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Lit Between the Ears, Chapter Two February 1, 2016

Posted by William Spear in Uncategorized.
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LIT BETWEEN THE EARS was created to highlight radio drama and its contemporary offspring, audio theater. The focus produced posts which captured years of efforts and observations.

Without warning, the family of stories told with voices, music, and sound effects received visitor. First, came stage plays with visual elements of storytelling. Then a proposed television series wandered into the surroundings. Most recently, filmmaking has taken residency with surprising results.

In December 2015, a short film, THE THREE FOUNTAINS, was shot, edited, and submitted to festivals in the United States and around the world. The experience with FOUNTAINS validated the process and built skills.

In January, a second film, PETER’S SYNDROME, was started. Pre-production is largely finished and principal shooting is being scheduled.

Throughout writing for stage, television, and film, this publication has been idle. In fact, the decision had been made to abandon the these posts for a vehicle which might better reflect the other forms and formats. After all, what insights could audio theater and its grandparent, radio drama, add to these new endeavors?

As events have unfolded, the experiences of writing for the ear have shaped, and provided a basis, for my visual storytelling. Further, and over the course of completing one short film completed, and having another in progress, plus three plays, and the television series, audio has been given similar billing with visuals. In other words, the quality and extent of what is heard is equal to what is seen.

Before my filmmaking brothers and sisters rise up and edit me from their conversations for such sacrilege, consider these examples:

  • UNBOUND (stage): This contemporary interpretation of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENTSTEIN, featuring a female protagonist, uses the sounds of an explosion and screaming crowd to mask the transition between two scenes on a darkened and curtain-raised stage. Later in the play, the high-pitched whining of an electrical generator, augmented by sparks, conveys the torture of the protagonist which is hidden behind a screen.
  • SECRET AGENT DAD (television): The proposed series, mostly comedic and autobiographical, about an inept husband and father who goes to extreme measures to become better at both, uses contemporary popular music to frame each season and individual episodes. One highlight early in the series is when the protagonist senses his actions are producing change, both desired but not yet fully understood. He chooses to celebrate by singing IN THE AIR TONIGHT by Phil Collins in an underground club whose patrons are drinking root beer and milk shakes.
  • PETER’S SYNDROME (film): The film-in-progress, tells the protagonist’s story with sounds which include a ticking pocket watch, heartbeat, helicopter, and machine gun. No dialogue is present; only the sounds which blur and blend Peter’s memories and present senses.

There are other examples but the net result is the same: How might my newly discovered awareness of sound in visual storytelling be woven into the history of radio drama and audio theater? In simpler terms, how might this blog be resurrected? The solution is to maintain its traditional focus on voices, music, and sound effects, collectively referenced as sounds, but reposition it to highlight those elements in stage, television, and film productions.

Welcome to Lit Between the Ears: Chapter Two, a twice monthly publication which chronicles the power of sounds across various media. Try it out. I’d like to hear what you think.


William E. Spear

Table read for What Davidson Heard April 4, 2014

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This past Tuesday, 1 April, The Book Garden, A Community Bookshop in Frenchtown, New Jersey, hosted a table read for “What Davidson Heard.” The evening revealed strengths and weaknesses of the script, an audio drama interpretation of H.G. Wells’ “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes,” (Part of “The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents” by H. G. Wells at Gutenberg) and the participants’ input have provided landmarks towards making the script production ready.

Serialized in three parts of approximately ten minutes each, WHAT DAVIDSON HEARD is a contemporary story set in Highgate Chemicals on its final day of operation in the midst of a violent thunderstorm. The main character is Sydney Davidson, General Manager of the plant, who is found screaming and covered in blood. But it’s not her blood. Further, Davidson is experiencing brutal attacks by an unseen assailant.

The Character List is as follows:

ANNOUNCER: Gets the audience into, and out of, the program. Male or Female.

MISTER CHAMBERS: Banker to the Davidson family. Trying to finalize the sale of Highgate Chemicals. Male, 55-60 years old.

TOM BELLOWS: Longstanding executive of Highgate Chemicals. Male, 50-55 years old.

SYDNEY DAVIDSON: General Manager, and third generation family owner, of Highgate Chemicals. Female, late 20’s-30 years old.

DOCTOR BOYCE: Doctor to the Davidson family. Female, 50-55-years old.

LIEUTENANT WADE: Investigating the attacks on Sydney. Also, ex-wife of Tom Bellows. Female, 50-55 years old.

The following draft excerpt, which includes Doctor Boyce, Tom Bellows, Mister Chambers, and Sydney Davidson, appears towards the end of Part One:

BOYCE: She’s in here.

BELLOWS: Let’s go in.

BOYCE: I want to warn you of a few things.

CHAMBERS: Of what.

BOYCE: She’s stopped screaming but is still susceptible to outbursts.

BELLOWS: Do something for her.

BOYCE: I poured sedatives into her but nothing worked. Finally a warm damp towel over her eyes calmed her down.

BELLOWS: We’ll be quiet.

BOYCE: There’s more.

BELLOWS: I said we’d be quiet.

BOYCE: She keeps calling for “Jackson.”

BELLOWS: Nobody in the plant’s named Jackson.

