Roger Gregg of Ireland's Crazy Dog Audio Theatre talks to Sue Zizza creator of Radio Works and Executive Director of the National Audio Theatre Festivals.

For almost 20 years Sue Zizza has been producing national award winning audio drama programming. Her series The Radio Works, now in its 12th year, is heard on almost 70 public radio stations coast-to-coast and internationally. She is a writer, director, producer and sound designer specializing in live (foley) effects for audio and the stage.
Sue is a member of the faculty at the New York University's Tisch School of the Arts where she teaches recording and sound design. Additionally, she teaches audio production workshops throughout the country and is the Executive Director of the National Audio Theatre Festivals. Over the years Sue's work, has been honored by The Gabriels, The National Federation of Community Broadcasters, The International Radio Festival, and The Communicator Awards.    


GREGG: What's the story of RADIO WORKS ?

ZIZZA: The RADIO WORKS is now starting its twelfth season this fall. It started when I was working at a University here in New York producing Audio Theatre projects with my students for the University radio station. These were projects that we were producing for the community as well. When we took these projects to national competitions we would do very well. We would win competitions like the National Federation of Community Broadcasters and the International Radio Competition and most of the University based-type competitions for students and things like that.

So I began to contact NPR PLAYHOUSE at the time and offer them some of these programs. And I was getting answers like: 'Well they're too long.' 'They're too short.' 'There are not enough of them for a series.' 'You've got too many of them for a series.' And these were all high quality programs. I just got frustrated Roger, very frustrated and I met another group of artists like myself who were in a similar situation. Either they didn't have enough programs to sustain a series or the programs they had were 20 minutes long not 26 minutes. So I went to my then boss at the University and I said; 'Listen, if you can help me put together a distribution network, we'll use student interns' and all the rest of that. So we crafted an agreement between the University radio station and myself that said that I owned the program and if I left at anytime, which I did, that the program would go with me. During my tenure there I used RADIO WORKS as a professional internship program for the station. And in exchange for not getting paid by the station to do this extra work, they purchased dubbing machines so we could put programs onto cassette at high-speed. So I worked for many years through the University program with student interns who would take in material from the independent audio theatre community and audition it.

We started sending out letters to people, putting information in magazines like CURRENT, and The College Broadcaster News, and things like that, letting people know that if they did have work that they wanted to have distributed nationally, there was a service available to them. Because I didn't have a lot of funding I decided at that time that the best thing to do would be to organize RADIO WORKS as a co-operative venture between the independent producers and ourselves. Meaning that we wouldn't charge stations to broadcast the programs because the point was to get as much audio theatre out there as possible. And also many of the smaller community stations and college stations that were interested in our programming, stations that NPR was not interested in, did not have a lot of money. The point was to try and get young ears listening to this, meaning the programmers of those stations. Or get independents who were in community stations, excited about this kind of programming and try producing it themselves. So I created the RADIO WORKS in a way that became a co-operative venture between the independent producers and ourselves. They would submit the work to me, we wouldn't pay them, but what we would give them was the kind of documentation that they needed so if they were seeking a grant that required a distribution arm, there would be a distribution arm available to them.

Many of the grants here in the United States don't want to just give you money to create art that's going to sit on a shelf. They want to give you money and know that it's going to go somewhere. For these independent producers who were doing a half hour program or an hour program or even a few programs, putting together the whole marketing of a series was just an overwhelming task. So I would say to them; 'Fine, Give me a piece of your work. I'll put it on the RADIO WORKS. I'll do all the distribution and marketing for you. And in exchange your work will get heard. I'm not getting paid by the stations. You're not getting paid by me, but you are getting the opportunity now to apply for grants and community money, because now you know your work has the potential to be heard.' And then the way I would work it with my students was that they would be the first level of listening. Meaning that a project would come in, they would then fill out a critique information sheet that would tell me what they thought of the production values, the writing and the acting. I wanted it to be a learning experience for them. I wanted them to become better critical listeners. I wanted them to understand what made good audio theatre and what was not good audio theatre. And so they would fill this out and we would discuss it. I would then listen to the piece and we would have a discussion about it. If they felt it was really good and I listened to it and I agreed with them, it would automatically get on the program. If I didn't think it was of the quality of being able to be put out on the air, then we would write the producer a letter or I'd call the producer - and I still do this - you know; 'This work shows its got a lot of intent. It's got a lot of heart. But, you know, your mic technique is really bad, you can't hear people well, or 'Your production values are so dense that they're muddy, it's hard to understand what's going on' Or; 'The acting is not quite what it should be'. I mean there is a lot of stuff that never gets into RADIO WORKS. We produce 26 half hours a year and usually 2 to 3 one hour holiday specials around Christmas, Halloween, depending upon the material that's available to us. So there are times when work will come in that's just not airable. The production values aren't good. The writing isn't good. But we do try to be as encouraging as possible.

