A Discussion with Phil Proctor on All Things Audio Theatre

Recorded Saturday 11 January 2003.

Phil Proctor is a member of the legendary, 3 time Grammy nominated American audio comedy troupe THE FIRESIGN THEATRE. He is also a noted actor, voicing countless parts for animations such as the voice of Phil & Lil's dad, Howard, on Rugrats. He has also created many popular characters in animated Disney and Pixar feature films including the drunken French monkey in Eddy Murphy's Dr. Dolittle series and Charlie, the whistle-blowing manager, in Monsters, Inc. Presently, as part of THE FIRESIGN THEATRE, Proctor contributes comedy to National Public Radio's nationally syndicated All Things Considered program. Roger Gregg is the Artistic Director of Ireland's acclaimed Crazy Dog Audio Theatre company.

GREGG: As a judge of the Mark Time Awards and being sent so much audio material to listen to, what are your general comments on contemporary American Audio Theatre?

PROCTOR: What I would say is: The good is very very good. The bad is horrid. Production is generally better than content. But there is a sameness to the subject matter and the treatment of same. In other words, what I hear is that some things stand out of the field. Like you know, sunflowers just towering over everything. And then there is a kind of sameness of the level and quality of the material that is generally submitted to us, but since the Mark Time Awards that we're concerned with are basically focused on the area of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror, obviously I don't have as broad a knowledge of what else might be being created out there.

But when you ask what are people doing out there, what are the common threads, I have to say from what I know when I look at the catalogues, there's a lot of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Not much original Drama or Comedy, which seems to have been relegated to Spoken Books, Stand-Up and Comedy Specials soundtracks. So that if you're going to look for anything that has an historical bent, you know, a story about the Civil War, or some kind of a Soap Opera, or a Romantic Story, or a Semi-Biographical story, or Psuedo-Autobiographical story - the kind of stuff that generally speaking, was produced in the heyday of Radio as alternatives to the Crime Stories and Horror Stories and Murder Mysteries - they're very hard to find.

But you can find them in a certain form, in Spoken Books that are produced with varying degrees of skill and production values by either independent people or the houses that publish the books that have set up kind of cheap and fast ways to hire stars to come in or people who have reputations as readers and read the material so you can listen to it in your car. And I do think it is a good Art Form. Although it is not always well realized. There are people like Charles Potter, who I believe is still consistently turning out high quality Westerns, sometimes original, sometimes drawn from books that have been written by famous Western writers like Louis Lamoure and people like that. He is an independent producer who's work I respect and who does a variety of stuff for consumers to listen to. But at the same time, the problem that people face, at least me, is that there isn't a coherent American catalogue - at least I don't know about it - that would make it easy for me to find out what kind of stuff was out there and then to perhaps order something that is of interest, because I like to listen to this kind of stuff as I'm driving around town here.

GREGG: What is generally good about the productions that you have heard?

PROCTOR: The sense of commitment and sincerity that everybody seems to bring to audio art. It's obvious that if anybody is going to commit themselves to doing something in this medium they're going to have to feel that it is a valid art form, that it's something that they personally feel can express their particular kind of art. A very private format. And even some of the worst things that I've heard, bad acting, bad production, stupid stories, and what have you, even that has been somehow fun to listen to because of the sense of commitment. And also, every once in a while they'll do something that, you know, stands out in the production. Where there's an actor who's got the feeling for it. Or the music might be really good. Or there might be really great sound effects, or something; it's just that the overall piece is of a pretty low level or doesn't rise to the level of works that are outstanding.

GREGG: What's generally bad about these productions?

PROCTOR: What's bad about these productions is that there's usually mediocre writing and for the most part, terrible voice casting. The first major fault that I have heard in all of the works that I have reviewed as a Judge and in works that I have purchased or have been sent to me, is: People cast their friends, partners, lovers, and creditors in these things and they can't act! Nothing will kill a piece of audio art faster than a bad actor. Even if you have a couple of good actors in there, if there's one clinker in a major role or even a minor role that has some importance to it, it's going to lower the level of the entire production and drop you right out of it.

