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!

How to Write Audio Drama

Anyone who has ever worked in an office is familiar with the self-styled “expert” who rolls in from London or New York. The grinning expert, who almost never listens to anything other than the hollow sound of his own voice, locks you into a conference room with a condescending four hour PowerPoint presentation. One often looks cautiously at such a mercenary, often paid an obscenely high sum for pablum, to see if he has a pistol concealed under the three piece suit. Why? Because the presenter’s vaguely sinister chest-thumping almost always feel more like a hostage situation rather than a true meeting of the minds.

Ego should never be the driving force when you advise other people. The collective journey must represent the true impetus behind any guiding effort. Unfortunately, the dreadful combination of arrogance and stupidity is an increasing affliction in American culture, which now prides itself on smearing a crowd with the soothing balm of anti-intellectualism, with hubris often serving as the prominent titanium dioxide. This strain was most recently evidenced by Tucker Carlson’s unintentionally hilarious but nevertheless dangerous notion that the metric system represents a conspiracy promulgated by revolutionaries. There are now too many circumstances in which wildly unqualified people — often illiterate and sloppy in their work product — anoint themselves as Napoleonic dictators for how to advance thought and who often do so without the nuts-and-bolts wisdom or attentive awareness that inspires people to conjure up truly incredible offerings.

I mention all this because I recently had the considerable displeasure of reading a typo-laden article written by a misguided audio dramatist who, while possessing a modicum of promising technical chops, remains tone-deaf to human behavior. To offer a charitable opinion, this dramatist is certainly doing the best he can, but his dialogue (which has included such inadvertent howlers as “Now dance with me, asshole,” “I envy your certainty,” and “I would have expected you to bring one of your underlings”) and anemic storytelling represents a form of “expertise” that my own very exacting standards for what constitutes art simply cannot accept.

You see, I really believe that audio drama, like any artistic form, needs to be written and produced at the highest possible level. But to give this guy some credit, we do have to start somewhere! As someone who has written about 1,400 pages of audio drama and who often labors months over a script until it’s right (as opposed to someone who bangs out an entire season in nine weeks), as someone who has gone out into the real world for months to do journalistic research to ensure that I’m portraying groups of people and subcultures realistically and dimensionally rather than subscribing to self-congratulatory, attention-seeking tokenism that cheapens well-intentioned inclusiveness through the creation of shallow stereotypes, and as someone who won a distinguished award for all this, if you’ll pardon my own statement of qualifications here, I think I’m reasonably well-equipped to offer better suggestions. Having said that (and as a free-wheeling anti-authoritarian who despises groupthink, who has never held a gun in his life, and who is writing this in a T-shirt and jeans rather than a three piece suit), I would also like to encourage anyone reading these collected thoughts to poke holes into my views and to challenge anything that I present herein. This is, after all, the only way that all of us truly learn.

Audio drama is a magnificent medium. It shares much in common with literature in its ability to challenge an audience and convey emotional intimacy. And while shows such as The Bright Sessions, Wooden Overcoats, and The Truth intuitively comprehend the emotional connection between audio drama and audience, the medium, on the whole, is populated by too many engineering nerds who are not only incapable of writing quality scripts, but seem reluctant — if not outright hostile — to probe moral questions or explore any difficult ambiguities that lead to human insight.

Here are some better guidelines for how to approach the exciting and often greatly rewarding realm of audio dramatic writing!

1. Before anything else, think of HUMAN BEINGS.

This is the true big one. If you don’t have human beings guiding your audio drama, you are dead on arrival. And you become no different from some engineering nerd who is less interested in narrative possibility and more concerned with being the cleverest guy in the room. Being in touch with human behavior humbles you and opens you up to wonder and empathy and insatiable curiosity that you can not only pass onto your actors and your audience, but that will help you transform into a better and more mindful person. If you want to connect with an audience, then you need to know how to connect with people. And your art needs to reflect this. One of my favorite audio dramas, King Falls AM, has literally confined its setting to a call-in radio show in a small town. But its two main characters, Sammy and Ben, are human enough to warrant our attention. We learn over the series’ run that Sammy is gay and that Ben is smitten with Emily, the local librarian. And the show’s colorful characters and the creative team’s commitment to exploring the human have ensured that the show has never once lost momentum during its eighty-seven episodes. (There’s even a charming musical episode!)

