ve probably heard his voice on an audiobook, as the narrator of a documentary film, or on television or radio commercials for State Farm or Netflix or Nikon or Volvo. Ask him how he got into voice work and he’ll most likely tell you a story…or two…or three…or five. There’s the one about kissing a girl on the school bus in kindergarten. There’s the one about his grandmother, when he was just 13, urging him to go into radio. There’s the one about a pirate at the McDonald’s in Trenton. There’s the one about being tied up and tangled in ropes, being pelted with golf balls – or, at least, imagining he was – when he auditioned to be the voice of the Kool Aid Man in 2015. Wood will tell you these stories in a voice you could listen to all day.

I asked him about the art of voiceover.

“Imagine if you were blindfolded or if you walked into a dark room, if the only sense you had was auditory, was hearing. The person who would be talking to you would have to be able to paint you a picture and that picture would have colour and texture to it,” says Wood. “As voiceover actors, we have to be able to paint a picture using only our voices to convey the story to someone. If we were to be doing, let’s say, an audiobook, we would have to bring you into that story so that you could live that story. We would have to bring the words off the page, give them colour and texture and nuance. Whether you’re going to feel scared or whether you’re going to feel happy, it’s all on the weight of our voice and how we choose to paint that picture.”

A few years ago, Wood was asked by another voiceover actor for some coaching and he found that he enjoyed it. He’s since coached actors from Alabama, Florida, California, and British Columbia. When I spoke with him, he was negotiating with a new client in South Korea. But what brings him the most joy is the coaching he is now doing locally with 15 aspiring voiceover actors from the region: the Quinte Voiceover All-Stars. “I love it,” he says of the work with the group. “I absolutely adore doing what I do. I know what their path can be or will be. I look at it as a gift. They’re giving me something, they’re filling my bucket, it’s something that I need. For me, to be able to help somebody and see them succeed is probably even more important than succeeding myself.”

In 2017, Wood added a new dimension to his work by acting on stage in the Village Theatre’s production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. “I can’t thank Mike and Sarah Kirby enough for casting me,” he says. “Before I did that, before I got on stage and actually used my body to do things, I was rather static behind the mic. And what that taught me was to use the space that’s around me, to actually give three dimensions to my voice, that it is okay to move around when I’m voicing. It has paid massive dividends.” Wood has since returned to the stage several times.

Now, about those stories….

“I got my very first kiss from a girl on a school bus when I was in kindergarten,” he says. “Her name was Julie Chester and she was enamoured with me because I could do Donald Duck, I could speak like Donald Duck.”

And there is the art of voice acting.

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Quinte Arts Council’s Umbrella arts magazine, available now.