GREGG: I use the analogy of buying a rowboat. You walk up to the rowboat and you see at a glance that it's all nicely painted. It appears to be a really good rowboat. So you get in. But then, Oh-Oh! You notice the little 6-inch square hole in the bottom. But the boat owner insists that's just a small hole, the rest of the boat has no hole at all. So you get in, and off you go! The whole boat goes glug glug glug.

PROCTOR: Right! That's right. It's a major problem and it sinks many a potentially interesting production.

GREGG: How can these errors be overcome?

PROCTOR: Generally speaking, you have to cast from the local theatrical acting pool. And you have to contact people who do local radio and TV spots, who have voices and techniques that are applicable to the art form that you've decided to do your work in. And you have to avoid cronyism and the weakness of casting friends and lovers. Use them in some other capacity. Have them come in and help you with sound effects or with music design or do a simple announcement. Relegate them to small roles - very small roles or cameos that make them feel like they are a part of the production. But by all means, don't give them major parts or character roles that are going to bring down the level of your creation.

Now what this means is those who write, create, produce and direct Audio Theatre, have to be very critical. It's true in all art forms. You have to put yourself in the position of being the audience. What would I feel like if I heard this person doing this part? Would I believe this person? Does it work? Are they bringing enough color and inventiveness and insight to the part? Can they do the accents properly? Can they fulfil the demands of the role? If they can't, they shouldn't do it.

I know that it's probably very frustrating for people who are trying to do this kind of work to find people with these skills. But if you can't find them, I would even suggest you wait and don't do the project until you can cast it properly. Otherwise it's going to be a failed project. That's just a reality. I think you have to be very realistic when you're working in this art form because again, as I say, it's extremely difficult to get any kind of an economic return on it. And that's the reason why most people do these things.

It's hard to get people to finance a production for you because they don't know if they're going to get any return. You can't go out and sell it immediately and get a check in your hand. You have to if anything, find a distributor to make tapes on demand and you get a piece of the action down the line. So if you're going to hire people and you want to do it professionally, it's all going to be done on a shoestring budget to begin with and you're going to have to feel beholden and share with the people who've helped you do the project. So you know, economically, as a producer it's a very tricky business.

I've wanted to get involved personally in this kind of work myself but I've had great trouble. I'm in Hollywood. I'm in the middle of Unionville, and I've tried over the years through AFTRA which has a tiny little itty-bitty Audio-Radio Division, to get the proper kind of paper work so that I could become an independent producer and then of course I'd have to pay everybody who lays down tracks for me a certain sum of money and I have to figure out whether it's a buy-out or whether they're going to get a piece of the action. There are all kinds of stumbling blocks along the way.

So for the most part, I suggest that Audio Drama is a labor of love. And a labor of commitment. If you have enough confidence to turn out Audio Theatre, you should go to your local listener-supported station and see if you can get some kind of a budget, or a time slot to do it. Otherwise I suggest it's strictly a labor of love. You get everybody to contribute their work, and the joy for the actor is to be able to give an audio performance which helps their reputation as an artist and to maybe excerpt it and put it on their reel if they're trying to get voice work etc. etc. But again the major problem is, as opposed to discussing how we're going to sell our next sitcom or reality-TV show where you know the payback can be enormous even though you might do it on spec to begin - radio doesn't afford that kind of promise.

GREGG: Radio is a heart breaker.

PROCTOR: It is a heartbreaker. And audio distribution can give you some return but again it's not written in stone that you're going to be successful with it. . One of the problems of this whole issue of the Spoken Arts is the one of distribution. Lodestone when it was doing it's service, and I hope it does so again, was at least offering an opportunity for the serious Audio-Theatre-phile to purchase material. Other than that, the only thing we can count on here in the States is for local listener supported radio stations to play audio material. Because the mainstream stations aren't going to do it. They have been completely taken over by huge corporate concerns and they're basically just providing right wing talk shows, pop music or religious programming. And that's about it.

