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Behind the mic: Kate Higgins '91 brings characters to life through voice acting

Kate Higgins at a soundboard

In the world of entertainment, few things possess the captivating power of a compelling voice. It's a medium through which emotions are conveyed, stories are brought to life and characters become immortalized in the minds of millions. Renowned voice actress, singer and pianist Kate Higgins '91 has built a career around using her voice to invigorate various projects.

Chances are, you've heard Higgins' voice. The music alumna was the voice of Disney Channel in the late 90s and early 2000s along with several lines of Fisher-Price toys. In addition, Higgins plays multiple globally recognized characters across award-winning anime, including Sakura Haruno in "Naruto," Sailor Mercury in the Viz Media adaptations of "Sailor Moon" and Nanao Ise in "Bleach." If you're a video game fan, you can find her voice in series such as Zelda, Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Silent Hill. Higgins has also released multiple jazz records across several platforms.

"The first time it dawned on me that thousands of people have heard my voice was on the nightly news. They did a story about teaching kids to save money and in the background, they showed a kid playing with a piggy bank toy that I voiced," said Higgins. "It's a lovely feeling to know people have heard my voice. It makes me happy that I've been able to be in people's lives and affect them. It's really an honor when I go to conventions and people tell me I was the voice of their childhood."


From The Greenhouse to Los Angeles

Kate Higgins and Bob Richardson at The Greenhouse
Kate Higgins learned from Bob Richardson (left) at her mother's Opelika restaurant, The Greenhouse (right).

Before she was the voice behind such beloved shows, games and toys, Higgins played classical piano in her mother's Opelika restaurant, The Greenhouse. This, along with listening to jazz musician and her future instructor, Bob Richardson, led her to pursue music as a career.

"I would sit in the bar at the restaurant and listen to Bob, so I knew him from when I was eight years old. Later, once I started playing classical, I would start singing at the restaurant," said Higgins. "My mom had all this sheet music, and I would sit at the piano and play them and sing them from really a young age. It was pretty exceptional, so I was encouraged to start taking lessons from Bob."

After a brief stop at Memphis State, Higgins, an Auburn local, moved back home to The Plains. Inspired by her instructor, Higgins majored in jazz. She was a prominent member of the Auburn Knights and played shows at bars and lounges, including the inaugural show at Piccolo 241 in The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center.

"My experience at Auburn was a lot of playing and singing with the Auburn Knights. On weekends, we would sometimes travel for gigs. When we weren't traveling, I was still singing in my mom's restaurant," said Higgins. "I also had a good community around me. My mom knew everyone in town and the jazz department was such a small niche that was really tight. I knew they were my people."

Upon graduating in 1991, Higgins moved to Los Angeles, following a connection made by Auburn artist-in-residence and famed opera singer Arnold Voketaitis. Higgins credits her Auburn education and experiences with allowing her to pursue her career despite the struggles many aspiring artists face.

"It's tough to start a career. Most people don't really know how to build their life in those first years. When I moved to LA, I think I was working the first week that I got there. I played the piano and sang in posh hotels here. The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton, The Peninsula, most notably," said Higgins. "Auburn really set me up for my whole career because I was able to focus on my craft. I always worked in my field and it's probably why I was able to stay out here and get through the initial challenging years of building a life."


Transforming careers

Higgins with her characters including Sakura and Tails
Higgins has voiced multiple globally-recognized characters, including Sakura Haruno in "Naruto" and Tails in "Sonic the Hedgehog."

Early in her career, Higgins obtained a small role singing in an animated short. At the recording, she met an executive at Disney who worked in the promos department. After impressing the executives, Higgins became the voice of Disney Channel.

"I didn't realize at the time that that was really a big gig that a lot of voice actors wanted, auditioned for and hoped for. I was totally new to the business. I didn't even have an agent," said Higgins. "I did what is called 'promos' on Disney Channel. In between programs you'll hear, 'Don't go away, we'll be right back' or 'Coming up next, it's…' When you do promos, it's all about timing. Being a musician certainly helped with that."