It’s also vital for human behavior to contain paradoxes. Very often, that means taking major artistic risks with your characters — even making them “unlikable” if this is what the story calls for. I recently revisited some episodes of the science fiction TV series Blakes 7 after its star, the incredibly talented Paul Darrow, passed away. Darrow, who appeared in many audio dramas produced by Big Finish near the end of his life, played an antihero named Avon — a man who ended up as the leader of a band of revolutionaries fighting against a fascist empire known as the Federation. Why was Avon so interesting? Because he contained so many contradictions! He could be smart, intensely charming, paranoid, inclusive, sarcastic, and self-serving. Much like Walter White in Breaking Bad, you never quite knew how far Avon was going to go. And there is no better exemplar of why Avon worked so well than an episode called “Orbit” written by Robert Holmes (who also wrote some of the best episodes of Doctor Who). Avon and his longtime partner Vila have five minutes to rid a spacecraft of excess cargo weight. The two men are seen frantically running around, ejecting bits of plastic through the airlock. It’s clear that they’re not going to dump the cargo in time. Avon desperately asks Orac — the ship’s computer — how much weight the ship must lose in order to achieve escape velocity. Orac replies, “70 kilos.” With great ferocity, Avon shrieks, “Dammit! What weighs 70 kilos?” Orac responds with an alarming calmness, “Vila weighs 73 kilos, Avon.” And it is here that the scene becomes truly thrilling and surprising! Avon now has a solution — one that allows him to survive but that also involves betraying his friend. Darrow instantly transforms, grabs a laser pistol, and the scene is among the best in the entire run of the show. (You can watch the scene here.) As a test, I described this scene to a wide variety of people who were unfamiliar with speculative fiction. One old school guy in my Brooklyn hood who I’m friendly with (and for whom I have been serving as an occasional consultant on his webseries), “Damn! That’s some gangsta shit. I gotta check it out.” Human predicaments like this are universal.

Don’t worry too much about your sound design when you’re conceiving your story. You certainly need to remember that this is a medium driven by sound, but, if you’re doing audio drama right, your characters (and thus your actors) will be sharp and lively enough to conjure up a divergent sound environment. It’s absolutely foolhardy and creatively bankrupt to enslave your actors to a soundscape. This represents tyranny, not creative possibility. Actors need to be free to create in a fun and relaxed environment. (In my case, I cook all of my actors breakfast, compensate everyone instantly after recording, and try not to work them more than three hours per recording session.) As perspicacious as you may be, as certain as you may think you are about the rhythm and the delivery, your actors will always have fresh ideas that you haven’t considered. You need to have a script and a recording environment that is committed to your actors first. If you’re looking to be some petty despot, become some small-time corporate overlord. Don’t toil in art. If your actors are hindered by your dictatorial decisions as writer or director, they won’t be able to use their imagination. At all stages, audio drama is a process of collaborative discovery. When you write the script, it’s about creating memorable and three-dimensional characters. When you’re recording with actors, it’s about listening to how an actor interprets the characters and shaping the scene together with openness, trust, and experimentation. Then, when you’re putting together the rough edit (dialogue only), you have yet another stage of discovery. The actors have given you all that you need. You’ll be able to imagine where they are in a room, what they’re doing, and what else might be with them. From here, you start to form the sound design. Worldbuilding always comes from human investigation. And if you’re fully committed to the human, then your instinctive imagination will be able to devise a unique aural environment.