I see the audio theatre community as having 3 levels of producers:

  • First, there are the 'Professionals'. People like: Yuri Rasovsky, Tom Lopez, David Ossman, Charley Potter, Angelo Panetta, Judith Wolcott, George Zarr. Brian Smith's productions for the Sci Fi Channel. These are people that are putting out a very high quality of audio theatre. It's well written. It's well produced. These people have the skill, the ability, the funding and the resources to put out a very high professional, commercial level of product.
  • Then you have the next level which I consider the 'Community Producer'. Someone who has some equipment, some interest in what they're doing, some desire. They may have more equipment than others, but the bottom line is: They're just not exactly producing that commercial grade or level of work.
  • And then you have what I call the 'Student' - the young person who is very excited about the possibility of producing this kind of art. Last semester at the New York University in the Tisch School of Film and Television I taught a course called 'The Sound Image'. They had to learn that sound creates pictures all by itself with no images. They were all assigned an audio theatre production to do as their final project. And some of the work that I heard done by these students who are just new to the art form is unbelievable and totally airable!

Throughout the season of the RADIO WORKS we try to primarily focus on higher quality, commercial grade work, the kind of work that you do. But then we also go to the Hobbyist, the Enthusiast, the Community Radio Producers, and listen for good examples of work that's being done that really is just shy of that commercial level. But it still shows a heart, an interest, a desire to produce quality work. Sometimes the scripts are great and the acting is just a little off. Sometimes the scripts could have used a little more work but the production values and the acting is great. I mean there's some real talent within that Community Arts group so you need to be a little forgiving if their work isn't as polished. And then, we try to produce one or two shows a season that deal with Student Work to look at what the student is producing in the audio theatre community. For example Dwight Frizzell out at the Kansas City Institute of Music, produces avant-guard work with his students. Very interesting stuff. He's trying to get them to really reach into the media and into the art form and pull something interesting out of it. So the RADIO WORKS series really does try to give the audience a sampling of everything that's out there. Everything from Tom Lopez and your work, to students who are coming from all across the country.

We continue to use the internship model with the series. When I left the University where I had been teaching, the program came with me because I owned it. And I continued to bring students into my own personal studio to be able to allow them to learn production skills. We've had students work with us ever since I opened my own studio back in '95. It's a really wonderful growth opportunity for them. Most of the students who have worked with us, now are working in some area of the film industry as sound designers or engineers, you know, that kind of thing. That's where they found commercial work stemming from their interest in Audio Theatre. So does that answer your question?

GREGG: That's pretty good.

ZIZZA: [laughs] Here's the bottom line Roger, you know when I started getting this response from NPR all those years ago, 'too long, too short, too whatever', I said; 'You know you're not the only people in the world that can send out a tape!' But I recognized that I by myself, did not have a continuous body of work that could sustain a series. So I said; 'I can't be the only person that's having a hard time getting their work heard. There's got to be other people like me' So I started looking for other people who were experiencing the same thing and who's work deserved to be heard. My whole goal with RADIO WORKS is to reach out to not just to the audience that's receiving it from the broadcast side, but I'm really interested in those radio station programmers who are 17, 18 and 19 years old and are wondering what this Audio industry is all about. Those are the ears that I want because they're the ones who 10 years from now are going to be sitting in NPR and Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Radio and all those other places, determining what's going to be programming. And I want them to know that Audio Theatre is a viable art form. And that's a big part of why the RADIO WORKS series exists.

GREGG: That raises a lot of issues doesn't it?

ZIZZA: What issues does it raise?

GREGG: For example I spoke with George Zarr at Sirius radio and he told me about the trouble he was having finding enough material of good quality.

ZIZZA: And he's right. In terms of the amount of programming he needs for daily commercial programming on Sirius Radio. The problem is that when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting years ago decided it was going to be more concerned with the Arbitron Numbers than with the different kinds of art that could be heard on public radio, a lot of producers ended up without funding and there is very little - at the moment - money for commercial funding. However in the last 3 years I have seen a trend towards better and better production coming out of what I call that Community Hobbyist environment. Because it's gotten cheaper to produce. Most people nowadays can afford some sort of digital editor. Well right there you improve the quality of what you're doing tenfold. Just because the digital medium makes it much cleaner, much more broadcastable.

