A Conversation Round-table with the Stitched Crosses Audio Drama Cast

Arnie Carvalho recently had an opportunity to sit down with the cast & crew of from Stitched Crosses: The Audio Drama. The following is the cast portion of his conversations:

––––––––––∞ Can you tell us what acting you all have done before this?

Vanessa: I’ve done most of my acting in school-funded drama/theater clubs from high school through college. I’ve also branched out and worked in some local community theaters.

Chris: I did some stage plays and stuff in high school before I decided it was something worth doing. I’m still learning stuff, but back then I [acted] because I wasn’t much interested in doing sports.

Doug: I was involved in high school stage plays, and some amateur radio that we did in those days.

Tom: This was my first time doing acting of any kind, so it was an exciting experience, if a little scary.

∞ Have any of you worked in audio-only (radio) format before?

Doug: Yes. I have been very active in recent years in many audio-only productions and one flash animation project. I have recently been cast as “The Doctor” in the Doctor Who Audio Dramas, a production that has been running for the last twenty years (done in those pre-Internet days on audio tape).

Tom: As this was my first acting role, I can’t say I have much of a history! I have been running my own (podcast) show for a few months now, so I have some experience with recording, editing and mixing audio, especially for recording my lines.

Chris: Aside from various (fan-made) Star Wars dramas, I’ve done some things in college for a class I was taking. I was able to turn one of the Star Wars scripts I wrote into an assignment. It was a short audio play that someone professionally edited into a full-cast audio drama for me, and that was a real treat. It showed me what was possible in the audio world, and gave me an glimpse of how things change from “script to waveform.”

Vanessa: I had never done any voice recording or anything related to audio dramas before, that’s partly why I was so interested in the project; I love trying new things.

Any favorite dramatizations, either that you have worked on in the past or enjoy as a listener?

Chris: I think the initial fascination with doing this [format] happened when my parents bought my brothers and I these full-cast childrens’ audio dramas called Adventures in Odyssey. That was almost twenty years ago now, and that show is still going strong. I still listen to it, actually. Despite it being aimed at kids, there’s enough adventure and intrigue in them to hold my interest as an adult. Another one I love is Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s adaptation of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

Doug: I have been enjoying Jim Nolan, Detective recently, Joe Harrison’s Star Wars (fan) productions, and Doctor Who Audio Dramas.

Tom: I’m not fond of general talk radio, but shows discussing a specific topic, and radio dramas, are of great interest to me. Two of my personal favourites are, for one, the commercial adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society under the banner: Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. These are of the highest quality, with excellent actors and attention to detail, including period-style advertisements!

And second, The Decoder Ring Theatre shows. These are great, free radio-style dramas based in the pulp/crime fiction genre, with fast-talking, wise-cracking detectives and slimy criminals.

Vanessa: I never really knew what radio dramas were before I came to Husson University and heard one of the A Christmas Carol live on school’s radio station.

Did anyone have any interaction with their fellow cast members, playing scenes off each other or discussing character motivations?

Vanessa: Unfortunately, the cast for Stitched Crosses is a pretty [geographically] scattered group, and while I would like to someday meet them, I’ve never gotten the pleasure of really talking to them. Thankfully I knew Josh, who wrote the script, and was able to discuss with him how he saw Mairin.

Doug: Sadly, the only interaction I received was with Josh himself, and that was through email. I’ve been involved in two productions where we used Skype to rehearse scenes (Russ Gold’s Misfile and Merodi’s Dreamcatcher).

Tom: Even though we did not have a huge amount of contact, [my] initial recordings of the lines usually made the grade each time. I did do a few extra takes and I would listen to the lines of the other actor in that case so that I could fit my speech to theirs.

Chris: Yeah, it would have been nice, but what usually happens with audio dramas is that each actor records their lines separately. It’s not usually like it is on television and film where one can practice in the same room with one’s fellow castmates.

What drew you all to this project?

Vanessa: Originally curiosity got me to read the audition segment for Mairin after being told by a friend about the part. After reading that little segment I was extremely intrigued by the character. It’s rare to find a character like Mairin in today’s scripts. She wasn’t tainted by the world of sex, drugs, and violence that we all seem to live in today. Mairin has a inner strength and resolve that I admired about her.

Tom: I really wanted to improve my recording and voice acting skills in advance of releasing my own fiction audiobook, so this project gave me a lot of skills to do so.

Chris: For me–it wasn’t Star Wars, and it was interesting. It was a chance to do something bigger than what I had been doing; something professional. Not that a lot of the Star Wars stuff I did wasn’t professional–a lot of it is very much worth listening to–but it was fan-made, you know? This was a shot at something people couldn’t just pidgeonhole as amateur without even listening to it. And I didn’t want to pass an opportunity like that up.