One of the hardest things when people say they want to get involved in Radio Drama or Radio Comedy or doing Audio of any sort, is I say "Well that's fine. But where's your market going to be?' And in previous years all I've been able to say was 'Well there's this thing called Lodestone, which provides some kind of distribution for your stuff. And if Rich Fish of Lodestone likes it, then at least you'll have some place where you can refer people to in order to hear what you've done". But that's the problem. And that's why it's so hard to encourage people to do audio these days. I've been involved as an Advocate of Audio Drama as an art form for over 10 years, and I used to go to the Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop and participate in seminars and shows and all of that. My schedule has been such that I haven't been able to participate in recent years.
[The Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop has been superceded by the National Audio Theatre Festivals' (NATF) Audio Theatre Workshop.]
But I do know that if anybody is interested in pursuing any questions related to the creation of audio art, they should get on line and sign up to the bulletin that we all receive, the ' Radio Drama Digest'. I recommend that if anyone is interested in any aspect of creating 'Radio drama', 'Audio drama' - What do we call it ?! 'Audio Art'. Let's call it 'Audio Art' - the Radio Drama Digest is a good place to start and plug into.

GREGG: The market has changed. Take the case of, dare I say it, The Firesign Theatre.


GREGG: Those magical days where a giant corporation like Columbia Records would be 'dumb' enough in terms of today's shrewd post-Reagan type capitalism to say 'Yeah Let's back this really weird Firesign thing' are gone.

PROCTOR: Yeah. Remember when we were talking in Ireland, I couldn't remember the name of the chap who was our champion, our patron. His name is John McClure. And John McClure who still produces brilliant stuff, he was our Champion at Columbia in those days in the 60's. He's the one who went in and convinced the powers-that-be at Columbia that they should underwrite FIRESIGN.
GREGG: But those days are gone. A similar thing happened with Tom Lopez of ZBS. He was able to get big, national syndication on NPR in the early 70's when it actually meant something. His early productions reached wide audiences and he built up a big fan base. And then when that scaffold was pulled away, he luckily had a mailing list of fans which kept him in touch with that base and kept him afloat. But for someone starting off now, these big distribution arms don't exist.

PROCTOR: No they don't. I mean FIRESIGN now luckily has a platform, though I don't know how much longer it will last, but we hope it will last for at least another year, maybe longer.

We're on 'ALL THINGS CONSIDERED' on NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO [NPR]. And we get a very modest budget to produce the show and half of the budget is almost always relegated to our production which is as you know, Warren Dewey Studios. And Warren does a wonderful job of making the pieces sound the way we want them to because each piece has it's own special style. And we get national exposure to an audience that knows who we are, or if they don't they might become interested in what we are doing. And generally speaking, we get more favorable than unfavorable responses from people.

Now what this exposure does for us is that it will effect our catalogue sales of all the material that we've created over the decades that are available at our website, etc. etc. So the benefit doesn't come to us from a budget that lines our pockets every time we write and go in and produce our material, it comes in ancillary benefits of royalty sales and promotion of the body of our work. And that's the way it has to be for people in our position who've at least established ourselves as artists in the audio realm.

For those who wish to do something like that which we do, without having a similar platform, it is as you say, practically impossible. You can't really sell a record company today on anything other than stand-up recordings of comedy or a soundtrack from a television special or a stage show. And you really have to be for the most part, pretty well established in order to even get to that point. There are hardly any spoken word, comedy producers or A & R people, left in the major record companies. It's basically become a kind of residual aspect of marketing for these companies. And as we know, also at least in America, because of the internet, the record industry as such has suffered terribly in the last 5 years or so. And so they are cutting back enormously even on the production of music. So you can't any longer say 'Well I'll create these wonderful audio pieces like FIRESIGN THEATRE and they'll get out there and people will buy them if they like them, and I'll have a career.'

We were very lucky that we came to our career at a particular time, that what we were doing, which was satirical and against the mainstream and very avant guarde, basically existed in a media form that was private and personal and couldn't be heard anywhere else. So people if they bought our records knew they were getting something they couldn't get elsewhere. And in a way it added to the mystique of the experience. They could put it on in the privacy of their own home and listen to it and nobody was sitting over their shoulder saying 'You can't say that! You can't hear that!'.