CHAMBERS: She’s never spoken of a “Jackson” to me.

BOYCE: Avoid the topic and she’ll stay calm. (BEAT) Now we’ll go in.


BOYCE: (Speaks softly) Miss Davidson. (BEAT) Sydney?

DAVIDSON: (Off MIC and behind DOOR) Yes Doctor Boyce.

BOYCE: Tom and Mister Chambers are here. May we come in?

DAVIDSON: (Off MIC and behind DOOR) Of course.

BOYCE: (Whispers to TOM and CHAMBERS) Remember, no mention of “Jackson.” (To DAVIDSON) Here we come.

CHAMBERS: (BEAT) Hello Miss Davidson.

DAVIDSON: That sounds like Mister Chambers.

CHAMBERS: Without even seeing me, very good. You gave us quite a fright young lady.

DAVIDSON: I scared myself. (BEAT and raises VOICE) Tom?

BELLOWS: Right here, sleepyhead.

DAVIDSON: Sorry for the excitement.

BELLOWS: You livened things up. What happened?

DAVIDSON: One moment I was walking to my office and the next I was here.

BELLOWS: You didn’t see anything?

DAVIDSON: It’s hard to explain with this towel on my face. (To BOYCE) Doctor Boyce, can I take it off?

BOYCE: If you’re up to it.

DAVIDSON: I am. (BEAT) That’s better. I can look- (Terrified and thrashing ARMS) Get away from me! Stay back, Jackson, or I’ll call the police. (Screams)


The next read is at The Book Garden on Tuesday 29 April. If you are interested in throwing lines or offering feedback please leave a comment or send a note to William Spear at two.plus.plus.productions@gmail.com.


Amtrak Writing Residency March 10, 2014

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Amtrak announced the opening of accepting submissions for its Residency for Writers program. Twenty-four writers will be given tickets to travel, which includes “accommodations on board a sleeper car equipped with a bed, a desk and outlets”, and by implication, time to write, onboard an Amtrak long distance for two-five days.

A lifelong fascination with trains rushed in while filling out the application. A planned opportunity to write, rather than in small chunks here and there, makes this especially appealing.

Updates will be posted.


THE RECLAMATION February 24, 2014

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After finishing ALL THE WAY BACK, an earlier audio theatre project was next. Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and all its film and stage adaptations, has always been a favorite and it felt like I could do it justice. However, rather than create a faithful adaptation, a reinterpretation was decided upon. The audio theatre piece was THE RECLAMATION OF EMILY SCROOGE and my objective was to adapt it to stage theatre.

THE RECLAMATION OF EMILY SCROOGE is the story of Emily Scrooge set as a contemporary piece. Emily runs the global investment firm of Scrooge and Marley and is set on the evening before buying our her old employer, Fezzletter, which is located in London. The deal, which would establish Scrooge and Marley as the largest global investment firm, begins to fall apart when rumors of insider trading charges surface about Emily. Further, Fezzletter executives threaten to call off the deal. Scrooge demands they honor the contract an insists on flying to London that evening for a Christmas Day signing.

However, Scrooge’s world is complicated when her husband threatens to take their children and leave if she does not spend the holiday with them.  The evening is further upended when Josephine Marley, Scrooge’s deceased partner, unexpectedly stops by and warns of three Spirits who will be visiting Emily later that night.

During January and February, audio theatre script was adapted to a stage version. Retitled THE RECLAMATION to avoid confusion with the audio version, it was finished after three rewrites late in February. As with ALL THE WAY BACK, the cast went from over 25 to 11. But the original intent and spirit of the audio piece is intact and THE RECLAMATION is ready for submissions.

Stay tuned for further updates.


ALL THE WAY BACK (previously “Replays”) January 4, 2014

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Started the year with a birthday and a finished script. REPLAYS, which received a staged reading under the name “Replays” in May 2013, received my full intention during the intervening seven months. The result, from its new name, ALL THE WAY BACK, to its revised storylines has been a pleasant journey.

From the moment the staged reading at Somerset Valley Players ended, it was clear there were choices to be made. One was the competition between the four main characters and whose play it really was. Another was whether the plays was a comedy, as intended, or a drama, as evolved. A third was whether the large cast, more than 25 performers, was viable.

After allowing all the feedback to sink in, further development went forward under a two-objectived mantra: Commit to the comedy and cap the cast size.

On capping the cast size, ten was chosen arbitrarily as a limit. To that end, the best insight was as follows: Consider collapsing the functionality of the characters as a means to reduce the cast size. Not knowing how that process would happen, it was started.

The other objective, commit to the comedy, was a more clearly realized path. Drama was removed or rewritten with the intent of smiles rather seriousness. And the existing humor was pushed closer to being over the top but consistent with the characters and their own arcs.

As functionalities combined, characters began disappearing. Even characters which received warm receptions at the reading were discarded without loss to the overall piece.

Finally, in late December, the script was left to marinade for a few days. When resumed, everything held together save for a few spot edits.

In early January, the first submission went out the door for ALL THE WAY BACK. Now definitely a comedy, ALL THE WAY BACK tells 98% of the same story with a cast of nine. It was lovely way to start 2014.