Audio Drama: “The Yellow Wallpaper”

We just released “The Yellow Wallpaper.” This is a standalone story that is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the audio drama series through this episode guide.

This is the first audio drama that I’ve adapted from another source — in this case, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” one of my favorite short stories of all time. This adaptation is set in the modern day and is dedicated to the #metoo movement. This radio play honors the text, but is somewhat experimental.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who want to support our show, we have a great deal of behind-the-scenes material available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion
Adapted from the Charlotte Perkins Gilman short story

CAST:

The Woman: Katrina Clairvoyant and Nicole Papadopoulos
John: Zack Glassman
Jenie: Devony DiMattia
The Child: Devony DiMattia
The Wallpaper: Pete Lutz
The Guests: Michael Saldate, Charly Saccocio, and Edward Champion
The Voice: Carol Jacobanis
Mary: Belgys Felix
The Nurse: Argyria Kehagias

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who reads too many books.

Music licensed through Musicfox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind the Scenes:

Audio Drama: “Shadows Have Offended”

We just released “Shadows Have Offended.” This is the seventh and final chapter of our massive epic, “Paths Not Taken,” which takes place from 1994 through 2023 in two parallel universes. This seven part story is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the overarching story through this episode guide.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Shadows Have Offended” is the seventh chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here, the second chapter here, the third chapter here, the fourth chapter here, the fifth chapter here, and the sixth chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who want to support our show, we have a great deal of behind-the-scenes material available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Seven:

In the final part of the “Paths” saga, Chelsea and Maya struggle in their forties to keep their relationship alive as they initiate a fateful but necessary Thanksgiving meeting with Maya’s grandfather — a stubborn and “old-fashioned” World War I historian. Meanwhile, the disastrous political trajectory of the parallel universe encroaches upon deeply personal and deeply fatal territory. (Running time: 84 minutes, 55 seconds)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Chelsea: Katrina Clairvoyant
Maya: Tanja Milojevic
Grandpa: J.K. McCauley
Grandma: Julie Chapin
The DJ: Peter Coleman
Emma: Colette Thomas
Alicia: Elizabeth Rimar
Scarlett: Jessica Cuesta
GPS: Carol Jacobanis
Thomas: Phillip O’Gorman
The Guard: Graham Rowat
Rick: Michael Hisry
The Detective: Phillip Merritt
News Leeches: Pete Lutz, David Nagel, Morgan Corcoran, and Edward Champion
and Zack Glassman as The Receptionist

Additional Voices: Dylan Reed and Christian Caminiti

German Consultant: Vincent Fallow

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who will instantly sing numerous Paul Williams songs if you mention The Phantom of the Paradise to him in person.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Chmpion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Thank you for listening!

Behind the Scenes:

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Today I recorded one of the most emotionally intense scenes of the second season with J.K. McCauley, a subtly savvy talent who instantly understood that this character was both very real and hyper real. The man had loads of dialogue — dialogue that is among some of the most hardcore I've ever written. And he soldiered on to my great gratitude. (I didn't want to exhaust him!) But his instincts allowed me to see that what I was really doing with this character is renouncing some part of me I don't live with anymore. The hell of it is that J.K. recently returned to acting after a long absence and offered the most eccentric read out of all who auditioned. He was excellent and different and I am so glad I took a chance here. However, I was a bit alarmed by the recognition and, as grueling as it was to unknowingly hold up a mirror to some dark part of me I didn't know I had to contend with, we still had a lot of laughs. Thank you! #acting #audiodrama #darkhalf #character #truth #art

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This afternoon, the marvelous Peter Coleman, a really good guy who I had the great pleasure of meeting in an improv class, returned to record new material for The Gray Area. You may recall him as the DJ in "Brand Awareness." I will not divulge how he factors into Season 2. But I will say this: when we recorded last time, I got the sense that Peter, who largely plays comedic roles, had A LOT more range as an actor and that there was a serious part of him that I hoped to gently draw out. So I wrote a scene specifically with this in mind, knowing that Peter could pull it off, in part because he is highly specific about context and line meaning. (And in fact, knowing this, I urged him during our session today to push back against my own view of the story, because I also knew that he would have some interesting interpretation ideas. Sure enough, he did!) The result was an instinctively smart and a very moving performance. I did my best to inject more empathy into Peter's performance and Peter, in turn, graciously called me out on my own motivations. These are the types of collaborations I really, really dig. Because being surprised is how we get closer to making something new and different. I'm thrilled and very honored that Peter has been a part of The Gray Area. Thank you so much, Peter, for fitting me into your busy schedule! #audiodrama #acting #motivation #character #recording #instinct #collaboration

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We did it! The incredible @katrinaclairvoyant and I wrapped months of recording this afternoon, finishing up her final scenes in this incredibly epic tale in which she stars. It was, of course, quite necessary to pop open the champagne. There was great joy, a bit of sadness, and, above all, the sense that we had gone through an incredible journey together. I wrote this character with every emotion I had in my heart and Katrina always surprised me every day she came in, finding new angles on this character and always using her instincts to flesh her out further. I cannot conceive of any other actor for this role. My considerable gratitude to Katrina for knocking this out of the park and for her great commitment to this role. This was one of the most incredible and fortuitous artistic collaborations I have had the honor and the pleasure to experience. And I can't wait to see how this comes together. Thank you so much, Katrina! #audiodrama #acting #champagne #character #fun #commitment #real #drama

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I just finished a very quick evening session with @mikey_hizy, who squares off against @ogorman.pp in the final scene of the epic Season 2 story! I met Michael through @lit_karaoke (who ALSO said he wanted to be in this, but DIDN'T return my message when I offered him a role — what's the deal, sir? Are you all talk? 🙂 ) and I was immediately impressed with his fine speaking and singing voice. You can learn a lot about an actor by singing karaoke and improvising with him! I had one quick role that I forgot to cast, but then I thought, "Michael! Of course!" Well, Michael was great. He was the first actor to memorize the lines (totally unnecessary for audio drama!). But I steered him towards his instincts and this was very fun. Thanks again, Michael! #audiodrama #acting #audiodrama #character #barbeque #karaoke #voiceover #recording #session #audio

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Audio Drama: “Too Hard a Knot”

We just released “Too Hard a Knot.” This is the sixth chapter of our massive epic, “Paths Not Taken,” which takes place from 1994 through 2023 in two parallel universes. This seven part story is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the overarching story through this episode guide.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Unfound Door” is the fourth chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here, the second chapter here, the third chapter here, the fourth chapter here, and the fifth chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who don’t want to wait two weeks for the next chapter, we also have all seven parts (as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material) available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Six:

Back in the original universe, Scarlett and Alicia contend with another version of Chelsea and conjure up a plan to get the two Chelseas back in their respective universes as they face the danger of a seemingly innocent benefactor gone rogue. (Running time: 24 minutes.)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Chelsea: Katrina Clairvoyant
Alicia: Elizabeth Rimar
Scarlett: Jessenia Cuesta
Jan Swillson: Ingeborg Reidmeier
and Zack Glassman as The Receptionist

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who holds open doors for people just before he enters a happening establishment.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Chmpion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind the Scenes:

Audio Drama: “Canny Valley”

Last week, we released “Canny Valley” This is the fifth chapter of our massive epic, “Paths Not Taken,” which takes place from 1994 through 2023 in two parallel universes. This seven part story is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the overarching story through this episode guide.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Camny Valley” is the fifth chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here, the second chapter here, the third chapter here, and the fourth chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who don’t want to wait two weeks for the next chapter, we also have all seven parts (as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material) available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Four:

In this “screwball cyberpunk” episode, it’s 2023. Labor camps, a sinister government, and significant civil unrest rollick the world outside. But within the secret chambers of the multibillion tech company Apotheosis, an optimistic entrepreneur named Jill Swanson, who names her engineers after 1930s comedy film directors, sits on a secret that may just save the world. (Running time: 72 minutes)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Jan Swillson: Ingeborg Reidmeier
Lane Veldt: Adriano La Rocca
Brianna: Samantha Cooper
Jenna: Devony DiMattia
Rochford: Rachel Baird
The Executive: Rachel Matusewicz
Mutt: David McCall
Jeff: Matthew Rini
Preston: Richard Rose
Sturges: Len Nash
La Cava: Luvelle Pierre
Hawks: David Perez-Ribada
News Anchor: Carol Jacobanis:
Amelia: Monica Ammerman
Protester #1: Nicholas Boesel
Protester #2: Khaz Benyahmeen
The Preacher: Peter Andrews
and Zack Glassman as The Receptionist

Creature Voices: Samantha Cooper and Rachel Baird

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who has a ridiculously enormous crush on D’Arcy Carden for her magnificent smarts and great talent.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Champion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind-the-Scenes:

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Today, I recorded 27 pages with the delightful and wonderfully talented @ingeborgie. I also recorded with her on Tuesday and will be recording with her again next week! Our challenge is to get all her lines recorded before she is unavailable next month! And we're definitely going to do it, thanks to some nimble logistics from both of us. You may remember Ingeborg from "Buddies for Hire," which won a Parsec Award. Well, her character is coming back in a very prominent way. And that's all I'm going to say. But I need to reiterate why Ingeborg is so awesome and why I love working with her (and why I will do so again once I get around to Season 3!). I can give her a note and she will always find some incredibly subtle way of not only implementing it into the framework we've established, but nailing it without me having to layer it further with another note. Indeed I got so caught up in paying close attention and nurturing Ingeborg's performance today that, when I was performing the other lines, I became a little exuberant and knocked over a music stand. I really can't wait to finish this story. Ingeborg revealed aspects of this character that I did not see and inspired me to do some very modest rewrites of a few lines on the spot! Thank you Ingeborg! You are wonderful, a pure joy to work with, and I am blessed to have you on this production! #acting #audiodrama #directing #performance #notes #voiceover #recording

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Rough demo of Season 2 song.

