Blog: entries tagged with "audio+drama"

Alba Salix is back! (Nearly!)

It’s been brewing for a long, long time, and it’s almost ready.

Since we released the first six episodes of Alba Salix, Royal Physician at the end of 2014(!), we’ve been watching the download numbers climb steadily. It’s been hugely gratifying to know that our little show is finding fans even though the most recent episode came out two years ago. Life, meanwhile, has gotten in the way time and time again, to the point where listeners wondered if the show was coming back.

We’ve been moving along on scripts all this time, but strangely enough, it’s only now that producer Sean and I are newly married and about to move house, for heaven’s sake, that we’re kicking off an all-new batch of stories from Alba’s world.

This week, after a hilarious night in the studio (read: Julian’s spare room) and a hectic day of editing, we’ve just released a three-and-a-half-minute mini-episode called “Krankel Abroad”. There’s a follow-up on the way, too, this one written by Sean. And this weekend we’re going into the studio for a day to record six episodes of the long-promised spinoff The Axe & Crown.

Alba is finally underway once more. Stay tuned for a big announcement regarding Season Two!

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Alba enters the home stretch

After three years of development, writing, recording and post-production, Alba Salix, Royal Physician is about to pull into the home stretch. Four of the six episodes are complete, and the two remaining ones are written and ready to record.

You can help! Spread the word, or contribute to our our Indiegogo campaign to help us cover studio and production costs.

Visit our Indiegogo page
Art by Jasmin Cheng

The tiny kingdom of Farloria has an even tinier medicare system. There just aren’t enough hours in a day for head witch Alba Salix to tend to the Royal Family and the everyday citizens of the capital. But help is on the way — in the form of a troublesome young apprentice and an absent-minded fairy.

Season One of Alba Salix consists of six half-hour episodes, which we hope to launch via podcast and free download. If all goes well, we have plenty of ideas for Season Two.

For a little taste of what’s to come, visit the Alba Salix website. And say hello on Facebook and Twitter!

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The return of Script Frenzy

It’s almost time for another Script Frenzy, the worldwide writing challenge that goes on for the entire month of April. Last year, I “won” by hammering out over a hundred pages’ worth of first drafts for Alba Salix, a huge step in bringing the series to fruition.

Yes, Alba is now in production. We have a great cast, drawn from the friends and acquaintances I’ve made in community theatre over the past few years, and a couple of weeks ago they reunited to hear our pilot episode and read through the next two scripts. I’m incredibly grateful to them all for their time, versatility and enthusiasm for the project! We may even be able to record the rest of the episodes in a proper studio, rather than a dining room lined with mattresses and blankets.

Post-production on the pilot was lengthy but fun, and involved a good deal of me smashing and banging things in the basement in front of a microphone. I didn’t have a good gauge of how many words the episode should be, but I’m aiming for an even 28 minutes, which it turns out means about 5,200 words. We ran well over that mark, which meant having to trim pretty much everything that wasn’t essential or at least amusing, a really useful exercise in tightening up a script.

I can still hear holes, though: missed opportunities for jokes, dialogue that’s too on-the-nose, scenes that lack focus. Being able to recognize those is a big help in punching up the newer scripts. My rough estimate is that Episodes 2 and 3 are nearly 50% funnier as a result. And having listened to the piece literally dozens of times as I assembled the dialogue, music and effects, I can now hear all the main characters’ voices as I write further episodes.

All of which brings me back to Script Frenzy. I’ll be working on some new Alba stories this coming month, and possibly some sketch comedy if I feel like a change. There’s even a vague and nebulous show concept codenamed “Frequencies” or “the 1980s show” that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time. I don’t know where it’s going exactly, but it’s dawning on me that the best template for it is something like The Great Eastern, one of my favourite CBC shows, which aired in the late ’90s and purported to be from Newfoundland’s own public broadcaster, the BCN.

Along the way I’m hoping to get some blogging done too. This site has been pretty quiet for the past few years, but as I get time I’ll share some of my experiences and wild-eyed theories around the writing process. And I’m hoping to get to more Toronto-region Frenzy events too.

Time to tidy the house and get ready to buckle down. April is going to be fun.

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Once upon a time

Work on Alba Salix continues. We’ve had a couple of test readings so far, which have been really encouraging. Four episodes of the first six-episode “season” are awaiting rewrites, and I’m bashing away at the outline for a fifth. We’re aiming to record in September and launch some time over the winter. And there are enough storylines in my head for a second season.

Along the way I’ve been learning a lot, like the art of intertwining various subplots. Not only does it add interest, but it’s practically essential to provide something to “cut away to” when it’s time to jump ahead to the next plot point. Otherwise, you’ve got to either add a music cue, or indicate through dialogue or narration that time has passed, or some combination of these. The result usually feels a bit sluggish and old-fashioned.