GREGG: To return to our general subject, who's Audio Theatre work do you admire ?
PROCTOR: Well, you and CRAZY DOG AUDIO THEATRE, of course, for many reasons: a consistency of high standards in all the elements that produce a meaningful and riveting audio theatre experience - which are; good scripts, good acting, a directorial vision, a sense of rhythm, a genius use of sound effects and original production music. And a knack for acquiring Production Assistants who help to put it all together and ensure it's recorded properly, balanced properly and then assist you in the mixing of the final project. So to me, you're probably the most outstanding producer of Audio Theatre extant today.

GREGG: I'm a 'Son of Firesign'.
PROCTOR: Son of Firesign ? [Laughs] I'm very glad.

GREGG: You ruined my life.
PROCTOR: I know.

GREGG: I could be making big money in television

PROCTOR: I drove you out of America, too. You had to go to a country that would allow you to do what you're doing. People occasionally send me these emails saying 'Who do you recommend ? I'm interested in this kind of thing, so how do I get started ?' And I say 'Well the first thing you have to do, you have to listen to work such as CRAZY DOG AUDIO THEATRE. If you're interested in doing voices, listen to THE GOON SHOWs .

And then if you think you've got the stuff, if you feel you can reach these standards, personally, then go for it! And if not, then figure out some other way that you might contribute to the art form'. Other people I highly recommend let's see - Of course THE FIRESIGN THEATRE for me was a wonderful opportunity to express myself in this imaginative form which I grew up listening to in live radio programming and comedy records that were, at the time taboo breaking. And FIRESIGN THEATRE, as you've already expressed, is also something that you can listen to in terms of understanding the extent to which you can go to create a really exciting and visceral audio experience.

Because, again, one of the wonderful things about audio theatre is that you can go anywhere and do anything. STAN FREBERG, another master of the art expressed it by saying; 'If you want to drop a 400 pound cherry into 3 tons of whipped cream, you can do that in audio just by saying you're doing it. It's in your ears! But if you try to create it on a sound-stage it's going to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars'. So you know, the use of imagination to create any kind of a world, any kind of an experience that you want, is the most liberating aspect of audio theatre. And it's the reason why people should get involved in it, it seems to me.
(Ed: Actually it was a 10 ton Maraschino Cherry into a 500 foot mountain of whipped cream sitting on top of Lake Michigan which had been filled with hot chocolate.)

I like the writing of a guy named JOHN DE CHANCIE from ZIPLOW Studios of Hilton Head, South Carolina. He did a thing called 'Innerverse' and another piece called 'Magic Net'. His works I think are still available. But I know that Steve Ziplow isn't maintaining a repertory company any longer because it wasn't lucrative. But he was a very inventive producer and creator. The acting is sometimes uneven, but for the most part it's pretty good. And the writing is very good. And he took the time to create a rich story that you could listen to for many hours. He took the time to get us involved in a story and that would overcome other weaknesses in the production because he started with a strong premise. Good writing. Which is still the bottom line.
The works of the Canadian JEFF GREEN. Are you acquainted with him?

GREGG: I've exchanged several friendly emails with him and I've tried listening several times to his SOUNDINGS over the internet. But I suffer from 'net congestion' and listening over the internet always bogs down for me after a couple seconds.

PROCTOR: Jeff Green has many pieces in his oeuvre and I would say I really enjoyed at least 60 % - really a lot. And the others were all interesting and certainly worth listening to. He has a terrific imagination, and like Firesign Theatre, he is able to create some bizarre effects to justify the ideas he is writing about; audio effects that really exemplify and make certain concepts work. And a lot of it is in your head. It's more like some of the aspects of what you do in your "BILL LIZARD" detective series where you cross into the hallucinatory aspect of it. You're not exactly sure where you are, but then you come out at the other end and say 'Oh Yeah, I see what's happened.' Jeff Green does a lot of that very well in his work. So he's somebody to watch and hear and I know he is available at Lodestone.

Of course if we talk about inspiration, anything by NORMAN CORWIN is fascinating to me. Even when he fails. His style and his writing is just so, so brilliant. And so satisfying to listen to. And the clarity with how he presents it. It's such a specific voice that it can't help but be inspirational. The same goes for ORSON WELLES and all his great radio productions. And Orson Wells of course exemplifies the apex of being able to utilize all of the aspects of production in order to create the top of the mark for his time. So he is very inspirational.