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It's 90 degrees and today is a two session day! But I got off to an incredible start with @caroljacobanis, a veteran actor with a TRULY impressive list of voiceover credits (including POKEMON!) and a voice that I feel obliged to compare to a cheerful deity. I was truly honored that Carol strongly connected to the material and, like so many of the cast members, seemed to come out of nowhere. Her character is modeled partially on Fenella Fielding, the brassy Village announcer in Patrick Mcgoohan's THE PRISONER. And she was tons of fun to work with. I was so stunned by how great she was that I had to remember to keep my director's hat on and do fine tweaks to make sure we retained little satirical subtleties and callbacks to other stories. But honestly I didn't have to do much, other than to remind Carol that not one of my characters is one note and make suggestions to go wild and big at times. Thank you so much, Carol. You are a serious powerhouse! #audiodrama #acting #recording #voiceover #character #theprisoner #fenellafielding #village

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Today, the magnificent @ingeborgie (joined by the always terrific @glassmanegerie) returned to the studio as a version of Jill Swanson, the villain from "Buddies for Hire." Of this new character iteration, I can say nothing other than note the truly strange emotional poignancy of today's scenes. I learned much about the interplay between these two characters that I did not know and I have Zack and Ingeborg, both incredibly kind and committed collaborators who I am grateful to have as part of this project, to thank for this. Especially since this is such an enormous script I'm recording! They are true troupers! Thank you, Zack and Ingeborg! #acting #audiodrama #emotions #recording #fun #unexpected

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This morning, I was incredibly honored and delighted to work with @dramamatt, who beat out many dozen actors to land a character in a story set in the near future. I was struck immediately by how funny and distinct Matt was in conveying this character's very subtle and layered neurosis. And it was very difficult to stifle my laughter while recording. At one point, I gave Matt his big moment by saying, "Okay, on this line, you are the most confident coward in the world." Sure enough, Matt rose to the challenge quite well! This was yet another one of those fun sessions in which I so enjoyed it that I was a bit sad when we ran out of lines. But I was very happy to include Matt on this epic story and his invaluable contributions have really added to a vivacious and hilarious dynamic that is unlike anything else I have recorded! Thank you Matt! #audiodrama #recording #acting #character #neurosis #magic #dynamic #fun

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Today, the glorious @larocca_cola returned to The Gray Area to record new dialogue. You may remember him as Venall from "Brand Awareness." But is he the same character? Well, you'll have to wait until the show gets released. But let's just say that there are big payoffs for anyone keeping close tabs and that interconnectedness is a prominent part of this entire series! I will say that Adrian was once again a joy to work with. He actually inspired me to articulate minute details of this character's philosophy that came entirely from his own subtle and instinctive interpretation of the script. Qualities I didn't know were there! The more we recorded, the better Adrian got. And so I gently pushed him (but not, most importantly, at the expense of his energy!) to be more real and, in one case, unexpectedly poignant about the mercenary self-delusion his character possesses. This role is a bit of a departure from what we established in the first season, but Adrian was very much up to the challenge and I knew he had it in him. And for this, I am tremendously grateful to Adrian for fitting me into his crazy schedule. Thank you Adrian! #acting #recording #audiodrama #character #real #subtle #fun

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This morning, I had the great pleasure of recording with the incredibly kind and very talented @maviddccall, who was tremendously funny in this role. I met David in my Improv 401 class and he was one of the shining stars, a true inspiration to me with his zest and performance and also the way that he looked out for everybody. Thankfully, he was nice enough to sign on for my madness and he more than delivered, cracking me up so much that I really had to confine my convulsions within my chest so that none of my laughter would escape onto tape! I really wanted to make sure that his great gusto came through. So at one point, I said, "Okay, this is your TMZ moment!" And he offered numerous variations on this broad note that were all incredibly funny. David is truly one of the most generous actors I've ever worked with. And I am deeply grateful to him for taking the time out to record material for this epic tale! Thank you David! You are awesome! #acting #audiodrama #recording #character #fun #improv #comedy

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Today I got to record with the very tall and very funny Len Nash. He was an immense pleasure to work with! Strangely enough, he's the second actor from Tennessee in these scenes. But the talented thespians from Tennessee really seem to GET this story for some reason. Len is one of those actors who has what I like to call a 75% instinct, meaning that he's pretty much there with his inventive interpretation and it's your job as a director to coax out the remaining 25%, suggesting ideas and fine tuning a line with a light note. He absolutely got the subtle surrogate family nuance I sneaked into this scene. And he truly cracked me up as we injected more layers with this character. I definitely want to work with him again! Thank you so much Len for being so fun and easygoing! This is the last week (Week 21!) of recording Phase I of Season 2 and a wonderful way to start the week! #acting #audiodrama #character #Tennessee #recording #instinct

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WE JUST COMPLETED PHASE I OF RECORDING! HOLY FRIJOLE! This morning, I recorded with veteran character actor Richard Rose, a very talented and super nice guy! And get this. He is ALSO from Tennessee. That makes three of the six key actors in this tale from Tennessee. Anyway, Richard was excellent. Great fun to work with. He has a beautifully sonorous old time radio voice (and some background in old school radio). And we played this up by imbuing this comic character with a misplaced dignity that had the two of us laughing and that works beautifully with the ensemble nature of the piece. Honestly, returning to formalist roots while experimenting with new forms was the perfect way to close these sessions. And I am deeply grateful to Richard for being a good sport and riffing hilariously from some of my goofy notes. Thank you Richard! And now I'm going on vacation, thoroughly confused that my weird life of recording with dozens of incredibly cool actors is (for now anyway — until Phase II begins later in the year!) over. Let the editing begin! But first, vacation! Supreme gratitude to the brilliant and incredibly accomplished cast. This year has been a blast, one of the best creative periods I have ever had in my life, and I can't wait to finish and release these stories! #audiodrama #acting #character #comedy #performance #gratitude #Tennessee #recording #vacation

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This morning, two incredibly talented "Loopholes" cast members — @samanthafcooper and @rachelbaird18 — returned to record an action-packed scene in another Season 2 story! I have been introducing more multiple actor recording sessions this season — in large part because, aside from being a lot of fun, having actors in the same room really brings out unpredictable chemistry, which also makes ad libbing quite fun. Sam and Rachel are both a great joy to work with and I knew that they would both connect with each other very well! Sure enough, they did, which was important for their two characters. And because these two have such gloriously distinctive voices, I had them do some creature work for a beast that you will come to know in the second season. I would give each of them a situation, point to one of them, then point to the other and have the other mimic the first sound, and then reset the idea, doing the same thing in reverse. I am immensely grateful to these two incredible women for their energy and commitment on a very zany tale that I also happen to be editing right now! Thank you, Sam and Rachel! #acting #audiodrama #character #creature #improv #fun #chemistry #recording

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It was one of the noisiest days ever! Recalcitrant neighbors blasting music, endless cars, men on the street who pretended it was the weekend and chattered long and loud. But persistence pays off! We kept moving the mic around the apartment and @ingeborgie and I recorded all the lines! Ingeborg totally crushed it. And we worked to give her character some subtle quirks (one involving John Hughes!). Ingeborg cracks me up. This was so much fun that I wish I had more dialogue just to find a way to keep working with her this season. But all good things must come to an end. Thank you so much, Ingeborg, for bringing this character to life! More dimension than I even imagined! I have great plans in place for Season 3! And I can't wait to finish this wild and thrilling story!#audiodrama #acting #character #recording #noise #persistence #creative #fun #happt

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Today I recorded again with the magnificent @larocca_cola. He previously appeared in "Buddies for Hire" and, much like @ingeborgie, his role may or may not be related to the previous character! That is all I will say at this time. Adrian is such a fun and easygoing fellow that, once we got into the groove of the character, he killed it. Lots of great energy, spontaneous tics he brought that I weaved into the whole! He absolutely detected one very careful nuance to the scene that I deliberately planted. And he knew just what questions to ask, which inspired me to invent a paradoxical ideology for the character on the spot that was also there, but that I somehow missed in the script until we started recording. (This is why actors are so amazing. You often don't realize how layered your story is until you record!) I liked working with Adrian so much last season that I deliberately wrote the character playing to Adrian's untapped strengths. His instincts are incredibly savvy when it comes to what is sincere and insincere. And he inspired me so much that, at one point, I sang "If I Only Had a Heart" in Jack Haley style after a tic. This is going to be a very exciting story! Thank you again, Adrian! I am so honored and delighted to work with you! #acting #audiodrama #character #thewizardofoz #tics #human #behavior #recording #fun #performance

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A super fun evening recording session with the marvelous @lehcarraquel! Rachel is super committed and wonderfully energetic, a thrill to work with! A crazy storm started kicking in as Rachel got more into it! And I think the elements may have understood the drama we were layering! I cannot say anything about her role, but this clip should give you a nice taste. Let's just say that Shakespeare and James Bond were key guides to fleshing out this juicy character. And I think I may have unwittingly introduced her to the amazing and awesome Caroline Munro! Thank you Rachel! #acting #character #audiodrama #actor #theatre #shakespeare #jamesbond #carolinemunro #kubelik #theapartment #recording #voiceover #sound #storm #drama

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The last role I cast for Season 2 (indeed, the only one I still had open!) went to the main man behind @lit_karaoke, whose energy and enthusiasm I had to get into this epic production. He told me that he was an actor as well and I said, "Well, okay. If you're serious…" I then had to track K down in person after my text and email to him fell upon deaf ears! But once he knew I was serious, man, was he REALLY into this part! K was not only cool enough to make time for me, but found a rational hook for this small character that surprised even me! And I think the scene in question is going to be more surprising than I intended, which is always a good thing! Thanks so much, K, for being a part of this production! Honored to have you! #acting #audiodrama #karaoke #character #recording #voiceover

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Well, @julchapin and I did it! Our previous session was kiboshed due to construction, but we finished recording her character and had a blast! Part of the fun here was making sure that Julie — who, like me, is a very funny overthinker sometimes — to go with her emotional instinct. That matters the most when you're conjuring up a character! And sure enough, Julie pulled a terrific performance, especially when I asked her to go softer and quiet. The full scene — and @katrinaclairvoyant, you KNOW the one we're talking about (this is the one with your favorite line!) — is now a fascinating blend of conflicted human emotion, a real attempt, to the best of my ability, to excavate much of what we hide from each other. And Julie's subtle presence here really helped nail the tone. I can't wait to edit this! Thank you so much, Julie! You were marvelous! #audiodrama #acting #performance #real #emotions #voiceover #yay

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I wrote and recorded a scene, but the episode was running long!

