Today, we’re receiving a very special broadcast from Jeffrey Gardner, director of “Record/Record,” by Mark Harrison. Jeffrey is the Director/Executive Producer of Our Fair City, a Post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Radio Epic…for the internet. By day, he is an Operations Coordinator with the Museum of Science and Industry. He has dramaturged with companies like Sideshow Theatre, Collaboraction, New Leaf, Eclipse Theatre, and others. He is a former adjunct instructor at Kenyon College and a former Marketing coordinator with Collaboraction. Today, he’ll be talking to us about a terrifying case of writer’s block, Poe’s comic side, and What Scares Him.
How did you get into horror?
Boy, I’ve written the answer to this question a dozen times. Each time I think I’ve reached as far back as I can go, I come up with something new (Metallica in high school, HP Lovecraft in middle school, Poe sometime before that)…but when I go all the way back, it has to be in late elementary school, when I was first learning how to type. I was working on a monstrously old (though, I guess, fairly current for the time) computer that only ran MS DOS, and was shown the really basic green-text-on-black-screen word processing program by my father. I set about writing a sci-fi/horror “novel” about an empty spacecraft, floating in the void, with some form of unknowable evil on board. I think I only made it 2-3 paragraphs in—every time I tried to work on it, I got scared and ran away from the computer—something about the green text on the black screen staring back at me was too much.
What excites you most about directing horror, compared to other genres?
Horror is just…just the best for audio theatre. There’s that famous (and maybe apocryphal) quote about the transition from radio entertainment to the first TV serials– “I like radio better- the pictures are better in my head.” I think this applies doubly to horror—when you’re working in an audio-only medium, you’re going to be creating some fantastically horrific and deeply personal images.
What in this script resonated most with you?
“Record/Record” has some really great shape and structure–but more than that, I think it has a neat, original take on the “Last Man on Earth/Zombie apocalypse” genre. Mark (Harrison, our playwright) has written some really rich stuff for an actor to explore, and it has been a huge amount of fun to hear Jared (Latore, our performer) working through it.
Also, it’s got some really funny moments, which isn’t what you’d normally expect from a play about a man stuck alone in an apartment at the end of the world.
What do you consider the biggest challenge in directing for “radio,” compared to traditional theatre?
Clarity of storytelling and engagement. Without visual landmarks, the audience can get lost so easily—and if they let their minds wander for a moment, they’re lost, and often can’t get back to the story for a while, so you need to make sure everything you are doing is vitally important and crystal clear. This can be especially rough for a director—you’ve read the script dozens of times, heard it rehearsed by the actors and sometimes recorded multiple times in the studio. Then you’ve done rough-cut editing for a few hours, and gone over everything with your Foley artist–you become so familiar with a piece that you can lose track of what the audience’s experience will be, hearing it for the first time.
I’ve definitely played tracks for people, and when they say “Wait, at 3:56—what in the world was that?” I have to stop myself from being snippy- “Oh, duh, it’s a skeleton dragging itself over a carpet while counting on its fingers, except its missing one finger bone so the count feels a little off and it’s frustrated, and then it falls down the stairs…isn’t that obvious?” But of course–it isn’t obvious at all.
What discoveries have you made about storytelling during this process that you are excited to use in future projects?
I’m falling back in love with the rehearsal process for live theatre–as compared to something that’s going to be recorded in the studio. You have more fine control in the studio, but with the longer rehearsal process for live work there are so many wonderful opportunities for organic growth.
What sound would you most like to see/hear performed in a Deathscribe piece?
I kinda want to hear a skeleton falling down stairs now. I’ll also say, Deathscribe 2012 featured one of the _coolest_ pieces of live Foley work I’ve ever seen—to make “menacing angel wing noises,” the Foley artists flapped a pair of hand towels in alternating patterns, and the combination of visual and aural effect was mindblowing. I desperately want to steal it for something—will have to work frightening birds into something soon.
What was your first experience with radio theatre?
Weird coincidence–my first foray into audio storytelling was actually horror. In highschool, for an independent project, I recorded an audio version of Poe‘s “The Cask of Amontillado.” I cobbled together a recording setup using a borrowed microphone, a tape deck, and my Mother’s stereo system(with a dvd player hooked in). What I didn’t realize was that I was recording in mono, but the system was looking for stereo inputs—so the tape deck pulled audio from whatever was in the stereo—which happened to be the Menu track from some romantic comedy. When I played the tape back for the first time, I had a very spooky-sounding 16 year old reading Poe, accompanied by a background of zany “Boing! Spring! Zoom-zoom-zoom!” sound effects. Wasn’t quite what I was going for, but it taught me a lot about checking my equipment before I did too much recording.
What scares you?
In roughly four billion years, the Milky way galaxy is very likely to collide with the Andromeda galaxy. Like, they’re flying through space, and they are going to smash right into each other.
I’m not sure if it’s the idea of galaxies colliding, or the vast time-scale (and the fact that in all likelihood, humanity won’t exist at that point), or the weird thought puzzle of “when your objects in motion are a pair of galaxies, what are your stable reference points?”—but one way or the other, it gives me the screaming willies.
Come share a case of Jeff’s Screaming Willies with us in “Record/Record,” by Mark Harrison at Deathscribe 2013 on Monday, December 2nd!