Also, Old Time Radio Drama, Old Radio Comedy and all that kind of stuff, I love to listen to. It's always fun because it was live and sometimes the crudeness of it adds to the fun of it because you're asked to participate more imaginatively than you would be with something that, you know, you're spoon fed. We're so used to getting such over-blown productions in movies and things. Our ears are so used to, you know huge effects that when you listen to something from an earlier era, it's almost refreshing; to listen to the simplicity. It's like sometimes I have to watch a black-and-white movie on television because it's like a cleansing. It cleanses me. It's such a pure, clean, clear art form. It gives my brain a rest from all of the flash and panache of modern, overly produced material.

Now, there's just a couple other productions that I'd like to mention and recommend. THE APOTHEOSIS SAGA series from Kevin Swan. Very imaginative and well produced. Occasionally an actor doesn't rise to the standard, but it's a very fascinating story. Swan writes heroic stories about ancient gods that are plaguing the modern world. He manages to create some rather startling effects of huge events happening. You know, monsters attacking cities and things like that. Plus it is very witty and has interesting writing. And it's provocative, a little bit like HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. It's a series and I think he's on his seventh right now. I participated in some of these, so it's been a lot of fun.

DAVID OSSMAN's work with OTHERWORLD PRODUCTIONS. Really, fantastically wonderful. His WIZARD OF OZ, I think is the best audio adaptation of the Baum stories that I have heard - and I've heard a lot of them! And his WAR OF THE WORLDS creation was absolutely brilliant. And David got grants and budgets that were sufficient and cooperation from places like LUCAS ARTS up north. So that he could do some really extraordinary things and use some extraordinary techniques to create a new way of listening to these stories.

GREGG: His production of Chandler's 'GOLDFISH' is good.

PROCTOR: It's really good, but his GOLDFISH production to me suffers from the style that he chose to do it in. Some of the acting in it, the naturalism that he's gone for, takes the energy from it.

GREGG: You hear a lot of room.

PROCTOR: Yeah. And that takes energy out of it because in Audio Drama I prefer when one thinks poetically. You have to think how it's going to affect you in your head through your ears and into your brain. And sometimes that means that if you're in a cab and you are listening to a cabbie and there's too much going on - and I mean Firesign suffers from this sometimes - there's too much production going on, you don't hear clearly what is impelling the story; what is being told to you.

GREGG: If you literally record in a room with high ceilings and a wooden floor and you say; 'We're going to record this with a literal natural sound and go for absolute realism' you end up with a sound that's very muddy. But yet that's what you actually hear in a room like that. So I think you have to create a 'theatrical realism'. This was Jack Webb's production genius for example. Even though the DRAGNET radio scripts are corny and dated, Webb recognized that people don't talk and project and swagger in real life as on stage. And he always thought of a microphone as a human ear. So you realize that that microphone is some little old lady's ear, and you're speaking right into it from 6 inches away. So you're not going to shout, you're not going to project. You underplay it. But crucially Jack Webb went for this underplayed 'naturalism' in an unnatural sound studio. He had his casts underplay as they do in 'real life but in an artificial sound studio, so he got the best of both worlds.

PROCTOR: That's right and he did the same thing on television. He established a style, a wonderful, unique style.

GREGG: And it made for a sharper poignancy by underplaying and throwing lines away. Rather than big, big drama.

PROCTOR: Another thing I'd recommend is 'TOO DEAD TO SWING' by AUDIO PLAYWRIGHTS. These are pieces that you should listen to. It's an adaptation of a murder mystery and it's pretty good. It's fun to listen to. The works of YURI RASOVSKY and THE HOLLYWOOD THEATRE OF THE EAR, I also recommend, particularly his " 2000 X" series with Harlan Ellison which is now going to be released in CD and cassette form. I saw it down in Warren's studio the other day.

GREGG: His production of 'TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW' from that series is very good.

