Meeting My Childhood Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

(Right to left) Barry Gordon, Cam Clarke, Dakster Sullivan, Townsend Coleman, and Rob Paulsen  Image: Dakster Sullivan
(Right to left) Barry Gordon, Cam Clarke, Dakster Sullivan, Townsend Coleman, and Rob Paulsen. Image: Dakster Sullivan.

Meeting the original cast of the 1980s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during Nickelodeon Resort’s “TMNT Retro Weekend” was more fun than I could have imagined. It brought back so many old memories and at the same time, I was creating new ones.

I had the opportunity to tell the cast my own TMNT story: how when things get rough with my anxiety, as an adult, I turn to the Turtles to take my mind off of it. I guess you could say that the Turtles give me an escape from anxiety and depression.

As a child, I looked up to the Turtles and pretended they were my brothers, always there to protect me. When things got rough, I would go to my room and escape into that world where they were there to comfort me and take my mind off of whatever was bothering me.

Many of us have similar stories about our favorite fictional characters, who can be so key in helping us deal with so many aspects of growing up. I never expected to have a chance to tell them in person how much they’ve helped me. A press junket for the Nickelodeon Resort afforded me the opportunity, but it also created anxiety: how do you meet those who helped your childhood self so much without going too fangirl? And there was the added question of whether my still-present anxiety would overwhelm me, even on this happy occassion.

The day of meeting the cast started calmly. After a fun-filled breakfast down in Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob and friends, we headed into Studio Nick for a special TMNT meet and greet.

But when the time came to actually walk into the meet-and-greet area, my heart started racing. Soon, my family and I were face-to-face with none other than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and April. Happily, they were a pretty lively bunch and struck a ninja pose with us for a picture and all went well.

These weren’t the only Turtles I met. On stage was the original voice cast of the ’80s cartoon series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And this is where my anxiety kicked into high gear. I couldn’t help it. I literally jumped up and down when it was my turn to say “hi” and get my picture taken.

However, they were the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. My heart almost jumped out of my chest when Rob Paulsen recognized my name and said we were friends on Twitter. Before my time was up, I had a moment to tell them the origin of my nickname, Dakster. It’s a mix between my initials (D.A.K.) and Baxter Stockman, an evil scientist from the TMNT universe.

Booyakasha! TMNT!!  Image:  Dakster Sullivan
Booyakasha! TMNT!! Image: Dakster Sullivan.

After my geekgasm, my husband and I walked out of the room so I could catch my breath. Even as I’m writing this, I can remember the anxiety I felt being up on the stage with the cast. It was a powerful experience meeting the guys who played characters that were such an important part of my childhood. I only wish everyone could meet their own childhood heroes.

Once everyone had their pictures taken, the floor was open for a Q&A with the cast.

The original cast was as much fun to listen to as their cartoon counterparts. One thing I was surprised to hear was how they didn’t expect TMNT to take off as much as it did.

Barry Gordon (voice of Donatello) remembered his reaction when his agent called about the audition:

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“Is that all you have to do with your day is call me and make jokes? So, he said no, really it’s TMNT and I said okay. I went down there thinking that this is the most insane audition I’ve been on. I read a few pages of it and loved it. Just loved it. It was just funny from the very beginning.”

You could say I was jumping with excitement to meet the voice cast of TMNT.  Image: Dakster Sullivan
You could say I was fangirling with excitement to meet the voice cast of TMNT. Image: Dakster Sullivan.

Rob Paulsen (Raphael) reflected on what Barry said:

“Townsend (voice of Michelangelo) and I were actually working on an animated version of Fraggle Rock on NBC. [cheers from the audience] Thank you. Where the heck were you when it was being cast? [laughter] And I’m not a big comic book fan, but I was familiar with the comic book a little bit and one thing led to another and like Barry said, we audition for stuff all the time. It’s crazy how you audition for something and if you’re lucky, you get to make a living, but something this iconic to the extent that you get to come back 25 years and get to meet all of you guys, it’s an amazing experience.”

Townsend Coleman continued on that thought:

“Like Rob said, we were working on Fraggle Rock for NBC and the voice director came into the session and pulls a script out of his briefcase and says, ‘You guys are not going to believe what I’ll be directing and casting next,’ and he pulls out a comic book of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and shows us. I remember us looking at it going ‘What?? Good luck with that one,’ and he brought us in to audition and we all read for all the parts. Who knows how we ended up with our parts. They knew that Rob was going to be Raphael and Barry was going to be Donatello, but they didn’t know if Cam was going to Michelangelo or Leonardo and same for me until we got into that first session.”

When Cam Clarke had his chance to speak, he was nothing like his cartoon counterpart, with jokes left and right:

“I will tell you that when the show started, these wacky coconuts got all the funny lines and as the leader, I was the straight man of the group and was like ‘I can say something funny,’ and they said no, you say, ‘We’ve got to think of something fast.’ “

TMNT Awesome! Me and my Turtles  Image: Dakster Sullivan
TMNT awesome! Me and my Turtles. Image: Dakster Sullivan.

After a brief break, a select few in the audience were allowed to break into a one-on-one meeting with the cast and ask them any questions we had. I was able to have a brief meeting with them on stage to get a poster autographed and show them the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual Guide (Insight Editions). I couldn’t believe how excited they were to look over the book and when I showed them a cast photo of them 25 years ago, they went nuts.

Being on stage with them for those few minutes really kicked my anxiety in and it showed. While Barry and Townsend were signing my poster, Townsend noticed my hands shaking and I told him about my anxiety. He took my hands and told me everything was okay in a very comforting way. I can’t tell you how much that helped me at that moment. It’s wonderful when role models live up to the job.

After everyone signed my poster and looked over the book, I told them my personal TMNT story and they seemed touched. They gave me comforting hugs all around. As I’m writing this, I realize how ironic it is that 25 years later, they comforted me again, but this time in person when I was on the border of having a panic attack.

After we took a couple more pictures, it was time to say goodbye. As cool as it was to meet them, I felt like I was saying goodbye to my childhood friends. I know it’s not goodbye forever though, because all I have to do is turn on the TV and I’ll see them again. And looking back, our meeting will be yet another happy moment that helps me with the anxiety.

Dakster Sullivan is a network administrator by day and a cosplayer by night. She loves discovering new books to read, tech to play with, and ways to express her herself. She has anxiety and depression and strives to educate others about these invisible illnesses.