The audio book market was nothing 5 years ago. Now it's worth millions and millions of dollars. And many of the people who are interested in this art form end up there and more and more of that work is beginning to have more production value. And I just see it as a natural extension of what we do. We're not the Audio Book Industry but I see a lot of companionship between what we're trying to do and what they're trying to do. I've had many conversations with Robin Whitten [Editor of AudioFile ® magazine] who has looked at me in the eye and said; 'A lot of the stuff that I hear Sue, isn't very good'. And that's the truth. It isn't very good. Because there hasn't been a lot of money put out there to teach this art form. And that's what the National Audio Theatre Festivals [NATF] is trying to do. That's why the artists who were doing the training got together and when the opportunity presented itself for us to take over the management of a training project, we said 'Absolutely we want to do this! Absolutely we want to have more opportunity to create a project that gives people better training'. And we started to do things like include things like Surround Sound or include more location recording opportunities at our National Conference.

Here in the United States most of the really good audio theatre artists went into the advertising business. If you listen to a commercial that's more than one voice, or even if it is just one voice, the minute you add a sound effect, anything, it's short form Audio Theatre. And many of the people that I went to school with were very talented in this area and went into the advertising business where they do the most hysterical commercials and they sell millions of dollars worth of products through the technique. So in the 50s when the audio theatre was taken off the commercial airwaves in the United States, the art form morphed into this commercial industry where now we're dealing with 30-second vignettes not 30-minute vignettes. And I think that people started to believe that radio theatre was dead and all the rest of it, but you know Everet Frost didn't stop producing, Yuri Rasovsky didn't stop producing, Tom Lopez, Marjorie Van Halteren - all these people were still producing. Some of these people found other ways to fund their work and continued to produce like Tom Lopez does. And some of them like myself just sort of said 'Well you know what? You're not the only people who can do this' It's O.K. that everybody's not producing at a particular level.

For George Zarr at Sirius Radio, it's not o.k.. Because he's trying to then re-sell what he's doing. He's got a situation with Sirius where people subscribe. But look at cable 20 years ago and the crappy little programs that USA NETWORK was originally putting out. Or look at what HBO was doing 15 years ago with their programming. It wasn't great but you know what, people began to want more and more of that programming. Now look at what HBO puts out. They got more Emmy nominations for their independent programming than any of the major networks.

So I just think it's a matter of helping people to re-think and re-shift and I think that as technology becomes more accessible you're going to find that the art will have more listeners. Will it ever be what it was in the 1930's on commercial radio? I don't know. I really don't know if that's going to happen. But I do see more opportunities through the Internet for independent broadcasting. I do see more opportunities through the Internet for direct sales. I do see more independent producers experimenting with the art form because it has become more cost effective for them than film or television. I think that over time some of those artists will excel, just like in any other field. Look at the independent film community - it's also very uneven in what comes out each year, yet every once in a while a gem comes out.

GREGG: But Audio Theatre in and of itself, is kind of a dead end. There's no carrot or pot of gold waiting for the excellent audio production - especially for one that's doing something original or new.

ZIZZA: Well when we were working with Brian Smith in the Sci Fi Channel series the same thing there was true. He was putting out some very interesting, very good work but it wasn't until I was able to help him get Brian Dennehy in one of his shows that all of a sudden his work got seriously funded by the network, because now there was a name talent and from there he was able to spring board into other people. But as I said, I think we are in a place where there are opportunities. I think that like any other independent art community you're going to get people like Tom Lopez that rise to the top. Is there a lot of money to be made there? No. Not at the moment. But every once in while a film comes out that just hits and makes all kinds of money and then that artist gets the opportunity to do anything he wants or she wants in Hollywood.

That's a similar kind of scenario for us. This is a better moment for this art form than ever before in terms of broadcast possibilities and all the rest of that. And XM Radio has just announced that they're going to have, I think they're calling it 'Sonic Theatre' and it's going to be a whole channel dedicated primarily to audio theatre and audio books. But the point is that they're not going to be producing anything. As I've understood it, they're only going to acquire material as cheap as possible just for re-broadcast.