Audio Drama: “Unfound Door”

Today, we released “Unfound Door.” This is the fourth chapter of our massive epic, “Paths Not Taken,” which takes place from 1994 through 2023 in two parallel universes. This seven part story is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the overarching story through this episode guide.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Unfound Door” is the fourth chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here, the second chapter here, and the third chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who don’t want to wait two weeks for the next chapter, we also have all seven parts (as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material) available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Four:

Confronted with surprise revelations and the need to reconcile two parallel universes, Chelsea faces the hard truths about what sustaining a relationship really means while cleaning up a cosmic disturbance that no human being could have ever predicted. Meanwhile, a Melissa Etheridge T-shirt proves to be an invaluable remedy as our heroes contend with a giant heart that beats to the rhythm of time. (Running time: 31 minutes)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Chelsea: Katrina Clairvoyant
Maya: Tanja Milojevic
Alicia: Elizabeth Rimar
Scarlett: Jessica Cuesta
and Zack Glassman as The Receptionist

Creature Voices by Samantha Cooper and Rachel Baird

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who once sang “Piano Man” in a karaoke bar with a harmonica and got the entire crowd to sing along.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Champion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind the Scenes:

Audio Drama: “Same Age Inside”

On August 25, 2020, we released “Same Age Inside.” This is the third chapter of our massive epic, “Paths Not Taken,” which takes place from 1994 through 2023 in two parallel universes. This seven part story is part of the second season of The Gray Area. You can follow the overarching story through this episode guide.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “The First Illusion” is the second chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here and the second chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who don’t want to wait two weeks for the next chapter, we also have all seven parts (as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material) available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Three:

While on the run from a wild interdimensional beast named Chester, Chelsea learns of electromatter, the surprising ubiquity of Tony Danza, and the multiverse. But the alarming differences she discovers about the universe she’s become part of threaten to topple her efforts to reconnect with Maya and Alicia. (Running time: 26 minutes, 25 seconds)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Chelsea: Katrina Clairvoyant
Alicia: Elizabeth Rimar
Maya: Tanja Milojevic
Jill Swanson: Ingeborg Reidmeier
and Zack Glassman appeared as The Receptionist

Background Voices by Alexander Bill, Brandon P. Jenkins, and Tal Minear
Creature Voices by Samantha Cooper and Rachel Baird

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who once grew a mustache and shaved it off two weeks later because he looked preposterous.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Chmpion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Image licensed by Getty.

Thank you for listening!

If you’d like to support this independent audio production and learn more about how we made it, for only $20, you can become a Season 2 Subscriber! You’ll get instant access to all episodes as we finish them — months before release. Plus, you’ll get access to exclusive interviews and more than 400 minutes of behind-the-scenes commentary! Here are some behind-the-scenes photos and videos pertaining to this episode that we made during the more than two years of production we put into the second season.

Behind the Scenes:

An earlier version of the Part 3 song (with slide):

Audio Drama: “The First Illusion”

Yesterday morning, we released the latest episode of The Gray Area.

This is the most ambitious story we have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “The First Illusion” is the second chapter of an exciting seven part epic that involves parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, strange interdimensional creatures named Chester, a wildly exuberant alien fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, and life choices.

You can listen to the first chapter here.

Here are a number of useful links: (The Gray Area website) (the iTunes feed) (the Libsyn RSS feed) (the Podchaser feed)

For listeners who don’t want to wait two weeks for the next chapter, we also have all seven parts (as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material) available for Season 2 subscribers at grayareapod.podbean.com.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter Two:

It’s January 11, 2011. The world is similar, but it is also quite different. Chelsea reconnects with her best friend Alicia and takes the opportunity to correct her past mistakes, including rebuilding her relationship with Maya. But the shadow of her abusive mother and the presence of an eccentric man who is quite keen on hot dogs and the benefits of being obsequious may uproot this hard-won battle to claim a better life. (Running time: 52 minutes, 6 seconds)

Written, produced, and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Chelsea: Katrina Clairvoyant
Maya: Tanja Milojevic
Alicia: Elizabeth Rimar
Young Chelsea: Nathalie Kane
Carolyn: Emma Smuyla
The Waiter: Jack Ward
Jill Swanson: Ingeborg Reidmeier
Thomas: Philip O’Gorman
Chelsea’s Mother: M.J. Cogburn
Hysterical Diners: Alexander Bill, Brandon P. Jenkins, and Tal Minear
and Zack Glassman as The Receptionist

Sound design, editing, engineering, and mastering by a bald man in Brooklyn who lost every apple bobbing contest he ever participated in during the last five summers.

The “Paths Not Taken” songs were written and performed by Edward Champion

Incidental music licensed through Neosounds and MusicFox.

Image licensed through Getty.

Behind the Scenes:

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I spent my birthday initiating the first of many recording sessions with the remarkable @katrinaclairvoyant and I honestly can't think of a better way to celebrate one's yearly climb to natural obsolescence than making a ridiculously ambitious audio drama — especially with the lead role in a very epic Season 2 story. Katrina and I, who have had many preproduction conversations to get her wildly dimensional character right, bonded instantly over our mutual love of cornball puns and dressing up like zombies for Halloween and various theatrical endeavors. One funny aspect of our collaboration is that we had such a fun time recording together that I actually had to dial down my joke cracking and cheery demeanor to make sure she landed some of her intense moments. "Stop, Ed," said Katrina frequently. "You're making me happy!" Katrina is not only a great talent with marvelous instincts who seemed to come out of nowhere and absolutely GET what I was trying to do incredibly fast, but she is also a bold playwright. She's recording these sessions even as she's directing her own chance-taking play, "Our Father." Which really tells you how committed she is! But Katrina is also an incredibly kind and easygoing type, which you sort of have to be when you're working on something sui generis. As Flaubert once said, "Be calm and orderly in your life and violent and original in your work." And we were definitely hitting those points today! And honestly I couldn't be more thrilled! This is going to be an incredible story. #audiodrama #acting #happy #character #flaubert #recording #theatre

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Today I began my recording sessions with the marvelous @earimar, who was loads of fun. Liz's character is modeled somewhat on @alisonbechdel — particularly a conversation I had with Bechdel years ago in which the very smart and intuitive Bechdel sized me up and asked (rightly) if I was okay. I never forgot that conversation, which meant a great deal to me and revealed how many of us are looking out for each other in ways we don't often know. From these roots of common empathy many years ago came this slightly punkish autodidact principal role in an epic tale about how we love and understand others and must carry on embracing the humanity we have in common. I loved working with Liz. Really, I lucked out big time with her. Like me, she's a fast-talking ruminative type who is extremely subtle about the many expressive streaks she has inside her. And whenever I saw her instincts veering in that direction, I brought them up in the performance. At one point, I saw that she really wanted to deliver a line in a funny voice but was holding back. And I said, "Okay, try this in a prim, proper British voice." And she did and it was hilarious and soon we made speaking occasionally in a funny voice a subtle part of the character. And it worked! And it didn't get in the way of the character's edge or heart. When you're lucky enough to work with an actor who knows how to riff on AND respect your material, you are a very fortunate director indeed! And I found myself giving Liz a lot of "iceberg theory" notes just to see what she'd come up with. #acting #audiodrama #directing #improv #character #tone #alisonbechdel #empathy #humanity

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I'm now on the road. So pardon me if my thanks to the many cool people I met are delayed. But today I had the honor of recording with the extraordinary Tanja Milojevic — the first lines of a very large role in Season 2. I cannot convey how incredibly nice and amazing she is. (Her dog is a sweetheart too!) Tanja and I worked very closely to get the cadences of a scene just right — and I'm telling you, I got a bit misty-eyed recording it. When two people are committed to very high standards, as Tanja and I both are, they often bring out the best in each other. And this session was so much fun and so layered with vital emotional depth that I really cannot wait to hear how this turns out. Many thanks to Steve Schneider, a wonderful man who generously let us stick around and record in his basement. Also a thank you to all the audio drama producers who accommodated me yesterday for the recording of a dystopian anthem! Now on my way to my next not-in-NYC actor! #recording #acting #audiodrama #character

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This morning, I had the great honor of recording with @emmasymula, a remarkable young actor who was so good that she beat out dozens of people for what turned out to be (much to my surprise) a very popular role and had me travelling all the way to Vermont to get these vital lines in the can. Emma is the first teen actor I've worked with on The Gray Area. And she certainly won't be the last. Apparently I have a decent ear for teen dialogue. I so enjoyed working with Emma that I'm definitely going to try my hand at a YA audio drama story down the line. One of the funniest parts of this session was filling in Emma on a cultural event that happened before her existence! But we watched YouTube videos and I offered modern day parallels (Emma was surprised when I was familiar with her favorite musician). And we were off to the races (in one point, literally running!), with Emma tapping into the character's subtleties (including an instinctive snappy quality she came up with that I weaved into the other lines). Emma is terrific and I urged her when we were done that she needed to take acting classes. Because Emma has wonderful instincts that years of training would transform into something truly formidable! #acting #recording #vermont #audiodrama #character #instinct #performance

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Reccording kids for the park scene.