PROCTOR: Oh, he did some wonderful adaptations! And he also did some fun, original little short silly pieces. And I mean it's a treat to listen to. He cast wonderful actors. Of course he has this great talent pool out here. But he cast great, fun actors to do these things. He had the intelligence to cast both me and my wife, Melinda Peterson, in some of the projects as well. And it was just such a joy to work with all these fine people. Now, you know, there are other series like THE L.A. THEATRE WORKS. For maybe over a decade now they've been adapting plays and doing original works like a musical by Harry Shirer about J.Edgar Hoover. They use stars to do radio. They do it in front of a live audience. They record it, and then I think they do a little fixing and maybe a little sweetening. It's broadcast locally, and then they are syndicated and they make them available through their own catalogue service. Now that's all fine, but the problem is, for my ears, that what you are basically getting is a live, stand-up performance reading of something. It's not psychologically satisfying, because actors, no matter how skilled they are in terms of presenting audio material - and believe me some of the great actors who do these things, don't know how to do it, they don't know how to do audio theatre - they are doing it in front of a live audience, and they are still reading something and are not really engaged. It's the same problem you have if you record a stage piece. Either audibly or visually, you're not getting the same thing that you're getting if you put people into a relaxed, controlled studio situation.

 Now, when you do your live CRAZY DOG shows, you're doing a show which is a comedy. It is ideal to be performed in front of a live audience. You also get your audience to participate in the shows. You have already taken it one step beyond what these people attempt to do. I encourage people to listen to these L.A. THEATRE shows, especially if it's a play like Anne Frank, that you believe in. They are definitely interesting, but they don't to me satisfy the wonderful potential that Audio theatre offers. Actually your CRAZY DOG series of live shows are the most satisfying productions of this kind of theatre that I've heard. And I've heard other's people's attempts to do live comedy in front of an audience and for the most part they don't work very well. MIND'S EAR audio production 'French Quarter' series. Very interesting.

Some works by Brian Price and Jerry Stearns, (ed: Great Northern Theatre) like the VELVETEEN SUBMISSION which was actually performed in front of a live audience and does pretty well. And another piece of theirs called DRUMMER'S DOME, which was a produced piece, is imaginative and an original story.
And then I highly recommend ' THIS POINTLESS THING CALLED LIFE' which was one of the submissions to last year's Mark Time Audio Awards by the Australians Alex Marshal and Silvia Loreva from THE ORCHESTRA OF THOUGHT. Even though it was encumbered with strange accents which made it a little hard to understand, you had to get used to it, the writing was very, very funny. Definitely on a par with HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. And the adventure was tremendously imaginative. That's the kind of stuff that turns me on.
Doug Bost and Jeff Ward of UNION SIGNAL do a naturalistic kind of recording in the horror genre. They are producing superlative and subtle half hour horror pieces that are absolutely the best of any horror work I've ever heard. They do very realistic pieces, with very subtle scoring and very realistic sound effects. If they were set by the sea, you really felt you were on the shore, walking in the sand. Yet the recording was all very nice and close and you could hear what was going on. And when things happened it was very terrifying. It was wonderful.

GREGG: Any advice for producers, writers, actors, director's working in Audio ?

PROCTOR: Firstly, the style of production must meet the intention of the material. And some bits of advice: Don't cut corners. Listen with critical ears. Edit it and fix it until it is as good as it can be. How should producers produce for audio? If it's live, rehearse and rehearse as much as possible. Run-throughs are vital. If you can test run on an audience or an invited audience, that helps, because then you find laughs and pauses. If you can post-produce after recording your voice actors, I think that adds to the quality of the material. Try to get your actors to interact and don't be afraid to break things down into scenes and to record scenes out of order, just like a movie.

How should writers write for audio ? Get inside the mind. Tell the story in many ways. Narrations. Scenes. Sounds. Music. Acting. Etc. Let the production engage and guide the listener to it's intended effect. In other words, it's not just recorded voice tracks with added sound effects. It's got to be an integration of these ideas in your mind, so that when you finally produce it, you know there's a pause here and you're going to put in a sound effect that going to help tell that story or a piece of music that going to make that transition.

How should actor's act for audio ? Depending on the style the production demands, from subtle, conversational and natural to outrageously cartoony, over the top: Style is everything. Listen to your fellow actors. Interact. Overlap when necessary. Listen to the Director and or Producer who knows what they want from you. How should Director's direct for audio ? With a critical ear.