Another lesson: the first moments of a series should give a good idea of what the show’s going to be like as a whole. The first draft of the Alba pilot originally opened with a “once upon a time” intro that gave Alba’s backstory. As a twist, it intertwined three different tellings of the same story, but 1) it was slow, 2) it wasn’t anything like the rest of the episode and 3) it was confusing as all get-out, especially since all these characters were unfamiliar. Furthermore, Lila, one of the main characters in the fairy tale, didn’t appear anywhere in the rest of the episode, leaving the listener to wonder when she would return.

Much better to start with the action – specifically, an actual medical case. Here are the original opening and the new one.


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Return to radio

It’s been about 12 years since I was last on the radio, but I still have dreams about it from time to time.

I learned a lot in my five years at CKMS-FM, the campus radio station at the University of Waterloo: how to salvage old, disintegrating reel-to-reel tapes; how to make musical sounds by feeding back the output of DAT machines; and how not to conduct an interview. I hosted a regular music show, assembled audio art pieces for Frequent Mutilations, and co-produced Philler (an “experiment in audio landfill”) with Adam Thornton.

I miss it sometimes. I discovered a lot of music browsing through the dusty vinyl in the library and puttering around in the back studio. And assembling each show, whether it was a late night music program or a weird mishmash of sketch comedy and sound collage, was a new puzzle to solve.

Attention Surplus It’s been nice, then, to get into podcasting at last. Since late February I’ve been producing Attention Surplus, a half-hour chat about purpose, passion and action hosted by my partner, Sean Howard, and his colleague Eric Portelance. And of course, I’ve been writing radio plays.

I’ve posted here previously about Niagara, the science-fiction comedy I’ve been working on. A few months ago I realized it might be a bit of an ambitious project to start out on, and accordingly I came up with what I thought would be a much simpler series to produce – shorter episodes, smaller cast, episodic rather than a serial format. Of course, it’s turning out to be very nearly as complicated, but it’s been great fun to write all the same.

In April, I heard about Script Frenzy, a sister event to National Novel Writing Month, and gave it a go. By month’s end, I’d written 119 pages, comfortably exceeding the 100-pages required to “win”. Having a purely numeric goal turned out to be quite freeing – a great exercise in letting first drafts suck as much as they need to. The episodic format has been a great help too, freeing me of the need to maintain a carefully plotted arc through the whole thing, but also allowing me to compare the dramatic structure of several self-contained stories.

Alba Salix, Royal Physician The series will be called Alba Salix, Royal Physician – kind of Scrubs meets Shrek, if you will. Or Gregory House as a witch. So far, three of the half-hour episodes are at the second draft stage, and several more exist as outlines and partial scripts. Our first reading a couple of weeks ago went splendidly, and I’m hoping to cast and record a “season” of roughly 6 episodes over the summer. Stay tuned!

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Niagara notes

Still working at those scripts. Episodes 1–3 are in their second drafts, and I’m at work outlining the next few.

Just as a very oblique teaser, here are a few topics I’ve been looking up online as research, either for fact checking or inspiration:

  • Plumbing how-to videos
  • Niagara Falls daredevils
  • Testosterone
  • List of nearest stars
  • Dandelions
  • The House of Commons schedule
  • Michael Cowpland (founder of Corel)
  • The ROM galleries
  • Niagara Parks Police Service
  • Dramatic Arts at Brock University
  • The Canadian Top 40 from 1982

Some will make it in as background details, some were dead ends.

And below are some of the notes I’ve made for the series. I like to have some rules to go by, so I’ve chosen a fairly strict structure, and jotted down a bunch of parameters and reminders to myself, based on all the things I’ve found enjoyable or frustrating in other audios over the years.


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Emma and Bruce


Meet Petra and her family.

Petra was a singer back in the ’70s and ’80s, but these days she works at a bed and breakfast near Niagara Falls. This weekend her kids are dropping by: quietly neurotic Emma and bratty, flamboyant Dayle, as well as Emma’s boyfriend Bruce. And she’s got a couple other guests who might be giant bugs from outer space.

I’ve had a bunch of stories simmering on the back burner for a long while, mostly in the science fiction-comedy vein. As I’ve alluded to in previous years, I’ve been flirting with presenting them different forms, mostly radio plays, online video, and comics. As they’ve percolated, I’ve discovered I don’t have the patience for prose – I’m all about the dialogue. I can draw well enough that I don’t cringe at my own work, but I’m too slow at it to do more than a couple pages. And video – let’s not even go there.

So it’s back to audio plays, delivered via podcast or download. I’ve always loved the form, and had the chance to produce some during my time in campus radio, but until recently I really didn’t have a clue how to use it to tell a story – or to tell a story in any medium, for that matter. And now, it’s all starting to come together at last: plots, background, character arcs, dialogue. The first three-episode story is plotted out and this week some friends came by for a read-through of the first two draft episodes. The thought of actually recording and producing them is a bit daunting at this stage, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.


