Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On My Writing: The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company

As much as I enjoy working on my novels, I have to swallow a painful truth: they may never be published. I continue to beaver away at them because I can't help myself; the daydreams are inside me and they have to come out. But I can't help knowing, in the back of my mind, that they may never mean anything to anyone besides myself and those nearest and dearest who have generously agreed to read the rough tomes.

Fortunately for my sanity and self-esteem, my drive towards story-making has another outlet, with much more immediate results. I am a writer for the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company (www. artc. org). I may not be a published writer, but I am a produced one.

My experience with ARTC began Labor Day Weekend 2003 -- my first DragonCon. My strongest suit as an actress has always been my voice, and when I saw ARTC perform at DragonCon, my heart pounded with longing to join the group and warmed with certainty that I had something to offer it. I was just beginning a Fall semester in which I taught a Monday/Wednesday evening class, and ARTC rehearsed on Wednesdays, so my longing had to be deferred. But I would not forget the power, the dramatic intensity of what I'd heard when those gifted actors spoke into their microphones, and I would not give up my dream to be part of it. So in January 2004, I ventured to my first rehearsal at the house of Bill Ritch, ARTC's Chief and owner of the most impressive collection of books, CDs, and DVDs I have ever seen. I had only to look at that collection to know I belonged there.

On the nature of my belonging, however, I was slightly mistaken. I thought I would make my principal mark on the company as an actress. I have been acting with ARTC regularly for six years now, starting with a bit role in Fiona K. Leonard's Kissed By a Stranger (which gave me a chance to do my Edna May Oliver impression) and continuing through chatty robot detectives, femme fatale mad scientists, hapless Christmas pageant directors, Deputy Mayors, devilish brain-implant discs and more. In my favorite role, demon-possessed Egyptologist Chrissy Simpson in Bill Ritch's Doom of the Mummy, I got to use four separate voices. It was intoxicating.

But after my first rehearsal, I discovered that as much as I wanted to act for ARTC, even more I wanted to write for them. The performers' voices were unlocking stories in my imagination. Characters were shaping themselves, demanding release. Listening to Megan C. Tindale perform the heroine of Kissed By a Stranger, I began to envision a very different sort of heroine, a pock-marked musician Cinderella -- and I went home and started work on the first of my scripts that ARTC would produce, The House Across the Way. On hearing Sketch MacQuinor play the role of a stuffy Britisher to a comic fare-thee-well, I started thinking about a knight whose efforts at heroism often go astray, Don Quixote-style, but who, through a combination of nerve and skill and a resourceful sidekick, eventually becomes the hero he longs to be. So I began work on The Challenges of Brave Ragnar, which headlined ARTC's performance at DragonCon in 2007.

I couldn't have known it at the time, but when I descended the stairs into Bill Ritch's basement that fateful Wednesday night in January, I walked into a roomful of Muses. Granted, the characters I create for my ARTC plays are not always portrayed by the actors who first inspired them; interestingly, when a different actor plays such a character, he or she often draws into the light aspects of the character even I failed to see. But my heart always gives credit to the ones who, with a particular phrasing or inflection, put the ideas in my head.

I'm not the only one who finds the company members quite literally amusing. At a recent rehearsal, one of our number, Ethan Hulbert, mentioned that he could hardly look at a movie villain without an image of Hal Wiedeman -- ARTC's villain-in-chief, most recently heard as the twisted Dr. Moreau at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates, October 23 and 24 -- superimposing itself. When I penned my Beauty-and-the-Beast variant Nothing-at-All, Hal was my first and only choice to play the evil wizard. When I expanded the story into the novel Atterwald and gave the wizard a much broader character range, I still heard Hal's voice with each line of dialogue I penned. His is one of those deep, resonant voices you can't get out of your head, and I was gratified by the results of an experiment I tried with my newest script: instead of handing him the villain, I asked him to try out the role of the dissipated, cynical hero. Needless to say, he played it beautifully.

Since I joined ARTC, I've had eleven scripts of varying lengths produced and performed. Ragnar has gotten three airings, twice as episodes from the serial version and once as a stand-alone version. The House Across the Way, my first script, was recently resurrected and performed twice in the past year, first in March at the Academy Theatre and then again at DragonCon. For this coming year I have two scripts that have already been read at rehearsals and been given positive feedback, and God and the company willing, they will find their way into shows this year. I have yet another story idea I mean to hammer into shape during the Christmas holidays, hopefully to bring my total up to Lucky Fourteen.

A roomful of Muses, and the ideas keep coming.

What more could a writer ask for?

(Note for the curious: if you visit ARTC's website and click on the podcast link, you can hear performances of three of my scripts: Nothing-at-All, Christmas Rose, and The Worst Good Woman in the World. I hope you enjoy them.)

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