Higgins gained notoriety as a voice actress during her time at Disney, which led her to hire an agent and explore additional voiceover roles. Several friends Higgins made through Disney worked on other projects, many of them anime. This led her to land two of the most significant roles in her career, voicing Sakura Haruno in the English dub of "Naruto" and Sailor Mercury in the Viz Media dub of "Sailor Moon."

Higgins connected with the characters on a personal level, finding herself relating to several personality traits of the kunoichi and sailor guardian.

"I loved playing Sakura because she started off as such a silly little boy-crazy girl and that was me growing up. At the same time, she's so fierce and determined. She has this inner battle that I loved because I just felt like that was so true to my own experience," said Higgins. "'Sailor Moon' is such a cool show because I think the writer was so ahead of her time. She tapped into the complexities we all have and created these outward manifestations of an individual's psyche. Sailor Mercury is studious and a little shy but finds confidence in herself with help from her friends. I think a lot of us can relate to that."


It makes me happy that I've been able to be in people's lives and affect them. It's really an honor when I go to conventions and people tell me I was the voice of their childhood. ~ Kate Higgins '91


With such an expansive and diverse resume, Higgins emphasizes the importance of authenticity and emotional connection to the script. Several of her roles utilize voices and tones already within her range, citing a few outliers such as Tails from "Sonic the Hedgehog" and Scarlet Witch from "Wolverine." This allows Higgins to focus on smaller adjustments rather than finding an entirely new voice to fit the script.

"If it's a good writer and a good script, it will just naturally come out. There are adjustments you can make to make the voice sound younger or more grounded," said Higgins. "Unless it's a really specific type of voice, I don't worry about fabricating or manufacturing something. I really let the emotion in the script drive the delivery."

While Higgins has begun to step away from newer anime and video games, she still remains busy in the voiceover industry. Many of her longtime roles such as Sakura and Pauline in the Mario series are still ongoing. Higgins also works frequently in additional dialogue replacement (ADR.)

ADR provides background voices for films and live-action episodic TV work. Higgins finds roles through a "loop group." A loop group is made up of voiceover actors with ranging voices who record audio for edited video during post-production. Groups provide the background noise and small bits of audio that fill out a soundscape in films, television shows and commercials.

"There are 10 of these groups in town that provide background voices for film and live-action TV work. For instance, I work for shows like 'FBI: Most Wanted,' 'Law & Order: SVU,' all those types,” said Higgins. "When you watch one of those programs and they're at the government building and a bomb goes off and hundreds of people are screaming, you clearly see people running around screaming, but all those extras in the scene, they're not really speaking audibly."


Advice for aspiring voice actors

Kate Higgins recording in studio

Voice acting can be a challenging industry to break into. Like many fine arts, there are hurdles one must clear to become successful. Higgins advises prospective voice actors to be passionate about their craft and enjoy the hustle. She also emphasizes the importance of kindness and humility.

"Only do it if you really like it because it's not an easy road and there's no clear-cut path. You will meet frustration, which is just the nature of the beast," said Higgins. "You will get rehired if you were a pleasure to work with. You can't get away with being rude. People want to hire people that are fun to work with and that are a good hang. You have to be present with people and leave your ego out of it."

Higgins still resides and works in Los Angeles, but the musician and voice actress hasn’t forgotten her home on the Plains. The Auburn native intends on returning to her southern roots and alma mater, citing the focus Auburn puts on its family.

"I love that Auburn continues to support its people on all levels. Auburn finds people in all the little niches and celebrates them. I'm really glad I went to Auburn and that I'm a part of the Auburn Family," said Higgins. "I have a love in my heart for the town and school that I grew up in, that shaped and molded me. It's the dream to retire and come home to Auburn. Sakura is coming home, Cha!"

Learn more about music in the College of Liberal Arts.

Tags: Music Alumni

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