Recording the cliffhanger (what it looked like for the actors)

Audio Drama: “Paths Not Taken”

Yesterday, I released the first of a seven part epic called “Paths Not Taken.” This epic, which has been a good two years in the making, is the centerpiece of the second season of The Gray Area, an ongoing audio drama that won the Parsec Award during the first season. The full tale involves time travel, parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, life choices, AI, revolutionaries who argue about breakfast, and a great deal more.

This is the most ambitious story I have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Where Are the Lads of the Village Tonight?” — named after a pre-World War I novelty tune written and composed by R.P. Weston and Herman Datewski — is the first chapter. On one level, this is a very meticulous character study. The writing came after I spent a good six weeks doing field research and conducted numerous interviews with women to ensure accuracy, authenticity, love, and respect to the LGBTQ community. On another level, the entire epic is also a fun romp involving a winged intedimensional creature named Chester, a goofy alien obsessed with Tony Danza and hot dogs, and a lot of interdimensional travel.

You can listen to the first installment below:

We’re going to be releasing “Paths Not Taken” every two weeks between now through October. You can either wait for the next installment every two weeks or, for $20, you can purchase a Season 2 subscription pass to not only listen to all the episodes, but also access the scripts as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material.

There are many ways to keep tabs on The Gray Area. You can do so through the main website, subscribe through iTunes, Libsyn, Podchaser, Stitcher, or Spotify.

While all of the stories can be enjoyed on their own terms, there are numerous hidden connections between all the stories for the attentive listener. Feel free to consult this episode guide for the entire series to follow the entire narrative trajectory.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter One:

Chelsea Needham was once among the foremost leaders in tech. But something happened involving a fire and a death. And it got in the papers. Rumor reared its ugly head and Chelsea lost everything she had, with only a few friends left. While recovering from alcoholism, self-destruction, and losing the love of her life, Chelsea meets an enigmatic gentleman from England and a strange fortune teller who may have the answers to how she can reclaim her identity.

(Image licensed through Getty)

Season 2 of The Gray Area Has Been Released!

A lot of people have been asking me about the second season of my audio drama, The Gray Area — namely, when in tarnation is it going to be released? Well, I’m pleased to report that after two and a half years of toiling on the second season — working seven days a week, often twelve hours at a time, recording more than 300 hours of audio, writing and coordinating 120 speaking roles on nearly 1,000 pages of scripts (yup, I wrote it all!) — the premiere, “Living Creatures,” has been released as of today. It’s a cheery tale set in a Wyoming chicken diner — one inspired by Patty Hearst and Pulp Fiction — that involves animal rights, truckers, and a lot of swagger. This is the first of nineteen new episodes.

I was forced to leave Brooklyn about two weeks ago because of the pandemic and a few extenuating circumstances. (No, I’m not on the lam. But I’ll tell you the story if I run into you after the bars open up again.) So I improvised a laptop editing rig, hastily copying the contents of my many drives onto a 10 TB external hard drive. In some cases, I had to recreate the wheel. My original plan of going out into a crowded New York City and recording numerous location tones for authenticity was kiboshed by Corona. And so, in each case where I didn’t have a location tone to work from, I painstakingly built fifty tracks from scratch, compartmentalizing every known human behavior and action that I could. I had thankfully recorded all the actors before the pandemic hit. And I, rather stubbornly and in open defiance of this evil virus, exhausted myself in the last two weeks by readjusting the release schedule so that I could deliver finished versions of the nineteen episodes. So as of today, the first one is released. And starting on April 21st, you’ll be getting a new episode for free every two weeks on Tuesdays.

It remains my firm belief that, during these rough times, new stories help everyone to stay sane and strong. There are many people out there who are struggling right now, and I really wanted to make sure that you could have a new episode every other Tuesday — at an uninterrupted schedule — for free.

Now while all of these stories can be enjoyed independently, there are many connections to Season 1. This is a program that rewards careful listening. And by the end of the second season, you will see how all of these many story strands are related to each other! But you can also experience these sonic tales as enjoyable yarns. We have a number of very fun and wildly ambitious tales lined up — including a space opera set a few decades from now and an epic seven-part love story set in two parallel universes that takes place from 1994 to 2023. We’re even going back in time to 1912 later in the season! This season has a bit of everything! Demons, demon hunters, eccentric engineers named after screwball comedy film directors, love stories, doubles and Doppelgängers, revolutionaries arguing about breakfast, dragons, a touch of film noir, time travel, absent-minded professors, fierce librarians, technological intrigue, AI, laser battles, a mysteriously exuberant figure known only as the Receptionist who is fond of hot dogs and Tony Danza, a wild interdimensional beast named Chester, and a great deal more! We’ve even composed and performed just under a dozen original songs.

I am also initiating an experiment. For Season 2, we’ve introduced a Season 2 pass that — for one flat fee of $20 — will give you instant access to all episodes ahead of release (as I finish them), as well as the scripts, and a special behind-the-scenes podcast called Inside the Gray Area featuring commentary and interviews with the actors. The first batch of five episodes (along with the supplemental material) is now available at the premium site. We’ll be releasing a second batch of eight Season 2 Pass episodes around June, followed by a third and final six episode batch sometime in August. But don’t worry! Your season pass will be good for the entire duration of these three release phases. And all nineteen episodes will still be released on the free feed from now through December 15, 2020. To give you a sample of what you get with the Season 2 pass, I’ve also released the first episode of Inside the Gray Area on the free feed with “Living Creatures.” A Season 2 pass not only gives you a lot of extra goodies (similar to DVD special features). But it will also help to support independent audio drama. We have a four season story plan in place. We pay all our actors. And we want to make sure that we can keep on producing this wildly unique and highly ambitious audio drama.

If you are a member of the media interested in advance review copies or anything else, please feel free to get in touch with me.

So that’s where we’re at. Art in the time of Corona. Let the record show that I didn’t let a pandemic stop me from seeing this highly complicated project through. I hope you enjoy it.

Tips and Tricks for Audio Drama Editing

For the past eight months, I have been editing the second season of my audio drama, The Gray Area. It’s quite a daunting endeavor: a slate of episodes that will encapsulate the length of two average seasons of audio drama. Alas, there was no other way to tell the story. I anticipate a release date of the spring of this year, although there is still much work I need to do.

During this latest postproduction round, I have learned a great deal about sound, rhythm, mixing, leveling, inventiveness, plugins, and some basic pragmatic moves that have allowed me to improve as an editor. However, like everyone, I am still learning. Since there isn’t a lot of online material out there on how to edit audio drama, I have been gradually assembling a series of quick Instagram videos to help out producers who may be new to making audio drama. I’m sure that, had such a resource existed before I figured much of this out on my own, it would have saved me an incredible amount of time. It seems only right to pay it forward. So without further ado, here are some tips and tricks that may help you out as you tell your sonic stories! Unless otherwise noted, the software I am using for these videos is Reaper, an inexpensive DAW that never crashes and contains incredible power and that I swear undying allegiance to, and iZotope RX, a costly but essential tool I use for cleaning up dialogue and removing unanticipated noise. (This article serves as a production-centered companion piece to my essay “How to Write Audio Drama.”)

1. How to Make a Homegrown Sound Effect:

For those who cannot afford expensive sound effects libraries or who cannot find the right sound within the vast depository of Free Sound, consider the enormous sonic riches you may find in the world around you. A sound in a high frequency might produce something new and unanticipated in a lower register, and vice versa. Some of the most original sounds that I have discovered and used in The Gray Area are surprisingly commonplace. Much of my homegrown sound design comes from being inspired by wildly creative people who have approached the process of searching for the new in a similar manner. My feeling is that, if something very weird sounds vaguely familiar, an exotic sound will likely land better with an audience. It’s worth remembering that the TARDIS dematerialization effect in Doctor Who, still used after more than fifty years, is essentially a slowed down version of scraping the insides of a piano and that the Smoke Monster in Lost is, in part, composed of the credit card machines that were ubiquitous in Manhattan taxis around 2010 (and that, on a separate note, proved very tricky to track down for an upcoming story set in 2011; alas, we do what we can for historical authenticity!). The above video shows how I used a percussive instrument given to me on my birthday for an ethereal effect that I layered in a scene set inside a cosmic realm. (I also recommend Jonathan Mitchell’s excellent article on sound design, in which he breaks down how he put together sounds for a particular scene. Mitchell’s audio drama, The Truth, continues to remain a great inspiration point for me. He’s really one of the best sound design practitioners out there.)

For my audio drama adaptation of The Yellow Wallpaper, I took a commonplace sound of a tray being dropped in front of a Shure KSM32 — a large diaphragm mic used by Ira Glass that offers a warm and bright sound similar to a Neumann U87, but that is not $3,000 — and double tracked it. For the second track, I adjusted the speed. And the result was an ethereal clang that represented The Woman’s psychological schism. Don’t be afraid to mess around with different microphones and double tracking. Some audio drama producers swear by flat sounds that they can manipulate through postproduction tools. But I’m more fond of using the best microphone I have in my arsenal to get a particular tone (cold, warm, high, low) that I can accentuate in postproduction.

2. You Can Deviate from Your Script a Bit

If you want to get an audience to buy into your stories, it’s essential that you have your characters speaking in the most natural rhythm possible — even when you have stylized characters. Some of the time — even when you record the stories — the rhythm won’t always announce itself. But you will find it in the editing. In the above video, I demonstrate how lightly rearranging a line in the middle of a big dialogue chunk not only improved the flow of the scene, but allowed the reactions of the characters to be more natural.

3. Take Advantage of Free Plugins

One thing that people may not realize about iZotope, the remarkable company that puts out RX, is that the company also offers two free VST plugins that you can use for your DAW. (A VST plugin, if you don’t know what this is, is an add-on that Reaper can use for an effect. Here is a simple guide on how to add them in Reaper.) The two plugins in question — both of which I have experimented with — are Vinyl, which allows you to add a scratchy effect so that you can create the sonic aesthetic of an old recording, and Vocal Doubler, which allows a very subtle double tracking effect that proved useful for a scene in which I needed to have a character calling from an ethereal space.