Doug: I was recommended to Josh by Joe Harrison, who, as I mentioned, I worked with in previous productions.

Tom is English, so I imagine the accent needed for the audio adaptation of the story wasn’t a problem for him. But Chris and Vanessa: was the accent hard to affect for you?

Chris: I remember while in high school I was trying to learn the British accent. So I spent a lot of time with Monty Python and any British audio or TV that I could get my hands on and repeating the words those people on the screen said back to the screen in the accent. Then while on a trip to England, I stopped into one of those stores that sold magazines and newspapers in Windsor I think to ask for one of their two-pound coins, as I was collecting their currency at the time, and I said to myself, “To heck with it” and asked for it in the accent. They looked at me a little funny, but that was the first time I got the confidence up to actually try it out on someone. But I digress.

It wasn’t too hard because I have been practicing at it for several years now. What was challenging was keeping it consistent. I had to make sure I wouldn’t say certain words in the American way, like “either”, because while an American listener wouldn’t think twice, someone who hears that accent every day would be pulled right out of the story. I think I did a pretty good job at it, but who can say? I hope I can get some fair-minded critiques from [anyone] who does speak in the accent.

Vanessa: Surprisingly I did not have any problems. Occasionally I’d run across words that took me a few tries to get to sound like proper English, but I was thankfully rather well trained in an English accent before I started the project.

Chris, the audio drama is about 3 hours long and your character is the focus of many of the scenes. How long did you spend recording?

Chris: I did eight principal recording sessions and recorded a little over 300 minutes of audio in them. Including time for setup and pickup lines and I come up with around six hours, give or take. I spent probably the equivalent amount preparing for the role. When you break it down like that it doesn’t seem very long at all, but going through [the process] I felt like I put a lot more [time] into it.

Your character, Markus, is a character having a crisis of faith. Was it difficult to put yourself in that mindset?

Chris: Well, yes and no. Yes, it was hard to get into his mindset because his dilemma wasn’t something I had personally grappled with. But there were experiences that I was going through at the time that I could grab a hold of and channel into the character. It was hard to do this because I had done no formal acting training, so I hadn’t been taught the exercises to do this easily, or even that I should be doing it in the first place. But I did manage to do it somewhat instinctively, and I hope convincingly. Once I had figured it out for a particular stage in the character’s journey, things flowed easily until the next stage began to develop.

Tom, your character in this drama seems unenviable for an actor to take, as it is the role of a wise man who’s wisdom remains unheard repeatedly. How did you approach this challenge?

Tom: I considered the performances of actors who have taken on this kind of role, the conscience or mentor of the story: Alec Guiness, Sean Connery etc. With this understanding of the thematic importance of the character, it then became a much more natural process to perform his role.

Could you to relate to Charle at all?

Tom: Charle is a religious man, and his life revolves around his beliefs. In that sense, we are both very similar, so I found it very easy to relate to him. While I do not share Charle’s religious views, and I find some of the specifics of his theology to be flawed, I agree wholeheartedly with his overall goals.

Vanessa, Mairin is repeatedly rejected by Markus, yet you play the character as resilient rather than needy or hurt. Was this your choice in the characterization?

Vanessa: This was a bit of a personal choice from what I’ve learned from playing British characters; they’re a very reserved and intelligent people with gumption. With Mairin I always felt that if she was going to keep putting herself out there, it was because she knew deep down that she was right and she had the patience for Markus to come around to the fact. Josh seemed to like how I did this and how it added to the resolve and inner strength of the character.

If she had been played more as a needy or hurt woman, she would’ve come off as weak. That’s not the kind of woman that Markus needed by his side, he needed someone patient and stubborn, someone to push back and make him want to be a better person.

What is your opinion of Mairin and the choices she makes in her life in regards to her love for Markus?

Vanessa: I admire her for her patience and stubbornness when it came to knowing what she wanted. Some people spend their whole lives looking for the person they’re meant to love, and when she found hers she wasn’t about to let him push her away just because he considered himself damaged goods.

I loved the fact that she makes such an impression on him, that when times are tough, she’s the one Markus would think about. For instance the flashback of when he’s getting ready to leave and she will not let him leave his Templar tunic, [focusing specifically on the importance of] the cross. I love how she won that argument, and while he didn’t wear the tunic he still packed it and ends up wearing a cross–Mairin’s cross necklace.

Being the narrator in this piece, Doug, did you look to any other narrations specifically for inspiration?

Doug: Yes, I am very inspired by Jim Dale, who read the Harry Potter novels for audio book format.

What qualities does the voice of a narrator need to possess?