Rehearse until you've got the actors in the right style, then record. And record again until you're satisfied. Don't be afraid to cut in good portions of a take as in film. Be aware of technical needs such as your space in the studio or on location work. Laying in background track and Foley and sound effects later, requires you to direct your actors accordingly.

GREGG: How much of it is audio techniques and how much is the fundamentals of theatre?

PROCTOR: Theatrical training breeds confidence. It gives an actor knowledge of styles and historical context. Also actors coming from theatrical training have musical and vocal training. But learning to express character and action with the voice alone is another kind of training. And another kind of learning. And I actually do some of that training at our own L.A.based, ANTAEUS CLASSICAL THEATRE COMPANY.

GREGG: I hear a lot of actors acting from the throat up.


GREGG: They're afraid to put their body into it like if their character is punching someone or running.

PROCTOR: Oh, sure.

GREGG: You have to kind of put your pelvis into it, engage with it to make the action come alive.

PROCTOR: Well you know I do all this ADR work for films and theatrical animation and putting voices in movies all the time, and I try to match voices to the characters doing things on the screen. If you're running, you can't run in front of a microphone because you're making noises. So you have to learn how to run in your mind and move your body in such a way that it sounds like your running. You have to listen and copy what you hear. Try to make a sound that makes people immediately understand what your body is doing. Believe me, it's a technique that you can train yourself to do, but you have to understand that it is a need.

GREGG: What do you see as trends for the future ?

PROCTOR: There'll be more people listening in cars and on planes and trains and while exercising. I see a more important blending of music-voice-story-effects for maximum surprise and entertainment. But nothing beats a good story, clearly told in any form. I think that the subtleties of recording techniques and of digital recording can allow for a clarity of listening. The dimensionality of the listening experience has increased, will probably increase even more, and can be used to great effect.

GREGG: Is American digital radio going to revive Audio Theatre?

PROCTOR: Well, the CD allows for easy storage and distribution of audio at present. It is the most satisfying universal format. The delivery stage isn't really as important. I think that in audio the most important thing is being able to hear as much of a wide range of effects as possible. As I said the listening experience digitally can be quite wide-ranging and so on-line formats are not all that satisfying right now. You know the Internet has these problems of downloading material. It's not yet instantaneous. It's not yet as clear as it should be. I think in the future it will be and maybe that will afford an opportunity for people to listen to good audio art while they are doing something else. But basically to me the most important thing is to have a good platform like the CD, and to be able to play it in various places so that you can concentrate in various different ways to the material being presented. When you're driving you're obviously not going to be listening quite the same way as when you're lying down on the couch with the lights out. So the material is of primary importance and the ability to be able to listen to it in differing places is really what makes Audio theatre exciting.

GREGG: My acid test is my little ghetto blaster. If I can play something on that and go around the room tidying up or whatever, and if I hear what I'm supposed to hear and be engaged in that context, then I'm satisfied. That's the real test.

PROCTOR: That's absolutely right.

GREGG: I just scratch my head at some of the 'debates' in the letters in the Radio Drama Digest about things like: 'Should effects be actual sounds or stylized studio re-creations?' And 'Should all productions now be in surround sound ?' Or: 'Should you have all your listeners listening on head phones?' Or: 'What's wrong with people that they don't sit obediently still for over an hour and listen attentively to my monologue?' Or 'For a whack on the head sound, should you actually whack someone on the head or can you use a watermelon?' I read some of the contributors tangling with such shibboleths and I'm like: 'What the hell are you talking about?!' 'Why are you people wasting your time on these things ?'

PROCTOR: [LAUGHING] That's right. It's all about style. You do whatever - whatever you need to do to make the style work. And for the most part it isn't actually whacking someone over the head for a 'whack on the head' sound. For the most part it's using your creative imagination to make something sound a certain way so that it creates the effect, the needed effect. That's all it is. And you're absolutely right, it is absurd that people even have to ask these questions. But that's because they don't know. Nobody is teaching it. Nobody is saying 'Now here's how you do sound effects of marching men'. And yes, now you can get digital sound effects of marching men and if that's what you need, then you use that. But if you don't need that, then you can have the old stick effect, the old fashioned sound effect of a bunch of sticks moving up and down, and if that works for you, use that !