But to get to this place, you need to have characters who are unusual and who contain subtlety, depth, and detailed background. What kind of family did they have? Are they optimistic or moody? What was their most painful experience? Their happiest? Are they passionate about anything? If you’re stuck, you could always try revisiting some personal experience. For “Brand Awareness,” a Black Mirror-like story about a woman who learns that the beer that she’s fiercely loyal to doesn’t actually exist, the premise was inspired by an incident in which I went to a Williamsburg bar, certain that I had ordered a specific Canadian beer there before. But when I mentioned the beer brand to the bartender, she didn’t know that it existed. (It turned out that I had the wrong bar.) I laughed over how ridiculously loyal I had been to the Canadian beer brand and began asking questions about why I was so stuck on that particular beer at that time. I then came up with the idea of a woman who spent much of her time collecting memorabilia for a beer called Eclipse Ale, one that nobody knew about, and decided, instead of making this character a rabid and obsessive fan, to make her very real. I placed her in a troubled relationship with a man who refused to listen to her, which then gave me an opportunity to explore the harms of patriarchy. I then had to answer the question of why this woman was the only one who knew about the beer and conjured up the idea of a boutique hypnotist who served in lieu of couples therapy. Suddenly I had a weird premise and some sound ideas. What did the memorabilia look like? What were the hypnotist’s methods like? Ultimately, most of my sound design came from my incredible cast. Their interpretations were so vivid that I began to create a soundscape that enhanced and reflected their performances. The process was so fun that our team’s collective imagination took care of everything. I would listen to the rough dialogue assembly on my headphones and physically act out each character as they were talking into my ears. And from here, I was able to see what the space looked like. I went to numerous bars and closed my eyes and listened and used this as the basis for how to shape the scene. These methods allowed me to tell a goofy but ultimately realistic story.

I can’t stress this next point enough. Audio drama should never be about being overly clever or showy. It should be designed with enough depth for the audience to use its imagination. Just as I consider the actors on my production to be my creative equals, I also consider the audience to my interpretive equal. Their takeaways from my show are almost always smarter than my own. It would be colossally arrogant of me to assume that I know better than them.

To return to the gentleman who wrote the article that I am partially responding to here, his advice concerning character tips should be avoided at all costs. Robots can be fun, but, however ephemerally vivid they can be, they are among the most tedious one-note characters you can ever drop into a story. Moreover, a character who appears on only two pages should have as much backstory as one of your principals. When the great Robert Altman made one of his masterpieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, he instructed all of the extras who were part of the Western town to develop detailed characters. This is one significant reason why that incredible film feels so real and so atmospheric. When in doubt, write vivid human characters with real problems. They always sound cool.

The misguided dramatist also reveals how pedestrian and unambitious he is in his storytelling when he tells you that you shouldn’t have more than four separate voices in a scene. This is only a problem if, like the misguided dramatist, you are too reliant upon seemingly clever ideas and don’t know how to write recognizable characters. If your characters are dimensional, then your audience will be able to follow the story. But you can also have your characters forget the names of the people who they are with so that you have an opportunity to remind your audience who they are. There are, after all, few people who attend a party and who manage to remember everybody’s first names. This expositional move doubles as a touch of realism and a subtle way of helping your audience keep track of a very large cast. Don’t squelch your ambition! If the dialogue is natural and the rhythm reflects real human conversation, then this will also help your audience lock into the narrative.

Also, I don’t know what living rooms the misguided dramatist spends his time in. But every setting is driven by sound. Only the most unimaginative and inattentive dramatist in the world would gainsay the textural possibilities contained in a car or a kitchen. These are seemingly familiar places. But if you spend enough time in various kitchens and simply listen, you’ll discover that each kitchen does have a separate tapestry of distinct sounds.

As for momentum, I have one firm rule: Have at least something on every page that drives the story forward (or, failing that, a good joke). If it’s not there, then cut and revise the page until you get to that ratio. Because you have exactly five minutes from the beginning of your show to grab your audience. If you’re bombarding your audience with over-the-top sound design out of creative desperation but you don’t have anything human to back it up, you’re dead. The audience will tune out very quickly, especially when there are so many other audio drama productions up to the task. However, if you’re concerned with the human first, then you’ll be on firm footing. The misguided dramatist writes, “The specifics don’t matter.” Oh, but they always matter. This is a profoundly ignorant and offensive statement that ignores the lessons contained in centuries of dramatic writing. Having some random kid walking by with a blasting boombox may pump up your hubris enough to approach the editors of Electric Literature and say, “Hey, I’m an expert! Can I write an article and pimp my show?” But if your inclusion doesn’t serve the human needs of the story, it’s gratuitous. It’s flexing your muscle rather than lifting the weights. And as you make more audio drama, it’s vital that you never stop evolving. In an increasingly crowded world of audio drama options, you want to be the dramatist who can bench-press to the best of your ability. And you’re going to want to build yourself up so that you can increase the load you can heave above your shoulders. You don’t stay in shape if you stop hitting the gym. And art rarely works when you phone it in. It involves hard work, great care, and daily discipline.

