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Gayleen Froese on why Orphans works on radio: “the monster behind the door is scarier than the one you can see” February 17, 2007

Posted by William Spear in >> News.

Gayleen Froese and her writing partner, Ryan States, created Orphans, the story of Alec Morgan, a damaged but brilliant man who has built his life around his love of superheroes. According to Froese, “He finds the raw material for his own league of heroes in a group of people who have inexplicable powers and a hidden connection. They also, inconveniently, have a vivid collection of social and emotional problems, a deadly supernatural stalker trying to drive them insane, and limited patience with Alec’s comic book world.”

These are our kind of people.

Lit Between the Ears invited Gayleen to tell us more about Orphans and answer this question: What lead her and her partner to consider radio?

. . .

GAYLEEN: It was the first lecture of my first class in my first year of Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Arts program. Terry O’Reilly, famous for his eccentric advertising campaigns, was lecturing on creativity and possibility. He asked us to shut our eyes and imagine a hot fudge sundae the size of a mountain, with a helicopter flying in to deposit the world’s largest maraschino cherry on top.

He pointed out that creating this sundae for television would take staggering amounts of money and time. Only the largest clients in the largest markets could afford to make it happen, and even then it probably wouldn’t look quite right. In radio, on the other hand, a producer with a sound effects disc and a well-written script could produce the same effect in minutes . . .   and every listener would imagine it perfectly.

His words came back to me years later as I sat looking through a television pitch package for a show called “Orphans,” which had been created and written by myself and my roommate, Ryan States. It’s a spooky, unstable oddball of a show that veers between dark humour and melodrama. We think it’s pretty entertaining.

Rejections lead to . . .

We’d sent our package to production houses across the country and people liked the scripts, but passed on the project. Too expensive. Too difficult. Did we really want to hit someone with lightning in the first ten minutes? Did we really need to bring down an apartment building in that same episode? Didn’t we have anything about a little redheaded girl moving in with a kindly older couple on Prince Edward Island? Because that they could shoot.

Ryan, my writing partner, said we could produce Orphans ourselves, but that was even less possible for us than for the production houses.

. . . Radio . . .

Unless we did it as a radio show.

I’ll admit it. In the beginning, we thought of radio drama as the low-budget compromise for the television show we truly wanted to make.

After we began reworking the scripts and casting actors, though, we started to look at the show as its own thing, independent of its origins as a TV script. We realized the audio-only format was expanding our resources and possibilities.

. . . Which removed production complications

We no longer had to consider the budget for special effects. If we wanted something to happen, it happened.

We didn’t have to complicate an already difficult casting process by searching for actors who looked the part. If their voices were right, they were in.

We didn’t have to dress or light sets. We had no make-up, props or costuming. There was no need to take each scene from three or more different angles, as you would do on a single camera shoot.

There were limitations, of course, that we wouldn’t have had to consider in television. The quick cuts we were used to as television viewers were confusing without visuals. We had to make sure our actors had distinct voices and, even so, we had to shoehorn name mentions into the dialogue. Without the shorthand of the establishing shot to set our scenes, we had to get creative and find different ways of telling the audience where the action was taking place. We had to slow the pace, giving listeners time to process.

All of that was made up for, though, by the strengths of radio. Orphans dips into the horror genre, where it’s long been understood that the monster behind the door is scarier than the one you can see.  When the audience completes a scene with imagination, it heightens involvement and makes the experience more personal and more intense than anything we could visually present to them. Overall, the investment of imagination makes the show more personal and direct for the audience.

Television is not forgotten, but radio delivered a positive experience

Do we still wish we could make Orphans as a TV show? Of course. Not because we necessarily think it’s a better format, but because television has its own strengths. There are a lot of things, from meaningful looks to sweeping vistas to cheap sight gags, that were lost in translation. But that doesn’t mean that we view the radio show as a stepping stone, or that we feel it can’t stand on it’s own. It just means that we like the idea of seeing the story told in different media. We’d love to see a comic book version, too.

We’re fond of our radio show and we enjoyed (mostly) the experience of creating it. We’re still in post-production on two of the six episodes, so we’re not distributing it yet, but we plan to look for broadcasters who are interested in airing the show. We also intend to make it available as a podcast, either through a broadcaster or on our own. Other options, including internet and digital radio, are certainly up for consideration.

We don’t expect to make money from this. It’s both a labour of love and a resume piece, for us and for our performers (who gave us their time and their ideas – and we love them for it.)  As a learning experience about the possibilities of radio, we feel it has repaid us already.

. . .

Thanks for stopping by our publication, Gayleen; we look forward to updates, information, and release dates on Orphans. As far as we’re concerned, the only thing scarier than the monster behind your door is an entertainment industry without radio drama.

Contact and bio information: 

Gayleen Froese is a novelist and musician based in Edmonton, Canada. Her first novel, Touch, was published by NeWest Press in 2005. She is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Arts degree program.

Ryan States is an award-winning short story writer and creator of the Fishclock.ca artists’ collective. He is also the creator and designer of the High Castle game system.

More information about Orphans can be found at www.fishclock.ca. Gayleen Froese’s personal website is www.gayleenfroese.com.

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