Doug: I believe a good narrator requires a decent buzz in his voice, an even meter to his voice, and the ability to speak the words as if he was actually there, experiencing the situation he is describing. Remember, you are the eyes and ears of the listener so you have to set the mood and the tone.

To the players: What scene was the most difficult for you to nail in the drama, and why?

Chris: The most difficult scene was perhaps any scene with a lot of Ye Olde English in it. Those words were hard to spit out and I wasn’t even sure when I first read them what some of them meant. I will tell you the most fun scene to do though, and that was the part where Markus finally gets to where he thinks he needs to go and he has a very memorable one-sided conversation with God.

Tom: I would say the final scenes were the most difficult. Charle has been a man of action for the entire story, running here and there, getting people emotionally and physically to the right places. In the final scenes there’s little more he can do except sit back and watch. It was quite a shift in his mindset.

Vanessa: That would be when the (castle) fight breaks out. At the time of recording we didn’t have any of the sound effects in place, so as an actor you have no real idea what’s going on. That’s the worst possible scenario, because it’s hard to gauge what’s wanted or expected from you. If memory serves that was the most recording on different stressful reactions and sounds, trying to figure out what might work. After getting the recording for Markus’ reactions we re-recorded Mairin since we had an idea of the intensity present in the scene, and I had something to react off of.

Doug, you had to pronounce a lot of unusual names of people and places during this drama. Did you have problems with any of the pronunciations? Did you have to rerecord any of them?

Doug: Yes there were a few trouble words I tripped over and had to retake. “Hospitaller” (HosPEETaler) was one I found myself having a very hard time pronouncing. Another was “Audaciter per Deus,” which required me to roll my ‘R’s…sometimes difficult to do to switch back to the more British Rs in the same sentence.

I also had the most difficulty with the huge monologue describing the duel between Markus and Gerard de Ridefort. It goes on for three pages with a ton of detail. I had to create a pacing that mirrored the kinetic excitement of the fight, and then dial it back [towards the end]. It was challenging.

Also, Josh had to change the final line in Latin after I already had made a good take of the original. He had discovered that his translation was wrong. So I had to retake: “Numquam desperate, confidite deo”.

When you listened to the final work, did any scenes surprise you or come out radically different than you had envisioned when recording the lines?

Vanessa: The only thing that really came out like nothing I expected was the fight [in the castle]. It’s really different hearing the different weapons being used to reading a description on paper. In general it was really interesting to hear how Markus and Mairin played off each other; you would’ve thought we had recorded together instead of in different time zones.

Tom: The surprises for me were not related to specific scenes. Josh’s script was pretty solid from the start, and I can only remember a couple of changes being made for second or third takes when an idea required more exposition or a scene needed to be adapted better for the format. Instead, I was blown away with how professional the performances were, particularly Chris’s performance as Markus.

Chris: I’ve only had an opportunity to listen to the first three parts, and they were pretty much how I expected it, which I think means that Rothe did a good job writing and directing the piece.

Looking back on your experiences, what did you learn as being part of the Stitched Crosses audio production?

Chris: I think you can probably tell that I was able to learn a lot about acting; I was able to push myself farther than I had before. It was worth all the time and effort, and I can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned in my next acting ventures.

Tom: I have become more organised as a person. I needed get the lines recorded when the house would be quiet, and also to deliver them before the deadline. That has helped me when working on other projects, including podcasts, videos and my own fiction. It has also given me more motivation creatively, as I have seen a project grow from early in the process until the creation of the final product. The dedication from the team inspired me to finish my own projects, and I now have a completed novel to show for it.

Vanessa: Well I definitely learned a whole lot about audio dramas and all the work that goes into them; recording the actor’s voices, the tweaking involved when it comes to adding the music and sound effects, cutting together everyone’s voices to sound continuous, and how time intensive it all really is. In the end though it was all really worth it and I’m excited to do it again in the future with another Grail Quest Books audio drama, Shadow of the Stars.

Doug: I learned a lot about this time period. It must have been a very uneasy time, especially in these holy lands when Muslims and Christians were having to live side by side, each of the powers trying to gain control of the same lands. You have Rome, the Saxons, the Normans, the Moors, the Templars, big players like Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. A very rich backdrop that I think Josh did a fantastic job weaving (pun intended) the story into.

Arnie is a writer and podcaster who can be found on Star Wars Action News, Now Playing, and Books & Nachos where he has interviewed a number of authors, game developers, actors, and other creative types.

Readers can follow-up on Chris Walker at his blog, Tom Baynham’s prose work at Smashswords, and Douglas Barbieri at his Facebook page.

Stitched Crosses: The Audio Drama and the related soundtrack can be purchase in a variety of ways, including Amazon.com and Audible.com. You can find the details here.

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