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: “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.

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.

4.5. The Waiting Room (The Gray Area)

Virginia Gaskell finds herself on the other side of the portal that lured her in, greeted by an extremely exuberant (and strangely familiar) receptionist, some squawking avians that aren’t quite okay with her love of chicken fajitas, and further mysteries about how the universes rupture into each other. (Running time: 7 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Virginia Gaskell: Chris Smith
Receptionist: Zachary Michael
Demon: Pete Lutz
Ed Champion: Edward Champion
Bird People: Fiona Thraille, Benjamin Macon Fort
Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony 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 episode.

Thanks for listening!

4. Loopholes (The Gray Area)

As a thriving empire faces war with ferocious barbarians, a mischievous scholar named Minerva hopes to bring law and civilization to a great realm populated by talking birds, giant rats, gregarious knights, elemental gods, and menacing malasanders. An unanticipated dispute among the knights gives Minerva an opportunity to uphold the doctrine of moral principles, but Minerva finds herself testing her loyalty to her aide-de-camp while helping others to learn what honor, empathy, and identity really mean. (Running time: 32 minutes)

Written and directed by Edward Champion

CAST:

Minerva: Rori Nogee
Eris: Gerrard Lobo
Henrietta: Monica Ammerman
Fire: Samantha Cooper
Watson: Christopher Akpobiyeri
Boleyn: Rachel Baird
The Magister: Sarah Golding
Talking Birds: Alan Barrows
Knights: Michael Charles Foote, Jim Kampfil, Matt Leong, Pete Lutz, Tanja Milojevic, John Xavier Miller III, Julia Morizawa, Hans Detlef Sierck, Fiona Thraille, Richard H. Thorndyke, Jack Ward, Tao Yang.

Sound Design and Editing by Edward Champion

Foley Sources: Edward Champion, jobro (CC), _def (CC), Taira Komori (CC), avakas (CC), Martin-Eero Kõressaar (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), the_toilet_guy (CC), Shanay Groen (CC), jason130178 (CC), baryy (CC), huggy13ear (CC), HDM2013 (CC).

Music: “The Long March Home” by Tim Juliano (licensed through NeoSounds)

Art: Rushen (CC)

Special thanks to Sacha Arnold, Austin Beach, Matthew Boudreau, Jason Boog, Christopher Byrd, Jen Elyse Feldman, Claudia Berenice Garza, Pam Getchell, Jen Halbert, Gabriella Jiminez, Argyria Kehagias, John Osborne, Tom Parsons, Rina Patel, Michael Saldate, Marc Anthony Stein, Marjorie Stein, That Podcast Girl, Georgette Thompson, Neil Varma, Jo Anna Van Thuyne, and many others I may have inadvertently forgotten for their invaluable help, feedback, kindness, inspiration, and support during the production of this episode. We are especially indebted to Robert Cudmore, Matthew McLean, and Steve Schneider, whose collective insight, inspiration, unfathomable generosity, and encouragement were vital during the development of this highly ambitious story.

Please be sure to also listen to A Scottish Podcast, which is run by many of the fine people who made this program possible, Lost in Williamsburg, whose work with overlapping dialogue has served as partial editing inspiration, and Tom Parson’s forthcoming Organism.

We also recently launched Inside the Gray Area, a behind-the-scenes podcast available for Patreon subscribers who contribute at the $5/month level. Become a Patreon member and enjoy access to this, along with our annotated scripts, which contain many key references that will help unravel the bigger story.

Thanks for listening!

The Gray Area — First Season Video Trailer

The Gray Area, an audio drama that will be premiering next week and which I wrote about here), now has an iTunes feed, an RSS feed, a Patreon page (if you’d like to help support the show), and a video trailer for the first season which offers more hints at the larger story.