Written By Ashleigh Hairston

Years ago, Brian Stack, a veteran writer on Conan, once said in a workshop, “It’s never going to happen the way you think it’s going to happen.” The “it,” being success. That “breakout” moment. The thing dreams are made of. I had zero intentions of going into voice acting when I moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago, yet here I am writing about how to break into the industry. Brian was right. I did not see this one coming. I can’t tell you exactly how to break in, but I’m honored and grateful to share my journey in hopes that it will inspire you to find your own way.

I attended Howard University and majored in Theatre Arts/Acting. My dream was, and still is, to create, write, and star in my own live-action TV series. Upon moving to LA, I stumbled upon iO West Improv Theatre in Hollywood and immediately fell in love with its community. I interned at the Training Center, took classes, performed, and even worked as a cocktail server on the weekends during shows. Improv became my life and is an art form I still use in all my work as a creator. No matter what artistic journey you’re on, learn to improvise.

I performed on a house sketch team at iO for three years, then continued my training at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre. I completed both the improv and sketch writing programs and performed for four years on various house sketch teams. UCB provided opportunities to showcase our comedy in front of industry executives, agents, managers, and casting agents. I performed in showcases for Saturday Night Live, Just for Laughs, and networks like ABC, NBC, and Nickelodeon.

Ashleigh Hairston

In 2018, I was cast in the CBS Diversity Sketch Comedy Showcase, performing various characters I’d written. Afterwards, people kept telling me I should go into voice acting. “You have such a great voice!” they’d say. Growing up in the predominantly white Bellevue, WA, and later attending an all-black college, I was often asked questions like, “Is that your real voice?” “Why do you talk like that?” and “Is that an accent?” It was never an accent; it was just my voice. Want to know how to break into voice acting? Try 15 years of trauma. Just kidding. Don’t try that.

Humor aside, my unique voice made me feel different, like I stood out in a confusing way. I became self-conscious and found myself changing my voice to fit social settings. This unintentional training benefitted me as a voice actor. Once I realized that sounding different was a gift, not a limitation, I found my power and my voice.

I signed up for a Cartoon Network Animation VO Intensive at The Actors Company with Colette Sunderman, a veteran voice director. I realized I’d been embodying characters all along, only now I was doing it behind a microphone. I took another class at The Actor’s Company, a Commercial VO Intensive with James Murray, a voiceover agent at Abrams Artists. I was an intern, so I could use my work hours as credits towards classes. Be strategic with this stuff; it gets expensive. At the end of the class, James informed me of a few projects that were casting and invited me to audition, even though I was un-repped. Looking back, I see what they all saw: untapped potential.

Getting representation was challenging. I got passed on by many agencies. Even my commercial agency initially told me I was too green. It wasn’t until I got a callback for a Disney pilot that I secured representation. My manager used that as leverage to pitch me to different agencies. I landed with Osbrink Agency, who I’m still with today. If you’re hunting for representation, don’t be discouraged! It’s hard and can take a long time. Sometimes years! If you have a friend who loves their reps, don’t be afraid to ask for a referral. I love passing along my talented friends' reels.

Within two months of signing with Osbrink, I booked my first voiceover job for Marvel’s Avengers Assemble: Black Panther’s Quest, voicing the role of Bask, the Queen of Wakanda. I recorded the audition in the dark on the floor of my coat closet using voice notes on my phone. This is how I recorded all my auditions. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on fancy audio equipment! Your voice alone should book the job.

I also want to note that I did not spend a bunch of money on a voiceover reel. Creating a reel came as part of the commercial animation class that I’d taken previously. Before I secured an agent, I used a reel made up of old auditions that I edited together using GarageBand. It cost me a whopping $0.00 and got the job done! I’d recommend spending the money on an acting or improv class over equipment.

Ashleigh Hairston 2019 Reelwww.youtube.com

I was nervous during my first record for Bask. It was pre-pandemic, so we were still doing ensemble records, and I found myself among voiceover legends like Troy Baker, Trevor Devall, Roger Craig Smith, James Matthis III, and Phil Lamarr, who voiced my twin brother, Bashenga. It was incredible.