Another free VST plugin that I discovered was Proximity by Tokyo Dawn Labs. There were some instances during editing in which simply leveling down and EQing a character so that the voice came across as quite distant did not sound right to my ears. In some cases, Proximity did a better and quicker job to shift a sound so that it matched what I wanted to hear inside my head.

You can also use Reaper’s built-in plugin ReaEQ to add distance, as demonstrated in the above video.

4. Using EQ to Match Dialogue

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Tutorial: How to use EQ to match dialogue. Mastering is very important. This was a case where one actor was a little too trebly and didn't quite match the other actor. I needed the character to sound warm and bright and friendly. The character is a quiet healer. So it was vital to get this tone right. But the mic I used went a little above and beyond! (Hey, it happens. Sometimes mics are TOO good! Ha!) So on her track I bumped up the low frequencies, raised the mids, and stepped down the highs so that the two actors would match in this very important scene. When I do another pass on this, I will do more EQ tweaking on both actors and add more custom room tone to mask this so that it sounds very real. #mastering #eq #dialogue #matching #editing #postproduction #atmosphere #environment #engineering #audiodrama #tone

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Even in the early stages of assembly, you do need to be mindful about matching tracks that were recorded in different sessions so that it sounds as if the characters are in the same room. Getting the dialogue rhythm right is one method of doing this. But to fully sell the illusion, mastering is key. It is one part of postproduction that is often not discussed, if it is even practiced at all, among audio drama producers. In the above video, I had an actor who sounded a little too trebly. So I adjusted the EQ settings by bumping down the high frequencies, stepping up the lows, and raising the mids. I still have more fine tuning to do for this scene as of this writing, but at least I have a solid baseline to build from when I return to the story on the next pass. One resource that proved incredibly useful in learning how to master was Ian Shepherd’s excellent podcast The Mastering Show. Shepherd has spent many years fighting against the Loudness Wars, a regrettable trend in music whereby producers in the early 21st century attempted to mix the loudest possible tracks. The result was muddled compression. Because all sound contains a maximum threshold. Audio drama is a uniquely intimate form. EQ and proper mastering will help you tremendously so that you don’t make the same mistake as these music producers.

5. How to Use RX to Repair Clipping

Clipping often happens when an actor delivers a fantastic performance, but is slightly blown out in the final recording. Sometimes, you have a situation in which the actor’s best performance is the one that is slightly clipped. Enter RX 7, which comes with a De-Clip module that will automatically adjust a slightly hot take. The above video shows RX’s power. With more audio drama being produced now than ever before, you want to make sure that your final product sounds as professional as possible. There is also a method of repairing clipping in Audacity, which I have also used. But while somewhat effective, I find that Audacity doesn’t hold a candle to RX. Even so, your job is to use the tools that you can find or that are within your budget. And there are many tools out there! For audio drama producers who are just starting out, Audacity — which still comes in very handy for me in certain editing situations — remains a solid place to start from.

6. Splitting Dialogue in Reaper

I recorded more than 300 hours of audio over a period of eighteen months for the second season. Before I could even begin to put together my rough cuts, I needed to split and organize all this dialogue so that I could manage these complicated logistics. It took four months of seven day workweeks for me to get to this place. But it would have taken me much longer if I didn’t have Reaper.

Now there is a way to split audio in Adobe Audition — one that I have documented here — by adding markers to long files, merging the two points, and then exporting these files into a directory. However, I found that Reaper was a lot faster in splitting files, as I show in the above video. By splitting your long files into smaller items and then selecting them, you can use Reaper’s “Batch/File Item Converter” (found in the File dropdown menu) to add your selected files and then export them to the directory you want. Reaper allows numerous wildcards that allow you to title these newly split files in whatever manner is best for you.

I wish I would have known about this Reaper feature when I put together the first season. Because postproduction would have shuttled along much faster. But at least I discovered this hack in the second season. This has greatly sped up my workflow.

7. How to Remove Light Reverb with RX

Reverb is one of the most difficult qualities to remove from audio. Even if you aggressively filter it, you’re still going to be left with a flat, artifact-laden sound. I record with my actors in a large room in my apartment. I do this because I want to give my actors the freedom to move and gesticulate. Because this, to my mind, is essential to performance. Recording in a closet or a sound booth often hinders their ability to make interesting choices. And I am also performing with my actors when I direct them so that they have something real to react to. My own personal preference is to prioritize performance over technical restrition. However, the tradeoff of my production decision means that I sometimes have a few takes where there is light reverb. The extra space results in bouncing sound waves. And this, of course, is something that may not match across tracks.

Enter RX’s very useful Dialogue De-Reverb module, which has saved my bacon on more than one occasion. RX also comes with a very useful Dialogue Isolate feature, which is incredibly helpful in removing modest background noise. (Your goal in postproduction is to “rebuild” an audio environment. I do this by cleaning the sounds and then recording various location tones throughout New York City for a sound bed. And then I act out the characters’ physical actions as I listen to the actors perform through my headphones and use this as the starting point for my sound design.) But Dialogue Isolate doesn’t always cut it for light reverb situations. Dialogue De-Reverb does, however, and the above video demonstrates how you can do it.

A Statement Concerning Recent Allegations

Whenever I need to identify some quality inside myself, I ask multiple people about it until one person confirms the truth.

Here’s a benign example: Over the last two years, I regularly attended a karaoke bar, coming in each week and singing anywhere from six to a dozen tunes. People kept complimenting me on my singing. I was showered with free shots and often given four song slips for every drink rather than one. (I received a similar reaction by a hilarious KJ in Brooklyn who refers to me as “my man E” during his hip-hop karaoke nights.) I didn’t believe it. I thought they were just being nice. It was only after about one hundred people offered me fulsome praise that I started to think, “Well, maybe there’s something to this.” And that’s when I bought a guitar last August, picking up the instrument after ten years of not owning one, and I started writing a few dozen songs. I put up rough versions of these ditties onto Instagram and people really liked them.

A far less pleasant example of this happened over the last week. My audio drama, The Gray Area, won a Parsec Award. This was an incredible honor. I worked hard for years to make something positive and beautiful and meaningful. I designed the series to run over the course of four seasons and, to the best of my ability, explore moral questions that argued for kindness and empathy and compassion towards other people.

But someone led a campaign that accused me of being a sex offender (false, he found another man who shared my name, but not my middle name) and of committing “extremely disturbing behavior” (a charge that I was genuinely baffled by, unless it referred to a 2014 incident involving a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt, in which I have already fully acknowledged my wrongdoing and debunked many false claims, issued many apologies for, and done my best to atone for). Dozens of people aware of the 2014 incident wrote in my defense. The Parsec Committee looked into it. They upheld the award.

This ruling greatly upset the audio drama community. I was then accused of “victimization” and “threats” and “harassment.” Even though I have never possessed any intention of threatening or harassing or victimizing anyone and the messages in question involved the expression of hurt feelings, and even though many people got the details and even the tone and language of these messages incredibly wrong, the upshot is that the community decided that I was an irredeemable creep.

But as I said, whenever I need to identify some quality inside myself, I ask multiple people about it until one person confirms the truth.

So I sent copies of the messages to numerous people. I own up to every mistake I have ever made in my life. While everybody else stated that I was not in the wrong, one good friend who always tells me the truth said that there was “some ugly stuff.” And upon further reflection, I have to agree with him. I have a problem.

I can tell you for a fact that I texted “You are pure evil” to a producer who I had busted my hump for, but who nevertheless blocked me and dropped me from a role (effectively “erasing” me in the manner of Kevin Spacey, thus comparing me with a serial sex offender when I have never committed or even contemplated an act of sexual misconduct in my life) and condemned me without notice while I was completely drunk and feeling suicidal over what people were claiming about me on the evening of Tuesday, December 18th (and I barely even remember sending the text, much less the Lyft ride home (the email receipt was a surprise to me), but I do recall the good friend who was incredibly kind to talk with me at a very late hour to make sure that I was okay). Is that context even important? Probably not. The action is execrable.

I hereby apologize with total candor and full humility to that producer for four words that decimated everything. I am ashamed of what I texted and ask for forgiveness.

Now here’s the part where the situation gets thorny.

Okay, so I couldn’t help but notice that you favorite every #ADS mention of your show except mine. You (and others) seem to be practicing the Wittgenstein line about remaining silent “about what one can not speak.” I get it. And hey, that’s totally your prerogative! Just so you know, I’m not really interested in being negative. We follow each other. Who knows? Maybe we even listen to each other. (I’m currently current on [NAME OF SHOW REDACTED].) The way I see it, we have two choices. We either carry on in this shaky and uncertain manner, possibly feeling bits of doubt or meh or ugh about each other (which I really don’t want to do), or we get to know each other, finding hope, humanism, and possibility, asking each other questions and clearing things up, operating on a more positive footing. Personally I much prefer situations in which people get along, are naturally themselves, do their own thing, forge fun collaborations, and learn from each other. It is vastly superior and far more fruitful than circumstances in which people are needlessly suspicious, skeptical, scheming, seeing the worst in each other, et al. And I’d like to think that – and this may be overly idealistic of me, but I’m nothing if not inexorably sanguine at times – the AD world is noble and big and resilient enough to work past any and all differences and disputes.

Here’s the deal. I’m probably going to be making AD for the next few years. I’m sitting on four years of scripts I plan to produce. So I’m putting it out there. What do you say to a detente? For what it is worth, what I articulate here is more or less my position with anyone in the AD world. Everyone has a past. What counts and what is ultimately more important is the present. I know there has some debate about me that never involves me. Some of the deets spill my way. And this makes no sense to me. Aren’t we adults? Wouldn’t it make sense to go straight to the source and work something out? Aren’t dialogues and mutual listening the hallmark of ALL arts and humanities? Why cast aspersions on someone without at least ATTEMPTING a good faith conversation? So I’m putting it out there. The door is open. The ball is in your (or anyone else’s) court. Thanks and peace, Ed

(BTW, I truly enjoyed the [SUBJECT REDACTED] thing from a few months back.)

