Today, we talk to Stephanie D'Abruzzo, the puppeteer and voice of Velma in the direct-to-video film Scooby-Doo! Adventures: The Mystery Map. This is the first interview to revolve around that unique spin on the franchise.
So, without further ado, I present An Interview With... Stephanie D'Abruzzo. (Questions are asked as Scoobypedia, replies are shortened to SD.
Scoobypedia: How did you get into the biz?
SD: I have always loved performing, but I didn’t discover puppetry as something I wanted to pursue until I was in college (Northwestern University) and I realized that as a puppeteer I could improvise, and sing, and play any kind of broad, crazy, strong character I wanted, regardless of age, height, weight, gender, or species, without it mattering what I looked like. So I built some horrible-looking puppets, taught myself television puppetry, and wrote my own projects, all with an eye towards working for the Muppets, because they were the only puppets on television who were doing really strong character and comedy work.
I got very lucky. With the help of my college friends, I wrote, produced, and performed most of the characters in a comedy featuring puppets, which won a College Television Award from the TV Academy, and that helped lead to my getting an audition for the Jim Henson Company. It was a long, strange, very fortunate series of events that allowed me to wind up in New York City in a talent pool of Henson puppeteers, and it was several years before I started working enough to make a living as a performer.
I started my career as a Muppet Performer in 1993. I started my voiceover career in 1998, and I made my Broadway debut originating the roles of Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut in AVENUE Q in 2003.
Scoobypedia: How did you get involved in The Mystery Map?
SD: I have been lucky to have worked with the folks at Spiffy Pictures on other puppetry and voiceover projects for many years, and luckier that they brought me in for this.
Scoobypedia: Was the movie always intended to have your voice as Velma in the finished film? Why were the other puppeteers overdubbed in post-production?
SD: This is not a question I know the answer to. We all presumed during production that our voices would be kept, and we all worked hard on our vocal performances, and I still feel guilty about mine being the only one in the final cut.
I got very lucky that Warner Bros. liked what I did with Velma enough to keep my voice in, but I have no idea why the other puppeteers were dubbed. They were great, and their vocal performances were spot-on, especially Eric Jacobson’s Shaggy. I was surprised to hear about the dubbing, but I was especially shocked when I learned Eric would be dubbed. Maybe there was a concern about vocal consistency with the characters across the other animated series and movies. I don’t know. They recast Velma with my pal Kate Micucci not long after this project aired, so maybe they kept my voice because they were looking to re-cast Velma anyway. I honestly don’t know.
Because so many characters were looped, they replaced all the audio. I actually had to replace all of Velma’s lines, even though the performance didn’t change (a few lines were added/tweaked).
Scoobypedia: Were you able to perform in the studio with Matthew Lillard, Grey DeLisle, and Frank Welker?
SD: No. I looped this in New York City. Looping is a very careful thing that is hard to get right, and it would be very tricky, if not impossible, to do in a group.
Scoobypedia: What was it like performing Velma unscripted for the 2013 Comic-Con?
SD: I’ve been a Muppet Performer on “Sesame Street” for 25 years, and improvising in character is a very vital aspect of what we puppeteers do. It’s always fun to improvise in character when the character is a good one, like Velma. It was more surreal just to be at Comic-Con.
Scoobypedia: Did you study past Velmas for your role, particularly A Pup Named Scooby-Doo?
SD: I grew up with the original series so I have long known the heart of Velma. I wasn’t as familiar with “Pup” (I was in high school & college when it aired) so I did take a look at some of those episodes and I decided that my vocalization of Velma would be a combination of both the original and the “Pup” Velmas. I will say that I definitely wanted her to glide (with her little feet scurrying beneath her) the way she does in “Pup,” as opposed to giving her a traditional puppet walk. And when I found out they were going to use the Hanna-Barbera sound effects, I wanted her eye blinks to be purposeful, almost musical, the way they are in animation, rather than in puppetry, where puppeteers try to make eye blinks realistically random.
I really loved playing her. I loved that she wasn’t quite Classic Velma and wasn’t quite "Pup" Velma… she was unique, yet still had consistency in the canon (at least, that’s what I like to think, but the fans may feel otherwise). I could have done that character for years.
Scoobypedia: What’s it like performing with multiple puppets on set at once? Are actors given flexibility to improvise?
SD: I don’t understand what you mean by this. We are all professional puppeteers who have worked together for decades on various projects, so it was an atmosphere that we were quite used to. And we all assisted each other, too. I right-handed Eric on Shaggy quite a bit. I did the feet or arms on various characters during the dance breaks. Working as an ensemble is just what we do as puppeteers, and it’s a difficult thing to explain in a non-visual way.
The script was tight. We didn’t need to improvise. But we played around between takes, as we do on every project. We all grew up with “Scooby” so it was fun to play.
Scoobypedia: Do you know anything about Jomac Noph, the film’s credited director? He doesn’t seem to have any other credits to his name.
SD: All I can say is that the name is a pseudonym. I can’t tell you anything else about it.
Scoobypedia: What was the production length of the film?
SD: I don’t know offhand. What you see on the DVD is what we shot.
Scoobypedia: Were the puppets put in storage or were they disposed of?
SD: I don’t know for certain, but I am sure they’re in storage somewhere. Puppets are hand-crafted works of art, and you don’t throw them away unless they are damaged beyond repair.
Scoobypedia: Was the film intended to be the first in a series (given the implication of its title), or was it a one-off?
SD: I could be wrong about this but I believe this was meant to be a pilot for a series. I like to think that if the series had been picked up that we all would have voiced the characters, and that it would have been its own little unique offshoot in the Scooby canon.
Scoobypedia: In closing, would you like to announce any latest projects you have recently been working on?
SD: I’m still working on “Sesame Street,” and we shot our 50th Season this past fall. I still do various voiceovers (including voicing some guest characters on PBS’s “Nature Cat,” also produced by Spiffy Pictures), I still try to get on a stage and sing every now and then, and I am always pounding the pavement for whatever fun adventures may be next. There’s a lot more about me that interviews like this can’t possibly cover, so if anyone is interested to know more they can go to www.stephaniedabruzzo.com to see if I’m their cup of tea or not.
End of interview.
I'd like to give a big thank you to Stephanie for agreeing to take part in this, and to our very own Muddlemore for once again arranging and assisting in this interview.
You can follow Stephanie D'Abruzzo on Twitter via her handle @DAbruzzoTweets.
Goodbye for now!