Weekly Feature



2017-11-29 / Front Page

Clarence native gains national recognition for voice acting work

by ETHAN POWERS
Editor


Pendolino Pendolino When Maria Pendolino gave up a career in banking to pursue her dream of becoming a working actor, the sporadic jobs she’d receive as a voiceover artist were initially intended to provide little else than an opportunity to pay her rent.

Fast forward six years, and despite a career change as well as some nagging health issues, Pendolino now sits among the voice artist industry’s most prominent names, affirmed most recently with a Voice Arts Award in the e-Learning/How category.

When the future Clarence High School graduate was performing community theater as an 11-year-old, she never envisioned trading the stage for a studio.

Pendolino received a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Binghamton University, where she also had a minor in theater. Yet it was the summer job at HSBC she kept throughout her schooling that ultimately proved the best opportunity for her to pack up and move to New York City — a goal from when she first stepped onto a stage.

“The plan was to work for HSBC in New York City for a year, and then I was going to quit, and then I was going to be on Broadway,” Pendolino says, laughing. “That didn’t happen exactly.”

Her time at HSBC was more than just a stopgap. It turned into a full-time, seven-year career. Yet, as the financial crisis of 2008 took its toll on the banking industry, it also prompted Pendolino to reflect on a significant career change.

In 2010, she realized that the leap of faith necessary to make the change was quickly approaching a deadline. Facing a “now or never” ultimatum, Pendolino quit her job and committed herself entirely to acting.

“I grabbed any class, any seminar, anything I could get my hands on to help progress as an actor,” she said. “I started going to any audition I could find. There were times I waited in line for five hours to sing eight seconds of music.”

Pounding the pavement every day at auditions, rehearsals, shoots and networking events, Pendolino created enough of a buzz for herself to acquire an agent who helped her to gain more credible auditions for some noteworthy projects.

Pendolino became a recurring character on Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and was chosen for a guest spot on National Geographic’s “Locked Up Abroad” as well as a supporting role in the film “English Vinglish,” which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.

As she waded through scripts, patiently waiting for the next opportunity to present itself, Pendolino financed her acting habit through voice acting, booking the occasional commercial or radio advertisement.

“I realized pretty quickly that the [return on investment] on time spent was pretty great,” she said. “There would be times when I’d be in the studio for about 30 minutes, and I would get enough to pay my rent.”

The confluence of her voice work with her film credits signaled to Pendolino that she wasn’t simply a naïve theater graduate. She was making her dream a reality through a perseverance she wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.

Yet, the constant travel to and from auditions and the countless hours spent on her feet as she waited to perform began to take a toll on Pendolino’s body, which she knew involved the psoriatic arthritis diagnosis she received when she was 23. The condition causes the joints to stiffen and swell.

Initially, her problems were limited to an annoying ache in her knees but by her late 20s, began to progress into an excruciating pain that made it difficult for her to stand longer than five minutes.

At age 32, Pendolino was staring at a double knee replacement and the possibility of an acting career cut short before it truly began. But simultaneously, her talents were being used in a way that would allow her to continue performing without the physical stress.

“While all of this was happening, and while I was feeling sad and down about it, the voiceover stuff was taking off,” Pendolino said. “The great thing was that if I walked into a studio and asked to sit on a stool, nobody gives you a second look.”

Pendolino redirected her focus entirely to her voice work. She left New York City in 2014 to return to Western New York and since then, she has voice acting credits that range from Google and Warner Bros. to Hoover and Monistat. She’s also lent her voice to academic and artistic institutions such as the University at Buffalo, New York Public Library and Kansas City Ballet.

On the screen, she voices Eunice, the evil lunch lady, on “Team Toon,” a hybrid live-action and animated show from Cartoon Network that is now streaming on Netflix.

Pendolino attributes her near effortless transition from acting onstage to performing behind a microphone, to her ability to absorb constructive criticism as a young actress and incorporate it into her progression.

“As a person who studied stage acting and theater, where you’re kind of bouncing things off of others and creating that magic, I got really good at being able to take direction,” she said. “When I would get a piece of voiceover copy that might have a few key words at the top or you’re in a session and the director tells you they need it to feel more ‘warm’ or excited, I really had a lot in my toolbox to pull from to give them the read they were looking for.”

With the evolution in studio grade microphone technology, Pendolino notes that even the smallest subtleties in pitch and tone can be detected, which allows the audio actor a flexibility that didn’t previously exist.

“I might not get to use all of the huge, gregarious characters that I portrayed onstage in the physical sense, but all of that is still very much inside of me, and I feel that I can draw on that and pull out a performance and translate that to something that makes sense for the microphone,” she added.

Earlier this month, Pendolino accepted her Voice Arts Award at a presentation at Lincoln Center in New York City. She did so alongside other film industry luminaries including actress Lily Tomlin, honored with a lifetime achievement award and documentarian Ken Burns, honored with a humanitarian award.

Pendolino was selected for her work narrating a series of videos for the Boston Public Health Commission promoting contraceptives. The series, aimed at young adults, educated audiences on how to properly use both male and female condoms.

“They wanted it to sound friendly and approachable, and not as if your mom or your dad were telling you about it,” Pendolino said.

For Pendolino, the accolades are little more than a cherry on top of a career trajectory that allowed her to pursue her dreams of performing for a national audience; and for all the adulation she’s received since winning the award, she remains adamant that the most important work she does is that which few people hear.

“I really just enjoy telling stories. I’ve narrated videos for safety training, making sure that they understand how to use their machinery so that they can be safe; I’ve narrated benefits presentations so that they know what type of health care options they have,” she said.

“All of that doesn’t sound exciting, but for someone who’s on the receiving end of it, it could potentially be life-changing. It’s awesome to know that my voice and delivery makes the information easier to digest or understand.”

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