This was the only private message I ever sent (through Twitter DM) to a pair of audio drama producers. When I did not hear back, I simply unfollowed them. I did not follow up, harass, or communicate with them further in any way after this message. I have reviewed my records very carefully. Yet these two producers have claimed that I harassed them. They claimed, among other falsehoods, that they had “received private messages from this individual on a wide variety of social media accounts…[that] grew increasingly angry, accusatory, and carried a feeling of instability,” when the ONLY private message I sent was the one above and the tone is not angry or accusatory at all.

It is certainly within anyone’s prerogative to not wish to communicate with me and I completely and totally honor that, but it is not any person’s right to invent false allegations that other people take seriously –- especially when I have not been informed in any way of how I was coming across or what part of the benignly intended message constitutes “harassment.”

Another figure in the audio drama world claimed I was “victimizing” her, but a review of a March 29, 2018 Twitter thread in which this figure and I participated revealed no victimization whatsoever and, in actuality, a cordial consideration of her viewpoint. She “came forward” and I’m sorry she feels this way, but she didn’t produce any tangible evidence of wrongdoing on my part that I am aware of. And people believed her, including the host of an audio drama showcase podcast and a noted playwright who also writes for the ear, even though I have never spoken with her or met her and our communications were exclusively written and thus unquestionably upheld by concrete evidence that was neither produced to me nor given the specific “victimizing” context.

Some producers claim to have “seen screenshots,” but these have never been revealed to the public. My polite requests to see these screenshots for myself — (a) to corroborate that I said what they believe I said and (b) to determine how people could form these takeaways and address any perceived transgressions with atonement and contrition — have been repeatedly refused. I don’t even know if these screenshots actually exist. As I told one producer who, upon hearing all these stories, asked me to stop my Patreon contribution (I swiftly honored his request), “By your standards, we should imprison any random person walking within three blocks of a crime scene for murder.”

I have never attended a podcast conference in my life (only a barbeque party involving several audio drama producers in which I drove up with three homemade salads and in which I cheerfully cooked breakfast for everybody the next morning and a live performance at a Pittsburgh crime convention that I drove 100 mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to make on time after getting tied up in traffic), yet I have been accused of “threats of physical violence at podcast conferences [plural], stalking and intimidation of creators AND their families,” and so forth. This simply did not happen. The only thing I can think of that comes anywhere close to anything along these lines was when, at the barbeque, another producer and I staged a mock argument for the camera and I was photographed waving my hands as the other producer reacted with theatrical shock as many people surrounding us were clearly laughing. Did someone interpret this fabricated photo as me threatening other people? I don’t know. But this did not happen.

I am happy to issue any apology and ask for forgiveness to anyone who has ever felt wronged by me. But I cannot do so when the events or the actions haven’t happened. Is that so unreasonable?

Moreover, because I have done something terrible in the past, which again I have fully acknowledged and atoned for, I am held to an impossible existential standard where any mistake I make in the present deserves neither pardon nor understanding. And, hey, I’m going to make mistakes. There isn’t a single human being on this planet who is perfect. But I’m telling you that all I can do is try to be the best man I can.

This is not a case where I am Kevin Hart, who upon accepting the Oscar hosting gig, whipped up a justifiable frenzy for arrogantly refusing to apologize for his homophobic tweets in the past. I have apologized for my past and I will apologize again and again and again to anyone who needs to hear it. As long as it takes. What I did in 2014 was disgraceful. I am trying my best to curb any remotely similar tendency.

Here is what I have done to address the present state of affairs:

I have formally written to the Parsec Committee to reject my award for the greater good. I have deactivated the social media accounts that continue to land me in trouble and am unlikely to return.

Additionally, since the trouble I get into usually arises from feeling and expressing deep hurt, beginning today, I will refuse to correspond with anyone who demeans or debases me in any way. This need to defend myself and respond with everything I’m feeling in my heart, which works a lot better when it’s put into a story or an essay, has scared the bejesus out of people when it’s personally directed – so much so that months and even years of unimpeachable good will and kindness are erased by a mere sentence. My feelings don’t matter. That has been made clear enough. But as of now, if you’re corresponding with me and you haven’t heard from me for some reason, I’m not taking the bait. You’re going to have to be the one to follow up and figure it out. I’m tired of letting the hurt that others casually eke out to me, all this while feigning innocence, and my stupid responses to it overwhelm the considerable good that I do and I cannot have my relationships with others become grossly distorted and tarnished due to this unflappable tendency to respond to everything. I accept that some people are mean and some people will always despise me. There is nothing I can do about this, except choose not to react. It’s a waste of time and energy trying to get through to people who have already made up their minds. If they want to feel that way, it’s perfectly within their rights. This is something I should have started doing years ago. Because I never would have landed into so much trouble. But, hey, better late than never.

The fate of my life and the second season of The Gray Area, which I spent more than a good year working on and for which I had recorded about 70% of the dialogue for, is now incredibly uncertain. I would very much love to complete the second season. Because it’s been a bountiful joy to work on. The actors I work with are incredibly kind and talented and I treat them all as well as I can, maintaining a fun and relaxed environment committed to creative freedom and immediate compensation, and there are stories I need to tell. But this recent business has poisoned the well. And I’m going to need some time to figure out where I go from here. I don’t know how long.

Do I deserve anything? I don’t know. What I do know right now is that a number of people believe that I am deserving of hatred and humiliation and condemnation and, in one case, even death, and I have to listen to that while also looking out for my mental health and wellbeing.

The one thing I do want to do right now is to state unequivocally that, if you feel I have wronged you in any way and it is based on something I have actually done or said, please let me know right now and I will immediately and forthrightly apologize. You can contact me by email. If you’re not too crazy, I’ll even do it by phone.

Please let me know how I can do right. I’m asking for your help. I’m listening very carefully right now and I’m open to any guidance or suggestions.

Please understand that I am truly trying to be as honest, as fair, as open, as sensitive, and as graceful as I can here. And I also realize that there are some people out there who I will never please or satisfy. If you feel that this statement is woefully insufficient, well, I did the best I could to genuinely own up to every perceived transgression I have ever committed and I further apologize if you feel that nothing I have said here is enough. On the other hand, if you really want to believe the worst about me, then maybe you’re not my audience. So why are you here and why do you even care? You always have the choice to ignore me and live in peace.

5. Compassion Fatigue (The Gray Area)

Emma is a top-notch psychiatrist who can change the lives of the most difficult patients imaginable. But there’s a great personal cost to her formidable talents that she’s not telling anyone about, an internal torment eating away at her inner life that she’s hiding from her patients and her professional peers and that a quiet survivor of an abusive relationship may just have the answer for. (Running time: 25 minutes)

(This story contains intense and emotionally disturbing scenes that may unsettle some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Emma: Colette Thomas
Jenna: Devony DiMattia
Jack: Jack Womack
Gordon: Michael Saldate
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Subway Preacher: Albert Hastler

Music by Thomas Ragsdale
Houston Person, “As Time Goes By” (courtesy of Free Music Archive, CC)
Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion and nofeedbak (CC).
Subway Sounds Recorded on Location in Brooklyn, New York

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Argyria Kehagias, Pete Lutz, Lauren Nelson, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Marc Anthony Stein, That Podcast Girl, Tim Torre, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode. I would also like to thank the psychiatrists and compassion fatigue experts who I spoke with on conditions of anonymity for their considerable assistance with this story.

Thanks for listening!

3. Fuel to the Fire (The Gray Area)

An artisanal mustard retailer from Astoria finds herself in a strange realm with the ability to set things on fire. Meanwhile, Ed Champion continues his investigation into Miss Gaskell’s disappearance, meeting a woman in mourning who may hold the answer to his own strange curse. (Running time: 19 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Maya: Noelle Lake
Fire: Samantha Cooper
The Knight in Several Universes: Austin Beach
The Disgraced Villager: Pete Lutz
The Vengeful Field Hand: Sarah Golding
Villagers: John Xavier Miller III, Michael Charles Foote, Hans Detle Sierck, Tao Yang, Jim Kampfil, Tim Torre, and Kilgore Lehrer
Ed Champion/Johnny: Edward Champion

Edited by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion, the_toilet_guy (CC), Snapper4298 (CC), CGEffex (CC), soundmary (CC), Dynamicell (CC), Huggy13ear ()CC), YleArkisto (CC)

Music: “The Long March Home” by Tim Juliano (licensed through NeoSounds) and “Local Forecast – Elevator Music” by Kevin MacLeod (CC.)

Art: Kyle Nishloka (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Richard Brooks, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Jen Elyse Feldman, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Scott Phillips, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Fiona Thraille, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Please be sure to also listen to LucyD Podcast, a new supernatural audio drama, and Rick Coste’s The Fiona Potts Interview if you enjoy audio dramas about interdimensional portals.