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oo vuf welcome

From the What I Been Listening To department:

Still from JamFor unfathomable reasons, I’ve been hooked on a show called Blue Jam. Aired in the late ‘90s, it was the brainchild of Radio 1 enfant terrible Chris Morris, whose earlier pranks had included a discussion of ludicrous methods to obtain a legal high, and most famously, the “non-announcement” of the death of a still-living cabinet minister. After the latter incident, BBC censors clamped down hard; why they ever let him back through their doors is a mystery.

Blue Jam is a deeply disturbing show, but utterly hilarious. Sketches and monologues drift in and out amid music of all sorts, starting with an always-different introduction delivered by Morris in a sinister monotone (“When thrapping door-knock brings not chums with cakes, but friends of Sweaty Fred, full madding because you failed to sell… welcome in Blue Jam…”) and quickly descending into a nightmarish world of misfits and psychopaths.

Almost every character we meet is unhinged: the doctor who amuses himself by humiliating his patients and prescribing useless treatments; the parents who belong to a baby-fighting ring; the avant-garde artists who disembowel a man and put him in a display case (much in the fashion of the art-murders on David Bowie’s album Outside). Some favorites: Maria, the four-year-old hardened criminal, Rothko the doberman, and the inexplicable club-scene and style roundups from Michael Alexander St John.

Some of the best sketches were spun into a six-episode series on Channel 4 called simply Jam, and lots - probably most - are up on YouTube. I’m almost afraid to link to any, but here’s a typical opening, and a sketch about a television repairman. Browse the Related Videos at your own peril. Expect mayhem, blasphemy, dead babies, dead dogs, sexual deviance and bad language.

UK radio comedy review site radiohaha offers this appreciation of Blue Jam. Torrents of it and other Chris Morris shows are available at the fan site Cook’d and Bomb’d.

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A new start

Last night we had one of our coffee chats, for the first time in months. There are about half a dozen of us, including everyone in the house, and we get together to talk about life and issues and philosophize a bit. And since the office where most of us work now shares a building with a coffee place, we’ve got a great place to do it. The talk last night centered mostly on “truth” and “letting go of things”, and it really was refreshing.

MapAmong other things, I think it jarred something loose in my brain, something that had been blocking my writing on this on-again, off-again audio play podcast. It’s been percolating for months now, if not longer, and I think I’d grown very attached to a certain arrangement of the characters, a certain approach to the story and the world… and I think I’d set it up to be too big a deal, way more work than it had to be. As usual, I was trying to run before I’d even got the hang of the crawling thing.

The main viewpoint character, for example, was originally an amalgam of several cool, funny people I know. But I wanted to get her right, to make her believable / cool / funny / worthy / whatever. I couldn’t get into her head, into her life. I couldn’t get her or any of the other characters to sing.

So I tossed out all my notes for the characters, along with Aborted Episode One Draft, Version Eight. The characters and their roles have shifted several times along the way, but this was the biggest shift yet.

The premise still holds: it pretends to be a real podcast about life in Toronto, but it’s a fictionalized, slightly fantastic Toronto. And podcasts tend to be personal things, so I’m making it a lot more personal. I’ll host the thing (in character), and there’ll be more room for music and commentary on local issues.

Tigs, sound engineerI realize part of me was worried about seeming egotistical, since I’m already filling so many roles (writer, lead, engineer, composer, producer, director?)... but deargod, why? This isn’t a big show on stage or radio. If I think of it instead as just a fun little project, a way of learning all those different roles, a seed that can grow into something bigger, involving more people, everything snaps into place. I get to play with new voices, new aspects of characters. I don’t have to worry so much about it being “good enough” to drag other people into helping.

It’s fun again.

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another musical day

On the way to meet up with my SO and a friend in Kensington, I lost my way and ran across the great Bob Snider, who was busking on Baldwin St. I snagged a copy of his CD, and he asked if there was any kind of song I wanted to hear.

On the subway I’d been revamping my plans for a series of podcast radio plays set in a mysterious, Kensington-like neighbourhood. “Anything about the neighbourhood, or the city?” I said.

“I got one,” he said, and launched into “The Street Takes You In”, a haunting, cautionary song about, well, the street. And then he sang one he’d recently completed, which I understand is called “Plum” — an altogether happier tune. (“Let’s invent a game for two where I play me and you play you / and the object is to figure out what all the rules are for. / Pin the tail on the monkey in the middle / Top Banana, second fiddle. / Loser is the one caught keeping score.”) Both wonderful. :D

Also, I got my copy of the latest Spacing magazine in the mail… looks awesome (and it’s part of the reason I was thinking about the radio plays).

So many things to think about lately. I want to take piano lessons and set up a decent little home studio, and there’s all those other musical projects I want to tackle too. So impatient.

Oh, and Christopher Eccleston may be the next Number Six. O.o (I can see it now. Number Two, secretly a disgruntled Doctor Who fan, demanding “Why did you resign?”)

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