By Peter Robb,

There’s nothing Kevin Loring, actor, likes more than a voice over gig on an animation.

These days, Loring is the artistic director of the new Indigenous Theatre department at the National Arts Centre and he doesn’t have a lot of time for acting gigs. But before he got the big job he was often called to voice a character or two.

And one of those jobs was with the popular animated version of Corner Gas that has just been renewed for a second season on the Comedy Network and will debut on the main CTV network on Sunday. Loring is handling two recurring characters, an Indigenous farmer named Lanny and Phil, the plain-spoken owner of the Dog River Hotel and Bar.

“When I was in Vancouver,” Loring said in an interview, I was called for work with a small company out there that makes comic books about social issues on reserves. They then began to animate them. That’s how I sort of got into it.”

He then did some voice over work for Raven Tales  in which he voiced Raven and he did pilot for a PBS Kids project called Molly of Denali.

He loves the work.

“It’s really fun. It’s the best way to work. You can show up in your pyjamas and do your lines. You can play too. You do get some some direction and you have to be ready to turn on a dime depending on what the director needs, but it’s so much fun.

“I started doing children’s theatre but also did some regular professional theatre. I took what I could get. For a lot of voice over markets, it can be tough to get in, but once you do stuff will start to roll your way.

“They get familiar with you and see that you can pull it off. Over time, in Vancouver, I was getting called to more and more voice over auditions and work. It’s the easiest most fun gig for an actor. It’s well paid, usually a four-hour call, and once in awhile you get a full day.”

He said he didn’t know what the Corner Gas characters looked like before doing the voices, but that’s not always the case. He was familiar with Raven Tales.

Voicing Lanny and Phil was enjoyable, he said. And “being in the room with all those amazing funny people in Corner Gas, it was a riot. It was four hours of hilarity.”

Just listening to Brent Butt, Gabrielle Miller and Eric Peterson riff off each other was a real learning experience for Loring.

With Lanny, Loring said he went “a little slower and lower.” He’s down to earth and laid back. Phil is edgier. “He’s been around the block.

Loring believes the secret to the success of Corner Gas is that it feels true.

“What is great is that the material really works with the animation. The humour is so comfortable.

“I will always be an actor and things like Corner Gas allow me to have some opportunities. In this role (as the artistic director of Indigenous Theatre) I can find opportunities, but I really have to pick and choose when and what and how I want to do. I am really enjoying being in a position where you can execute a big vision. That’s quite wonderful.”

As for the Indigenous Theatre project specifically, Loring says it is growing steadily. In fact at the time of this interview he was in Toronto passing out business cards and meeting folks with the Luminato Festival.

“Now we finally have a team. Now we are doing things in the building whereas before it was me and it was all hypothetical.”

Loring has been joined by general manager Lori Marchand, artistic associate Lindsay Lachance and community outreach worker Mairi Brascoupe.

“Now,” he said, “it’s getting real.” They are travelling around, seeing shows, having a presence and meeting with artists and stakeholders in the regions.

“We are trying to fill a national role for something that hasn’t existed before. There is a lot of groundwork that needs to be done before we get rolling. We aren’t by buying shows or contracting anyone yet but that will come.”

One thing that is taking shape around the launch of Indigenous Theatre in the fall of 2019 is a festival called an Indigenous takeover of the NAC to help launch Loring’s department.

“I instigated the conversation about the takeover. I wanted to mark the start of Indigenous theatre. All the other departments are taking part and buying in. We have encouraged the others to program Indigenous works and artists. We all have ideas, some are more advanced than others.”

In many ways, Loring says, it is taking on the feel of one of the ‘Scenes’ that the NAC has organized to celebrate arts and culture in the regions of the country.

In other matters, Loring says, the department is still fleshing out how it will balance an idea of performing in communities versus bringing people into the NAC to see shows.

“We are laying the groundwork. We want to be careful, respectful and inclusive. For me a big priority at the NAC is to get our roots right.” That means getting buy-in from the Ottawa area including the Algonquin community and the urban indigenous community. After that he will look nationally and then internationally.

Loring says that when they har about the Indigenous Theatre people are curious. “They are also excited and grateful that it is happening. There is a lot of positive energy around it. There is always potential for cynicism but I think that people recognize this is an important shift. They see it also as an opportunity.

“This is not tokenism; it’s full steam ahead.”

Kevin Loring’s having a gas working with Brent Butt and the Dog River team