2. Brand Awareness (The Gray Area)

Joanna loves Eclipse Ale. It’s the best beer in the world. She has boxes of Eclipse memorabilia. She regularly wears Eclipse baseball caps. But on one rainy night, Joanna discovers that this happy relationship (along with the relationship with her boyfriend) is not what it seems. Why can’t she remember what her boyfriend gave her on their second anniversary? And why doesn’t anybody know about Eclipse Ale? (Running time: 28 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Joanna: Eileen Hanley
Greg: Charlie Harrington
DJ: Peter Coleman
Sam: Marc Eliot Stein
Ignacio: Kilgore Lehrer
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Leslie Stevens: Lauren Shippen
Bar Background: Hans Detlef Sierck, Jan Jensen, Sam Lowry

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley Sources: Edward Champion, PlooQ (CC), lebcraftlp (CC), Sandermotions (CC), Leandros Ntounis (CC), LG (CC), magnus589 ()CC), GowlerMusic (CC)

Theme Song: Pachyderm, “Never Knew Me at All” (licensed through CC, found at Free Music Archive)

Music: Milton Arias, “Gracias,” Valery & The Greedies, “She-Wolf,” Jahzaar, “Scenes from the Zoo,” Ben Sound, and Kevin MacLeod, “Carpe Diem,” Ben Sound, “Funky Element” (all licensed through CC, found at Free Music Archive, Ben Sound, and Incompetech)

Art: Claudio Sepúlveda Geoffroy (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Kate C., Christian Caminiti, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jon Grilz, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, Philip Merritt, Pacific Obadiah, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Raia Savage, Alex Schawrtzberg, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Please be sure to also listen to Philip Merritt’s Lost in Williamsburg, which gave me a major editing idea that completely altered the bar scene, Jon Grilz’s Creepy, and Pacific Obadiah’s Lake Clarity.

1.5. Dissociation (The Gray Area)

Greg Sutton, a fidgety young man who is a little too fixated on selling himself, sees his psychiatrist for the first time in months, hoping to find answers about his lost childhood and how to get back the woman he loves. But his own quick fix solution to his problems is not quite what the psychiatrist had in mind. (Running time: 5 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:
Greg: Charlie Harrington
Emma: Colette Thomas

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley: Edward Champion
Art: id-iom (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Claudia Berenice Garza, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Paul Sating, Marc Stein, Georgette Thompson, Jack Ward, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

1. Hello (The Gray Area)

A man wakes up in his apartment with a hazy memory of the night before. He’s greeted in bed by a mysterious woman who keeps saying, “Hello.” But she seems to know far more about his life than he ever could have told her in one night. And as the rats gnaw mercilessly from within the walls, she has a few bold and shocking answers as to why he’s so afraid. (Running time: 22 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:
He: Tim Torre
She: Emily Carding
Gordon: Michael Saldate

Edited by Edward Champion
The Gray Area Theme by Alex Khaskin (licensed through NeoSounds)
Foley Sources: Edward Champion and erpe (CC license, slight changes).
Cover Image: Jason Lander (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Pete Lutz, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Paul Sating, Marc Stein, Georgette Thompson, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this emotionally revealing episode.

0. Prologue (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell, an underappreciated 66-year-old cult writer forced into a rest home, contends with mysterious voices summoned from her typewriter and an obscure literary interviewer named Ed Champion. (9 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:
Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Orderly: Zachary Michael
Demon #1: Greta Christie
Demon #2: Pete Lutz

Edited by Edward Champion
Foley Sources: Edward Champion, Superex1110 (CC license, slight changes), and nothayama (CC license, slight changes).

Special thanks to Jonathan Ames, Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Erin Bennett, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Emily Carding, Robert Cudmore, Devony DiMattia, Chris Fletcher, Claudia Berenice Garza, Sarah Golding, Daniel Handler, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Fred Kiesche, Matthew MacLean, John Osborne, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Paul Sating, Gary Shteyngart, Darin Strauss, Marc Stein, Scarlett Thomas, Georgette Thompson, Tim Torre, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode.

Introducing The Gray Area

Since 2007, I have dreamed of making a radio drama. While I spent more than a decade of my life making radio and podcasts, I didn’t know how to approach its fictional equivalent. But last year, I began discovering that a number of incredibly talented audio drama producers were actively at work rethinking the medium for the podcasting age (and offering plentiful innovations). And I began listening. The work of people like Return Home‘s Jeff Heimbuch (who recently celebrated the one year anniversary of his fun and often hilarious audio drama), The Bright Sessions‘s Lauren Shippen (who I interviewed here), Small Town Horror‘s Jon Grilz (who I interviewed for the Audio Drama Production Podcast) — to say nothing of the incredible kindness of formidably skilled people like Pete Lutz, Steve Schneider, Jack Ward, Lauren Nelson, Paul Sating, Todd Faulkner, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Fred Greenhalgh, the entire gang over at the Audio Drama Production Podcast (Fiona, Sarah, Robert, and Matthew are all radio treasures), and really far too many people to list — emboldened me to take a huge plunge.

It started when I was asked to write a script. I was in contact with two affable Scotsmen named Matthew MacLean and Robert Cudmore. These two gents, who I cannot express enough gratitude to, were putting together a fantasy series. I wrote a wild story in about two weeks, had more fun writing this script than I had any right to, and became hooked with the form. While the story itself was never produced (although a version of this script has since folded into my project), I’m terribly grateful to Matthew and Robert for leading me down this road, which has quite literally changed my life for the better. Matthew and Robert, simply by taking a chance on an eccentric Brooklynite, inspired me to go deeper than I ever had before. In late December 2015, I started writing more scripts with the idea that I could perhaps come up with enough stories for an anthology series. What I did not anticipate was such a colossal outpouring of pages over the course of four months that I ended up writing four seasons of material. It was almost as if these stories were caged within me. More important than this prolificity, however, was finally stifling that too clever bastard inside me who had gotten me into so much trouble over the years and writing from a very emotional place, something that I was starting to do in my essays. I finally got in touch of the man I truly was and dared myself to reveal aspects of myself that I had never had the courage to do before. I tapped into parts of me that I had feared. I went into areas that I had never written about before. I often cried as I spilled my heart into these stories. But I would also laugh uproariously. And I started to become calmer and more positive.

I’ve spent the last fourteen months working on what may be the most ambitious creative project I’ve ever attempted. There are close to two hundred characters and some of them are recurring. While each story can be listened to on its own terms, the careful listener will start to detect patterns that emerge over the course of the series. Someone who may appear in a minor role may become a major character later. There are huge storylines. There is fun genre. There are moral questions. I’ve stuck with the hard rule of never having a story exceed thirty minutes in length. The tone is both real and strange and I have absolutely no way of categorizing this. It is basically all genre. (Here is a list of inspiration points that I am aware of, but I am certain there are many more than I’m not coginzant about.) Because I didn’t want to pull a Damon Lindelof, there is a carefully planned ending. The hope is to produce all four seasons, rewriting and honing the drafts as I go. There’s been an improvisational feel that has cropped up in recording the actors and in editing that I’ve deliberately cultivated. I’ve been blessed to work with a calvacade of tremendously accomplished actors, most of them in New York but quite a few from far flung corners of the globe. I’m almost finished editing the first season, which I hope to premiere sometime next month.

The show is called The Gray Area. There is a Twitter account and a Facebook page. There is also a Libsyn page.

And I now have a 90 second trailer for the first season, which you can listen to below.

I want to again thank the many beta listeners and supportive people who believed in me and my project, especially the ones who knew what I really had in me (and didn’t know).

Audio Drama Sunday: The Grayscale, A Conversation with Andrew Kaberline

Andrew Kaberline is one of the many affable figures behind the tremendously fun podcast, The Grayscale, a Twilight Zone-style anthology that captured my ears with an amusing over-the-top presenter sounding an awful lot like someone wanting to be Rod Serling known only as The Voice Inside Your Head (played by Nate Betancourt). I started from the beginning and listened to all of the episodes.

macomberAnd then I heard “Jess Dempsey, First Woman on Mars,” a gripping and must listen tale written and directed by Kaberline that involves a woman living on the fourth planet in complete solitude who hears voices. It was this story, with an ace performance from Kristin Macomber and a devastating twist ending, that broke the back of The Grayscale‘s formula and turned me into a regular listener. The Grayscale, which is now in its second season, has won five Audio Verse Awards — largely for “Jess Dempsey.” I contacted Kaberline and he was tremendously gracious to become part of what is now apparently a regular Audio Drama Sunday interview series. (We’ll have another interview next Sunday.)

Many audio dramas seem to spring from enthusiastic genre geeks and sound engineers. But The Grayscale is somewhat unusual because it emerged from a nonprofit theatre called Critical Point that decided to experiment with a podcasting arm a few years ago. And while the show is clearly influenced by The Twilight Zone, there is something instructive in the way that Kaberline and company’s close copy of its source text resulted in something that was quite distinct. It’s not unlike the “missing tapes” genre that I discussed with The Bright Sessions‘s Lauren Shippen, whereby an audio drama takes on the form of a police procedural with a Serial-like approach. A radio producer or someone with a box of tapes often stands in for the detective and, instead of a crime, the investigation is directed towards something of a strange and supernatural nature.

While audio drama’s riffs on the “missing tapes” idea have spawned many magnificent programs (Archive 81 is a particular standout), The Grayscale demonstrates that radio doesn’t always have to tug at the same source to create something original and enthralling. Rather than mimic the most popular podcast of all time, why not try from a celebrated TV series, an obscure Swedish film, or a well-loved book? As I learned in talking with Kaberline, the form and creative logistics of audio drama result in inevitable transmutations during the production process. That may very well be why The Grayscale is such a wonderful program and why audio drama has a very ripe future.

You can check out The Grayscale here. You can subscribe to The Grayscale‘s iTunes feed here.

EDWARD CHAMPION: As someone who watched many Memorial Day marathons of The Twilight Zone growing up, and who has held that series very close to his heart ever since, I was perhaps constitutionally incapable of not appreciating your own riff on the anthology format. You, good sir, have been quite candid about the influence! Not only do you include a “Companion Guide” pointing to the specific TZ episodes that informed The Grayscale, but you have also written an essay called “How I Justify Stealing,” in which you copped to stealing an idea from a production of Chekhov’s The Vagabond to find an ending for A List of Irrational Fears for Future Leaders of the World. Speaking as someone who once made a Super 8mm film of a woman trapped in a room filled with newspaper attempting to subsume her (which was a riff on a moment in Terry Glliam’s Brazil, in which Tuttle gets absorbed by newspaper), I’m no stranger to this conundrum myself. On one hand, your goal as an artist is to find your voice. On another hand, you need something to start from. I’d say that Season 2 does represent something a bit more “original,” departing from the overt Twilight Zone lifting into a more natural expression. What steps did you take between the seasons to get to this point? Or was the act of producing audio drama and putting several episodes behind you enough to get you to this place?

tuttlenewspaperANDREW KABERLINE: Firstly, I’m so happy that you mentioned that Tuttle scene in Brazil. I have said to my fellow ensemble members that if we get to do Fears again with a bigger budget, that we’re going to try to steal that moment for the ending this time!