The next job I booked was a recurring role on Cartoon Network’s Craig of the Creek, voicing the zany creek scientist, Wren. This time, the records were smaller, and I felt much more at ease, even tapping into my improv background.

In 2021, I booked Tiny Toons. A friend, Joan Ford, who was a writer on the show, sent me sides for Babs Bunny and Shirley the Loon. I thought there was no way they’d cast me as Babs Bunny, so I reached out to a voice coach, Robin Reed, who coached me through my audition. I found a spot to show off my improv skills and went to town. I sent in my coached audition and got a callback for Shirley. After resubmitting at a faster pace, a few weeks later, I got the call that I booked Babs Bunny.

Today, I voice Hazel Wells in Nickelodeon’s The Fairly OddParents: A New Wish. It’s a character I helped create as co-executive producer and co-head writer. This is the first time I’ve been able to marry all the skills I’ve picked up over the last 12 years into one project. Voice acting, writing, producing, and, of course, improvising.

Improv is about going off script, being present, and creating space for spontaneity and fun. I had no intentions of pursuing a career in animation, yet here I am, a series regular on two legacy shows, and creating even more! If you want to break into voice acting, learn to let go. It’s never going to happen the way you think it’s going to happen. It’s going to be better. Trust me.

Ashleigh’s Handy Dandy Tips for Aspiring Voice Actors!

How to Break Into Voice Acting with Ashleigh Hairston


I get a ton of folks reaching out asking, “How do I get into Voice Acting?! Where do I begin?!” While I wish I could give everyone individual guidance and direction, unfortunately I don’t have the time!

So, I made this handy dandy note sheet with 7 tips for getting into Voice Acting!

  1. Decide What Kind of Voice Actor you want to be! There are many different kinds, each with different approaches. Google is a great place to start to learn about each. Do you want to do Commercial, Animation, Promos, Anime, Gaming, or Dubbing?
  2. Research classes based on your focus. This requires another simple google search. Luckily, most classes are REMOTE nowadays! Meaning you can take them from anywhere. Here are a few VO classes/coaches to check out right now:
    • VoiceTrax West
    • The Voicecaster
    • Improv LA
    • The Actors Company
    • Sara Sherman
    • Robin Reed VO
    • Jentel Hawkins
    • The Ruby Theatre
    • Ben Giroux
    • Daniel Cohen
    • Isaac Robinson-Smith
    • Voices Carey Studio
    • Voice Actor’s Network
    • Kalmenson & Kalmenson
    • JuliaBS Casting
    • The Groundlings
  3. At some point you'll need a Voiceover Reel. If you're just starting out, don't worry about this right away. Focus on learning and performance first. Know that many classes offer creating a reel as part of the class process, too!
  4. At some point you'll need a Voiceover Agent. If you're just starting out, I wouldn’t worry about this either right away. Focus on learning and performance, and having a great reel that will get you noticed. It can sometimes take years to secure an agent, that’s just the nature of the biz. Don’t get discouraged! In the meantime, you can act as your own agent and self submit to VO jobs on sites like:
  5. At some point, you’ll need Voiceover Equipment. There are tons of Youtube videos outlining what is necessary for VO equipment. Do your research. Voice Acting is an investment. Especially if you want to get serious about it! If you’re just starting out though, I wouldn’t worry too much about this. I booked my first jobs for MARVEL and CRAIG OF THE CREEK using only my iPhone Voice Notes App! 🥳
  6. Follow your favorite VO actors on social media! Starting w/ me! @ashleighcrystal on IG!
  7. Take Acting classes! Voice acting is acting.If you want to standout from the 1 million other aspiring voice actors like yourself, YOU CANNOT SKIP THIS STEP! VOICE ACTING IS ACTING!Take an improv class!It’s not enough that you “do impressions.” It can take years to “break in” to voice acting, or even land your first job! Know that it doesn’t happen overnight. Respect the process, respect the craft and buckle up!!

Let me know what you think in the comments!