NOLA Storyteller’s Happily Ever After
You may recognize Marjorie Kouns’ voice before you recognize her face.
As a voice-over actor, or storyteller as she prefers to be called, Kouns is a master of meter, a sage of syntax and a doyenne of dialect.
She provides the animated voices of Senora Gigante, the Castle Walls and the Hairy Trees for cartoon phenomenon Dora The Explorer, she professionally impersonates the voices of politicos Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, reads news stories in Spanish for Time Magazine for Kids online, provides all the voice-overs from phone prompts to GPS audio voices for the Miami Tour Company, speaks as Popeye’s Olive Oyl and Superman’s Lois Lane in the Fleischer Cartoon digital remix series, has been one of the live announcers for the New York City Marathon and has voiced numerous radio, television commercials and telephony (on-hold messaging).
The striking, 5’9”, willowy actor is a multi-lingual “NY/NO.” That means she divides her time between her Greenwich Village apartment in New York and her voice-over studio in New Orleans’ CBD.
Thanks to the Hollywood South movement, Kouns has been able to support herself as a working actor in a city she’s grown to love.
“I feel it’s been naturally building for the last 4 to 5 years,” Kouns said. “Not just in New Orleans. It’s been exploding in the neighborhoods of Baton Rouge and Lafayette. The radius of Hollywood South reaches out to Mississippi and all over the Gulf Coast now. It’s just a very collaborative and comprehensive environment. Working both sides of the camera has been a joy, and the food down here is really great. It makes a difference.”
According to Voices.com, a voice-over actor could make more than $1,000 an hour narrating a movie trailer, producing telephone system recordings, providing internet audio and voices for video games.
Kouns, who markets her vocal range as including childlike, cultured, lilting, powerful, resonant, soothing and velvety voices, said the reality of getting paid in the business is a little like the Wild West.
“You can get offered a miniscule amount or get paid in the thousands,” she said. “The range is all across the board, based on the project or scope of the job.”
As a member of SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Kouns is entitled to union rates and has been able to sustain a full-time career as an actor and storyteller in a very competitive field.
Her memberships with the New Orleans Chapter of Women in Film and Television, the Louisiana Film and Entertainment Association (LFEA) and the New Orleans Film Society has also provided Kouns the support she said only a strong and vibrant cultural community of artists can provide.
Kouns, who’s half Greek, was born in Illinois, but the international public artist, scenic designer, body painter, tango dancer, Silver Level professional figure skater, Qigong and T'ai Chi Ch’uan devotee, flutist, alto/ mezzo soprano and juggler migrated to New York in 1980.
The art student from Illinois Wesleyan University ’79 went from painting to drawing to sculpture, and Kouns started creating public art displays internationally. She mounted exhibitions in Berlin, Istanbul, Beijing, Hong Kong and Washington D.C., and in New York City she created “Urban Sundials,” painting lines of color on city streets that outlined the shadows of some of her favorite buildings. In Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park she created quite a stir in 2005 with her “Well-Lit Chess Pieces” comprised of hugely oversized chess pieces and whimsical lampshades that adorned 26 tall standing lights along the four corner park entrances.
When she was chosen to be an artist-in-residence in Shreveport, LA, Kouns took her original lampshades and adorned the street lights along the 700 block of Texas Street as part of “Shades of Shreveport” in 2010. To further the revitalization project for downtown Shreveport through art and culture, with the help of a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant, she created murals around the city including “What’s Cooking Shreveport.”
Her creative forces came full circle when she was starring as actress Wynona Ryder’s Aunt Rochelle in the 2012 movie “The Iceman” and character Mrs. Sibley in the TV series “Salem.” Both were shot in and around Shreveport, and Kouns said some of the footage in “The Iceman” showcased one of her murals.
“I was in the movie, and one of the murals I painted was in the movie, and the film was featured in the LFEA Film Festival in Baton Rouge,” she said. “That’s a classic example of Hollywood South at work. Artists and actors contribute what they do best, and everything is done in Louisiana featuring New Orleans artists and talent, and even featured in Louisiana film festivals. It’s the way the industry is going now.”
When Kouns arrived down South, she rediscovered her Louisiana roots. Her grandfather, Andrew Lawson Kouns, was born in Shreveport and came from a long line of Kouns’ in the steamboat industry. His great grandfather and eight brothers owned and operated the ERA and Col. A.P. Kouns Steamboat line, shipping cotton via the Red River to both New Orleans and Jefferson, TX.
Kouns brought one of her traveling exhibits, “Body As Canvas,” to Bossier City, LA, in 2011. Kouns’ provocative performance art, which toured through Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Miami’s Art Basel, blends dance, music and body painting into a visual, audio and kinesthetic performance.
“The body is my favorite canvas, and I love to paint,” she said. “I use my hand as a brush and paint subjects from professional dancers to regular people. Clothes are just an illusion how we make ourselves. Take that away, and we’re all human beings with an even playing field.”
Kouns uses special acrylic paints and barrier creams for her human subjects and paints to music, often interpreting what she hears in her art on her body canvases.
Despite the artistic accolades she enjoyed in northwest Louisiana, when agents and auditions kept luring her down to New Orleans, Kouns made the move and now calls NOLA home, half of the time. And while one can argue art oozes out of Kouns’ every pore, semantics seems to be her true love and favorite form of expression.
Kouns, who speaks Spanish, French, Italian and taught herself Mandarin as a lark, offers one-on-one coaching to those who want to perfect their conversational skills, hone their craft as actors, perfect their public speaking and fix their phobias.
“I offer unique, untraditional, customized methods,” she said. “It’s a niche market, and I can give lessons in person or over Skype. I help people with script analysis and show them how to take care of their voices.”
“Being nervous is normal,” Kouns said about the biggest oration obstacle. “I’d be worried if someone wasn’t nervous, but it’s a great energy to have and I teach people how they can use it to their advantage. It’s different for everybody.”
As a local, Kouns finds herself at the Hollygrove Market and Farm, the Oak Street Café and looking forward to Jazz Fest. But, she said, she makes sure to never act as a New Yorker when in town.
“The two cities are like bookends on a bookshelf full of all kinds of opportunity,” Kouns said. “Trying to act as a New Yorker in New Orleans won’t work. Trying to act like a New Orleanian in New York will work, but people won’t wait around long enough to hear you out. There are lessons to be learned in both cities, but what I like to tell people in my profession is the best thing to do is to just be yourself. Whether you work in New York, New Orleans or New Mexico it’s the main thing, and people will respond to it.”
“I also tell people to speak more and text less,” she said. “You’ll be amazed as to what you can really hear.”