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NOC Interview: Reed Shannon is a Voice of the Future

Reed Shannon is the very definition of a performer, and there’s a very good chance you have heard or seen him already. Whether it comes to his acting in the upcoming The Wilds season two, making music like his recent single “Bad Girl,” his stand-up career, or his voice acting as the voice of Cartoon Network and fan favorite Ekko from the hit Netflix show, Arcane, Reed has shown that he is able to do it all and more. 

With a very busy 2022 on the horizon, we were finally able to sit down and talk with the up and coming artist about what entertainment means to him and the future he is striving for. 

What are you watching or reading nowadays, in general, now that you’re off Arcane?

Shannon: I’m honestly stuck in this weird purgatory of watching Arcane edits, and checking on social media all the time for information about The Wilds, which is the show I’m going to be on in the spring. Now, I’m actually in the middle of The Sopranos right now.

It’s cool to see how much TV has changed because of that show. Now, have you been acting for a long time? I saw that you did musical theater when you were younger? 

Yeah, so just a little story: my sister actually started dancing in North Carolina, where I’m from, at this conservatory and I used to sneak into her classes. And then after a certain point, I was like, two or three, the teacher would have me participate in class, just because I was always in there. I got into musical theater and went on tour with Motown the Musical, where I was playing little Berry Gordy, little Stevie Wonder, and little Michael Jackson. So I learned a lot about the industry doing that, and my parents decided that we could move to Los Angeles to help me continue my career. So ever since then, I’ve just been sort of auditioning and honing my craft. Then on the side, making music, putting out projects, and doing stand-up comedy, and stuff like that. Just to fill my mind with activities. I just I really love performing.

You do stand-up, as well? Was that something you kind of just fell into? Or is that something you already wanted to do when you were younger, too? 

Well, it’s funny, because all the time that I was doing musical theater, I was obsessed with Saturday Night Live and Jersey Shore, which are two of the weirdest things that don’t go together [laughs]. I would go to school be like telling jokes from SNL from the week before and stuff. No fourth graders shouldn’t be telling jokes. So when I got to high school and moved out to California, I looked at the pattern of like people who are on SNL and they all do stand-up. So I was like, I’ll give it a shot. I lived right down the street from Flappers comedy club in Burbank. I did an audition when I was like 16 and they started booking me on shows immediately. Then they gave me the opportunity to take some of their technique classes, so I could learn how to write how the majors write. It’s been in a bit of a weird place right now, because I had to leave for six months to film but I did a show when I got back. I love getting on stage and being able to talk about anything.

I saw a lot of your posts on Twitter about you playing Ekko and having that hopefully be a way for people to see black young men as someone other than just thugs or anybody to be forgotten. I grew up knowing exactly how that feels. But also your work ethic reminds me a lot of someone who wants to prove themselves and Ekko has that same kind of energy. Did you feel a lot of that connection with echo when you were playing him?

That’s an interesting question. I definitely felt that energy when I was trying to play Ekko because I felt like, or at least the script called for, that level of Ekko. Where that he wants to do good and he wants to help, but at the same time, if he ever sees Vi again, or if Vander or Benzo were to see him, they would think that he was doing good. Me personally, I actually don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anybody. You know what I mean? A lot of what I’ve learned by living in Los Angeles is a lot of people out here want to talk themselves up and really make themselves seem like the best of the best. Which is valid. That’s how you succeed in a lot of ways. But I’ve always been of the idea that if I can present myself well, I’ll find the work that’s right for me and the work can speak for itself. I didn’t know much about what Arcane was gonna turn into but I’m glad that I did it. I just like doing art that matters to me and seems like it matters to other people.

Do you see yourself being more interested in doing more video game work, not just adaptations, but being involved in video games? I saw in an interview before you said you had just finished Detroit: Become Human and Detroit kind of blends in a really interesting place where the game is like a movie. I was wondering if that’s something you looked into now that you get entered into that space? 

I would love to but I kind of want to make games. I don’t I don’t just want to be like a voice actor. I thought because of how deep I feel like I’m into the video game world. I’ve started to learn more about what goes into it. I just feel like it would be so cool to be a part of something like Detroit — the message of the game is so beautiful. I would love to do something like that. But, beyond that, I was thinking of trying to find a way to get tapped in with Black e-sports teams and stuff around the country because I just feel like that’s  a space that we’re not in as much as  we can be. I’m sure I’m sure there are thousands of top tier talented Black gamers that would love to compete if somebody put the organization together. If they had the opportunity. Obviously, I do want to keep voice acting and stuff like that.