2. Imagination.

Well, I can mostly agree with the misguided dramatist here. You definitely want to paint a picture in your audience’s minds. But you don’t necessarily have to do this with a melange of bad exposition such as “Teeth, there’s too many teeth.” All you need to do is to imagine how a human being would react to a set of circumstances and then slightly style the dialogue so that it reveals just enough exposition (but not too much). You can then sculpt the sound design accordingly.

3. On “Gross” Sound Design

Once again, the misguided dramatist lacks the ability to comprehend how an audience vicariously relates to an audio drama. You can do kissing in audio drama. I’ve included it in The Gray Area. This doesn’t mean that you drop in a flagrant smooch that’s going to drown out everything else in the mix. You want a dramatic kiss to sound pretty close to how it’s actually experienced. For the first season, I recorded some kissing foley with someone I was dating at the time. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life, perhaps the closest I’ve come to feeling like a pornographic actor. But it had to be done for art! Imagine two people lying in bed, both of them with headphones on, and a condenser microphone mounted just above them. We proceeded to kiss until I got the levels and the mic positioned just right for a very soft sound that is quite close to the sound that you hear when you kiss someone. This was a little difficult. Because I very much enjoyed kissing the person in question. But I was able to find the right balance. And I mixed this into the story quite gently and subtly so that it wouldn’t intrude upon the story. The Amelia Project has a character who very much enjoys cocoa, yet the slurps and stirs of the spoon never sound intrusive. And that is because the producers are smart enough to understand that flagrant foley of natural human sounds is going to sound “gross.” But you do have an obligation to depict the human and that includes sounds that might be categorized as uncomfortable.

4. Be Careful with Foley Description

I learned early on that writing four seemingly simple words (“GIANT RATS SCAMPERING AROUND”) created far more trouble for me in post-production than I anticipated. And while I enjoyed the challenge that I presented myself, I spent a week banging my head against my desk before I finally stumbled on a sound design solution. If you’re working with a sound designer, try to be mindful of the difficulty in coming up with sounds that reflect creatures or concepts that don’t exist in the real world. Even if you add “LIKE HORSES GALLOPING” to the giant rats description, that’s going to offer the sound designer some creative ideas that will make it easier for her to imagine and come up with something. If you’re collaborating with a sound designer, you need to offer a clear blueprint for her to create and imagine. Make no mistake: the sound designer is just as much of an actor as an actor.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

You’re not going to please everyone. So why spend so much time worrying about it? There are incredibly talented and impeccably kind people who produce beloved audio dramas and even they receive hate mail and vicious criticism. Critics, by and large, are far less useful than the honest and experienced people you have in your corner who understand both you and the hard work that goes into making audio drama. You need to be surrounded by beta readers and beta listeners who will not bullshit you. Your duty as an artist is to not give into the often insane demands of rabid fans (much as one very popular audio drama did a few years ago, forcing this truly terrific show to ignobly close its doors) and to concentrate on putting out your best work. The real crowd, your truly loyal listeners and the ones who you actually learn from, will trust you enough to continue with the journey. The same goes with your actors. I took a huge risk on a Season 2 script. And I was incredibly surprised, humbled, and honored when the actors were crazy about it and told me what a thrilling twist it was and brought their A game when we recorded. You have a duty to keep on growing. Keep in mind that critics, especially the small-time character assassins on Twitter driven by acute resentment, reflect a vocal minority. You’re also probably never going to get a TV deal. So why chase that kind of outsize success? Besides, it’s far more rewarding to tell stories entirely on your own terms. If the work is good and you treat people well, you will attract very talented actors. And they in turn will tell their actor friends about how much fun you are to work with. But if you tell the same story over and over again, or you aren’t sufficiently answering the many questions you’ve set up, chances are you’ll be pulling a Damon Lindelof. And everyone will rightfully ding you for writing a lazy and inane climax.

