Michael Manna, also known to wrestling fans as Stevie Richards, has signed on to voice a recurring role in director Larry Longstreth’s new animated series, Four Tanks and a Healer. If you’ve followed Manna’s career, you know that he doesn’t fit the mold, anyone’s mold.
“He’s earned his cred (both nerd-wise and tough-wise) in my eyes,” is what Longstreth posted when making the announcement of Manna’s joining the production. When I spoke with the director recently, he had this to say. “[H]e’s a walking hypocrisy—he jokes about being a nerd athlete,” says Longstreth of his multi-faceted colleague. “[He] has a huge interest in all things tech. He’s a fan-boy.”
It’s true. Manna has his fingers in many pies, notably of late, the t4show, where he and co-host, Josh, “Colm” Coleman, review everything from the latest iPad, to video games, fitness products, and pro-wrestling shows. “It’s funny, I never quite fit,” says Manna. “I still don’t quite fit into the wrestling realm of the world. I don’t fit into the fitness realm of that world, and I don’t fit into the nerd part. It’s like nobody likes me. I am one of the most unpopular people in the world because I don’t fit into any of those categories. I’m joking, but I’m not.”
“I still wrestle, for money,” says Manna, and his most recent stint included the Extreme Reunion. Fans know how hard Manna works, coming back from a broken neck and a paralyzed vocal cord, among other injuries, to continue to delight. A recent facebook update photo on his page was of an empty gym, captioned, 345 am CAN. “I have CAN on my tights. It’s not for Canada, like some people say. It’s CAN, to remind me there is no can’t, only CAN.”
Can is the only word which interests Manna. He is intense, driven, and professional. In my one hour skype interview with him (my first, so please critics, be gentle), he had everything set up to record it, chatted with fans while it streamed live, and dropped me a copy via digital dropbox within an hour. He loves tech, gaming, and gets excited about anything cutting edge; Kickstarter being one of those things.
“I wish I’d invented it,” he said, referencing recent Kickstarter successes The Glyph iPhone app, the Pebble Watch, and a personal favorite of his, The Bat in the Sun. “[But] it’s really worth it. I mean if you’re going to donate to something and feel like you’re part of something, and Larry’s going to do everything he can to make his audience feel like they’re a part of the production, because they really are, by donating the money.”
Kickstarter also matters to Larry Longstreth since he is using the website to raise funds for Four Tanks and a Healer. A pledge can be anything from a dollar to over $5,000.00. Longstreth has created many levels in-between. For a $100 pledge, an avid MMO fan-boy or girl can have their favorite MMO avatar placed in the show. I asked him if fans could request special scenes for their character’s appearance, imagining fans of this blog maybe, pledging for a shot at having their avatar appear alongside Manna’s character.
“That would be dangerous. [It] might be OK if there were five of them—ten minute episodes. But it would begin to place barriers around my creative freedom.” Longstreth says.
So, I guess if you want a shot at having your avatar in Four Tanks and a Healer beside Michael Manna, you’d best get on it, because if you’re number six, no dice. If the Kickstarter project fails to reach its goal, the filmmaker will search traditional investors instead.
Voice acting seems a strange path for an elite athlete with multiple vocal cord surgeries under his belt, but Manna loves to perform and considers it another way to participate. “I voiced-over Daredevil in one of his [Longstreth’s] previous animations… It wasn’t as good as I would like to have for that voice-over I did before.”
“Larry gave me a great opportunity to be in that without having any voice-over acting experience, and he gave me a real taste for doing it… I think it’s another avenue that I want to pursue and explore to try to get better at.“
“I like doing anything performance-wise. I think, when I had all the vocal surgeries, and the implant in my throat through my vocal cords, I was told to start podcasting on a regular basis, and the podcasting is sort of my voice therapy. I love podcasting. I love doing radio. I’d love to explore avenues into doing some radio work… and voice acting is a natural analogy.
I think it’s a little bit more fun, because you really get the, on the level of wrestling, it’s the voice level of what we do performance-wise in the ring. We get to play a different character, we get to kind of use our imagination and that’s probably what makes voice acting and voice over work more attractive than any of the other stuff.”
Four Tanks and a Healer is an animated series based on the absorbing quality of MMO games. Manna’s role is that of Parik. Failed insurance salesman and divorced dad by day, elf warlock engineering whiz in the world of the MMO. And it’s the MMO world that makes this project truly unique. Longstreth describes it as, “World of Warcraft meets Family Guy.”
In a recent article for Cinema-crazed, the director talked about the importance of Four Tanks and a Healer being an animated series. The entire show takes place within the world of the MMO, their game characters portray them on screen. But like many addicted MMO gamers, real life and real relationships creep into their online world.
A self-described “casual MMO person,” who cites LOTR as his favorite MMO, Longstreth has spent considerable time studying how the bonds of gaming form friendships which are every bit as valid and important as those formed in “real life.” He’s watched the soap opera of life play out within MMO’ing and it’s this he wants to highlight in the series.
Manna has nothing but praise for his director. “That’s why I like working with him [Longstreth]. I don’t have to know what I’m going to be doing or who I’m going to be voicing-over. I know Larry’s work is stupendous. I know he puts his level of attention to detail of what he loves to do. Like he said on Kickstarter, he’s a gamer. He gets it. And I’m a gamer too.”
But I think Larry Longstreth will have his work cut out for him with Manna, who’s already lobbying for a larger role in the series. “I am hard on myself for never being satisfied. Larry’s going to find that out real soon when we start voicing-over this Four Tanks thing.”
It should be an experience.
(Just so’s you know, I’ve known Larry Longstreth since the mid 2000’s and worked with him as a film-maker through Cleveland IndieClub. Hopefully this article and the skype interview helps my fan-girl cred a little.)