As far as dropping bits of our Twilight Zone “tributing,” I would say that it was a natural progression, in that we never said, “Okay, this year, no references,” but it certainly has gone that way.

I do think getting more comfortable as podcast producers is the reason for that change. As a team we have got sharper at scheduling and recording with efficiency, and we gathered most of the scripts for this season before we ever premiered Season 2, which has let me avoid those situations where you go, “Oh crap, we need an episode next month. Which Twilight Zone premise can I riff on?”

The main team for The Grayscale (myself, showrunner Dylan Amick, and master sound engineer/editor/the voice inside the credits, Chelsea Rugg) did have a long talk about what was going to be different this season. We wanted it to feel like a step forward. We wanted to get different voices (you’ll notice Dylan and I have only penned one episode each so far). We wanted to explore new themes. We wanted to create a larger universe (as kicked off in our Twitter Fiction Story, which will really take shape in the second half of this season. Even the theme song was different! We built a nice little audience after Season One, and from the opening seconds of season 2 we wanted the listeners to instantly go, “Well, this is new.”

CHAMPION: Your talk of showrunners and engineers leads me to point out that The Grayscale is a bit different from other audio dramas, in that it emerged from Critical Point Theatre. I don’t know of any other theatre that is doing quite what you’re doing and, indeed, I wasn’t aware that you were producing any other podcasts until your “State of the Podcasts” address cropped up on the feed. I had initially anticipated some satirical spinoff story, with The Voice Inside Your Head announcing a podcastocratic government, only to be quite pleasantly astonished at your bona-fide commitment! Why did your theatre company feel that audio drama was the best step forward? Has it had any impact on your theatrical productions? And let me get this straight: you were writing, producing, and editing each show one at a time rather than getting the scripts for a season ready in advance? My goodness! You folks are troopers! How did you manage that insane production process? Were there scripts written in one or two nights when you knew you needed an episode? Also, since you have a new musical theme, how did music gradually encroach its way into what seems to me a pretty arduous on-the-job training process during the first season?

voiceinsideKABERLNE: Tiny spoiler, you will be seeing The Voice Inside Your Head getting into hot water with a strange government later this season!

I’m actually kind of shocked that more theatre companies aren’t taking this same approach. All of our work is original and we create our stage productions through weekly rehearsals and a laboratory process. It leads to great work, but the one downside is that it takes a lot of time. We were worried about staying active while slowly building this content, so the emergence of a podcast wing allows us to put out work more frequently and in different disciplines.

Audio storytelling has worked its way into our theatrical storytelling too. The show that we are working on now, Phreaking, is a sort of psychological hacker melodrama, that explores the state of masculinity on the Internet, and has a forum theatre element to it, so the audience is in control. We’re creating an expanded universe for the characters in the play, that will include some blogs, videos, and even a spin-off podcast limited series. Who knows? You might even see one of the characters in the play end up being judged by The Grayscale. Time will tell. But we are having fun using our audio skills to open up our plays past the edge of the stage.

And yes, for a little while we were doing Grayscale episodes one at time, meaning that we only were a month ahead with our ideas. But it wasn’t as bad as that sentence just made it sound (except for Chelsea; rule number one of audio storytelling: don’t abuse your editors). Critical Point kinda jumped into the podcast game before we were as capable as we are now. With just one show it takes a few months to get your groove and really find the best way to do that show, but we launched five shows simultaneously. It was too much to handle, and not every show survived.

pizzameetingThe Grayscale idea was thought up by myself and Matthew Schott during an infamous “pizza meeting,” where we created what the feeling of the show would be, and worked through five or six ideas for episodes. So while we were flying by the seat of our pants there at the beginning, we had those ideas in our back pocket at least. Four of those pizza episodes ended up running in Season One, including “Jess Dempsey.”

But yes, there was a lot of quick writing for a while. When it comes to the Rod Serling half hour formula, I’m a very speedy writer. When I’m writing full length plays… not so much.

As an ensemble we cover a lot of skills. Music composition is not one of them. We started with a theme by Sammy Pisano that I like very much. We were lucky to find Sammy through a co-worker of Chelsea’s, and he was on board very quickly. We started asking him to score the episodes themselves with that quick turnaround, and I don’t think we realized that was impossible and, quite frankly, kind of rude to ask of someone. We had to tell the stories with less music and more silence out of necessity, but I think we really prefer it now. Silence is dramatic over the radio. You’re only using one sense listening to our show and we’re taking it away. It inherently makes you feel like something is going wrong, which is great, because usually things are going wrong for our characters!

chelsearuggWe got better at sound design too. We’re so lucky to have Chelsea Rugg. She holds the show together and is an expert at finding and making soundscapes and effects from various free and paid sound subscriptions that we have. It’s also forced Dylan and I as the primary writers to be more specific when we write sounds into the margins, and it’s only made our world of the show more specific. We learned quick. The best example of this is in “Jess Dempsey.” Chelsea had learned how to add mass and direction to something while it moved, and it allowed me to then write that effect into a major plot line. Throwing on the headphones and hearing the monster circle Jess Dempsey’s compound is still my favorite moment of the show.

We do have a new theme for the show by Isaac Aaron Jones, a friend of Dylan’s, that I love as well. We were going to do different things this season and felt a new theme was appropriate. We will likely do the same each season hereon out. My advice to audio drama makers out there is that if you don’t have the skill yourself to write music, start making friends with anyone and everyone who does.

CHAMPION: I’m keen to know more about your sound design. My feeling is that every audio drama should try to sound as distinct as possible. Certainly The Voice Inside Your Head — somewhere between a Rod Serling knockoff and a booming grandiloquent presence who, despite his alleged omniscience, may not know as much as he thinks! — is a fun and a very distinct way to steer a listener into your program and helped to land me on board for the entire run. To what extent have you employed more foley work over preexisting sounds? And I’m glad you brought up “Jess Dempsey, First Woman on Mars.” To my mind, that was the the first episode in which The Grayscale really threw off the shackles of its Twilight Zone roots and became its own separate beast. I’m wondering if you were at a “Do or Die” moment while coming up with that script, where you asked yourself the hard question, “Okay, do I want to keep on making a Twilight Zone knockoff or do I want to make something that can stand on its own?” Perhaps one inevitably resists the wiseacres offering a “tracer” argument through constant production! Also, how did you get used to directing audio drama knowing quite well that the audience wouldn’t be able to see the actors other than within the confines of their imagination?

KABERLINE: You hit the nail on the head with TVIYH. He is not as smart and powerful as he presents himself to be. He’s like if someone who loved The Twilight Zone, like you or me, answered a personal ad looking for a spooky narrator, and then was troubled to find out it was all too real once he got the job. There are much larger strings pulling TVIYH. He’s a pretty lowly company man.

We have been hit or miss with our foley. Sometimes when we want a simple sound effect, and all of our resource sounds are trying too hard, we will just do it ourselves. These don’t stand out too much in the actual episodes, because they are sounds that are supposed to just blend anyway.

Our first episode was a monster episode, and we had this idea to have the monster noises come from the sounds our cat makes when you accidentally lock him in a room. He was known to make some terrible noises, so we tried to replicate the conditions, and turns out he didn’t want to make those noises when we wanted him to. So that kind of soured us on foley for the complex sounds. For that episode, Matthew Schott (the writer/star) actually made about 90% of the monster noises himself, without a lot of manipulation from us in editing, and that worked great!

Another technique we like to employ is taking sounds from one thing and using it to represent something else. There is a lot of this in our recent episode “Nasty Things, Anachronisms.” A character spontaneously combusts and that sound is made up of a jet turbine, a trash bag ripping, a tea kettle screaming, and a few other things.

I don’t believe that we intended for Jess Dempsey to be the defining go-to episode that it became for the series. We want all the episodes to be that way, of course, but that one was a nice surprise. When we were producing Jess, we were also doing a lot of pre-production work on the next two episodes “Penelope Loves You” and “A Jitter In The Life Of Danny Wampler.” We knew those two were going to be production heavy. So the idea was for me to write one that would be simple and quick. One character alone talking to herself. That turned out to be “Jess.”

I wrote “Jess” while on an overnight shift working the front desk at a hotel, which can be as lonely and terrifying as the version of Mars in our episode. I really hated the first draft. So much so that I didn’t want to do the episode. I showed it to Dylan and Chelsea and they were like, “Are you stupid? Of course we’re doing this episode!” They understood the potential better than I did.

eyeofthebeholderI don’t think we were consciously trying to move away from The Twilight Zone with that episode. In fact, I remember wanting to really go after something as issue-based as a Rod Serling script. I think part of the reason that it felt so different from our normal formula might be chalked up to tricks that were unavailable to Rod, like that kind of found footage style. And the episode was very easy to direct. One of our quickest recording sessions. Kristin Macomber came into the room knowing exactly who Jess was. She made our jobs easy.

That leads nicely into your directing question! Dylan and I do most of the directing, and we couldn’t be more different. Dylan comes in with a million ideas, and has a director’s playbook of ways to get the actor to say a line better. I can hear the greatest performance ever and seem like I’d want to be anywhere else. Both of these approaches have worked for us so far.

I think directing audio drama can be a really frustrating venture at first, especially for those with film or theatre backgrounds. A lot of those techniques simply do not work here. It hurts to have to tell some actors to fight against their good acting impulses to jump on the ends of lines or do physical work.