You talk a lot about how you want to bridge more black creators in spaces that don’t seem to allow them to be even really involved. Is that something that you’ve always been aware of since you started doing musical theater? I know musical theater is kind of the same way. I can’t really name a major musical that is about black people off the top of my head.

Yeah, definitely. I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. My parents, my mom was successful enough that to have us in a good area in North Carolina. So I had the opportunity to do things like musical theater class three days out of the week and in those spaces, not only was I the only boy, but I was the only Black boy. Even though my optimistic brain was like, it doesn’t matter, like who cares, they see me differently. The more I get older, actually, I start to realize more about my childhood and more about those spaces that I was in. I was talking with my parents other day about this instance, in fourth grade, my musical theater teacher, she had something in her classroom, and I called it out, because I was like, “Oh, I know what that is” and she wasn’t supposed to have it. So they sent me to the office and I got suspended. I thought, that was just me being too loud mouthed. But no that was them looking after one another. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve always felt connected to the movement that is human rights and equality for Black people and equity for Black people, but I never had the opportunity to do anything about it.

Then the protests happened and Los Angeles was kind of popping off as protests everywhere. There’s nothing going on in Burbank, which is a police city, right? So, I worked with this girl that I went to high school with, and we led a protest out there and like 1,500 people came out, it was really nice. That showed me that right there is something that we can do, people want to help. Then a lot of people were like, “You’re the voice of Cartoon Network, like you announce all the shows on there. Aren’t you worried that something that you do on the streets or activism wise is going to mess you up in any way outside of what you’re trying to build? Don’t you think somebody’s gonna target you?” I don’t care. You know what I mean? I entertain because it’s my passion and I entertain because it’s proven to work for me. I get to put smiles on people’s faces, but you can’t ignore what’s actually happening in the real world.

So bridging that gap between entertainment and the real world issues in a way that doesn’t feel like a history movie, or just another lesson. I think there’s something beautiful in that. It doesn’t even have to be a story about that. It can be like how Arcane is with Ekko. Just him being there is an example of the the image that you can place on on young Black men. Yeah, you know, you don’t have to see them as thugs, you don’t have to see them as like, the lowest of the low. You can see them as scientists, you can see them as leaders, like how we saw Barack Obama, leader of the free world. That was insane to me when I was eight. My dad was like, “Look at that. That’s amazing. You know, if you want to do this, if you want to be in the industry, you can play Barack Obama one day.” The fact that he’s even somebody that people want to see on screen and want to look up to, that’s beautiful. I’ve always wanted to be close to that.

To be honest, I think the fact that you’re doing this stuff might even help your career more, because a lot of those kids that hear your voice on Cartoon Network are going to connect that to a person doing things that are good, that a lot of them might not even know at the moment.

Like when you were eight, you had no idea that but the fact of seeing that person made a lot of difference for you. Just one more question. Since you’ve been in the industry and different pockets of performative arts in general, what do you feel has changed for the better for Black performers? What’s some stuff that you see that are still making its way to getting better? 

No, honestly, the types of characters and shows that are being created with Black people in mind are elevating. Obviously, we’re not at the place where it’s normalized but you know, it gives the opportunity for Black creators and actors to initiate those ideas. I think that’s one of the better things about streaming. You know, it doesn’t seem like it’s hard to pitch a movie, if you really put your heart into it and really, really work hard on it. Anybody could get something like that done. Everybody wants to see a nice story. So at least for me, as an actor, I just feel like I feel much more comfortable auditioning for leading roles. When I first came to Los Angeles, we would get auditions and it quickly became known that like all ethnicity auditions, they’re not looking for somebody that looks like me. Not at all. Now, I don’t even look at the ethnicity when I’m auditioning. I’m not worried about it because I know that if they’re having me audition, they’ve seen my headshot, and they know what I look like. They just want to see my performance. It may have been the case the whole time but based on history, how things have been cast and marketed are coming out today, I just feel much more comfortable with with representing myself and who I am and where I come from, regardless of how something is written. I think that is admirable of the industry. 

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