Formulaic writing may win you an audience. There is no shortage of box office successes that are more generic than a supermarket aisle populated by no name yellow boxes. But are you writing for short-term lucre and attention or long-term artistic accomplishment? Are you writing audio drama to grow as a person and as an artist? Always remember that the work is its own reward. And that means taking risks.

6. Be Passionate About Your Story at All Times

Don’t write a script just for the sake of writing a script. If you’re telling a story, it has to be something that you absolutely believe in. Your vision must be large and passionate enough to get other people excited about it. You must also be committed to surprising yourself at all stages. (It also helps that I’m crazy about everyone who works on this show and am naturally quite thrilled to watch them get better as performers.) While I have drafted a four season plan for The Gray Area (and have a “Bible” of twenty prototypical scripts), the plan is just loose enough for me to continually invent with each season. I don’t write scripts from an outline (although I have done so in writing for other people). Because I find that, if I know where a story is heading, then it’s not going to be fun for me. After all, if I’m not surprised, why would I expect my audience to be?

If you’re just phoning it in, then why would you expect your actors to give their all? One audio drama producer recently revealed a horror story about one regular actor leaving midway through the series. But listening to the audio drama, it’s easy to see why. The passion contained in the initial episodes plummeted in later episodes. A friend, who was an initial fan of the show, texted me, asking “What happened? It was so good! Now I can’t listen to it!” Well, I responded, the character in question, despite being played by a lively actor who clearly has much to offer, became one-note and confined to a sterile environment. And why would any actor want to stay involved with a character who remains stagnant? If you don’t feed your actors with true passion, and if you don’t take care of them, then you’re not living up to the possibilities of audio drama.

At all stages of The Gray Area, I talk with my actors and tell them what I have planned for their characters over many seasons. I listen to their passions and interests. I regularly check in on them. I try to attend their shows when they perform on stage. Because it is my duty to remain committed to my talent. All this gives me many opportunities to find out where actors wish to push themselves as performers and to suss out emotional areas that other directors don’t seem to see. I cast comedic actors in dramatic roles. I point out to some of my more emotionally intense actors how funny they are and write stories with this in mind. I have to keep my characters growing so that I can sustain an atmosphere committed to true creative freedom. Because I love and adore and greatly respect the people I work with and I want to make sure that these actors are always having fun and that they feel free to create. I’ve got this down so well that, when the actors find out I’m writing a new slate of scripts, they playfully nag me, wondering when the stories are going to be done.

If you’re doing audio drama right, you’re probably going to be surprised to find yourself exhausted after a long day. The fatigue seems inconceivable because you were having so much fun. But it does mean that you were driven by passion first, buttressed by hard work. And that will ultimately be reflected in the final product.

7. There Are Many Ways to Make Audio Drama

There’s recently been some discussion about establishing a set of critical standards that all producers should agree upon for the “greater good.” I find this to be a bunch of prescriptive malarkey, more of a popularity contest and an ego-stroking exercise rather than a true exchange of viewpoints. Take the advice that you can use and ignore the rest. That includes this article. If you see something here that whiffs untrue, ignore it. Or leave a comment here and challenge me. I’d love to hear your dissenting views! I’m offering one way to make audio drama, but there are dozens of ways to go about it.

8. Be Wide-Ranging in Your Influences

Don’t just listen to audio drama. Listen to nonfiction podcasts. Read books. Take on hobbies and interests that you’ve never tried. Play music. Above all, live life. Existence is always the most important influence. I’ve listened to far too many bad audio dramas trying to offer cut-rate knockoffs of popular shows. This isn’t a recipe for success or artistic growth. You need to find your own voice and be true to who you are as much as you can. Every story has already been told. But it hasn’t been told in the way that you express it.

(I hope that some of what I’ve imparted here has been useful! For anyone who’s interested, I am presently in the final weeks of production on the second season of my audio drama. I’ve been documenting my journey on Instagram, passing along any tips or tricks I discover along the way so that other audio dramatists don’t make the same mistakes that I have! Plus, there are many fun behind-the-scenes videos and photos. Feel free to check out @grayareapod and say hello. We’re all in this journey of making audio drama together! It’s a very exciting time to tell stories for the ear!)

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).