You know people thought that the Audio Book industry was crazy 10 years ago when they first started. 'Who's going to listen to a book? People read books.' And now look at it. It's a multi-million dollar industry! So I think that if training improves artists ability to make this art form accessible - and like I said that's what the National Audio Theatre Festivals is trying to do -I think we'll see more and more people who will experiment with it and create more material and that over time as material and outlets become available to us, they'll be more and better commercially viable material out there. Right now, there just isn't enough. George Zarr and I had had a long talk at one point about how much material he needed to fill a channel in a day. And he's right, there isn't enough because you're talking about people who are subscription holders who want quality right out of the box. I'll be very interested to see what XM ultimately puts on the air on Sonic Theatre because I think they're going to find themselves sustaining most of that channel with the Audio Book material. It's much more available and its much more accessible. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

People shouldn't walk away from this art form because it doesn't make money. I know that people think; 'Well if I do something, I want to make some money from it' Well I don't make money with the RADIO WORKS, I do it because I love it and I do it because I think it's important that all these artists be heard. But more than that, I think that the more we keep doing it eventually the more market places will become available to us. You know there'll be more opportunities for people to hear your work and people to hear Dwight's work, and the work of many others. It's a matter of getting people to be better trained, to be better critical listeners. A lot of people think that because it's an inexpensive media to produce that Audio Theatre doesn't require the same kind of skill. I think it requires much more skill. That's really the big issue: Most people are not really critical listeners. They don't understand what it takes to paint in sound. They don't have the training because they've been brought up watching television.

GREGG: It's about engaging the listener. The producer is concerned about what makes the engaging happen. That's the bottom line.

ZIZZA: What makes any producer good, in television, film, in publications, or audio theatre, is knowing what is commercially viable. There are some producers out there who's work nobody can listen to for more than 3 minutes because though it may be sonically brilliant, it's not engaging for the audience. That's a big skill that we have not been teaching people because there hasn't been any place to learn it. There's no 'School of Audio Theatre'.

I've been doing a lot of reaching out to the academic community here in the United States through the National Audio Theatre Festivals. Being a teacher myself at a university, I know how this art form can so wonderfully teach students how to use the audio medium. I do a huge amount of talking to other faculty. I'm constantly speaking to Professors saying; 'In your production classes have you thought about having them produce audio theatre?' How does a film producer know what's going to hit and what isn't ? Sometimes they're right. Sometimes they're wrong. But the point is that they have a sense of what is commercially viable. And that's where I do agree with you 100 %.

Our art form is lacking in this regard. People in our industry seem to think that if they just put in enough sound effects and music and people speak into a microphone, everybody is just supposed to listen. No. You've got to start with a good script. You've got to have good actors. And have a Director who understands it. And you've then got to take all those things put it together technically in a very complete package so that the audience can listen to it. And people who do that are successful . That's why Tom Lopez sells. That's why Yuri continues to produce. And George Zarr was producing very commercially viable stuff and he does know what an audience is going to laugh at and what makes people respond. That's really it: How do you use this medium to make people respond?

Part of the problem Roger is that there's been a real lack of training for many years in our country because the money was taken away and put into News and other kinds of programming. When I first started doing these kind of workshops years ago, I found that the average person who came to the NATF conference was slightly older. They were people who had some kind of relationship to Old Time Radio Theatre. But over the last 15 years - and I hate to admit I've been doing it this long - I have seen the artists get younger and younger. This last year we had a nice mix of both High School students, College students, University Professors and general community people.

GREGG: How many people attend?

ZIZZA: How many people came to the conference this year?


ZIZZA: We had over 70 participants and trainers this year. It was a little bit down from last year. Last year we had over 85. But this year I think people with the economy and what happened in September… In fact I had a teacher who had booked himself and 10 of his students from a High School in Kansas City, Kansas cancel at the last minute because he lost his funding from the school district.   
     Opening Dinner ATW 2002

Everyday I get emails saying; 'Oh my god! I didn't know there was a place to go to learn how to do this. And the Connecticut School of Broadcasting isn't it' [Laughs] I'll tell you something, the training that we offer has improved dramatically over the years, because we are the artists who do this work. We're doing our own training and creating workbooks for people to take home with them. We're really much more pro-active in the kind of training that we're doing. Many of us work in University environments and understand what it takes to create curriculum that helps people improve skill and ability.


ZIZZA: O.K. [LAUGHS]. Give me ten years Roger and then come back and see how crappy the stuff is. [LAUGHS] Listen, you have no idea how many things come into this office that my partner David Shinn and I just look at each other and we say: 'Ooh, who's going to write the letter?' [LAUGHS] But we have to. That's our job. We have agreed to do this. So there are many uncomfortable conversations that I have with people in which I have to say to them; 'You have a great germ of an idea there but it didn't quite come together. Here's what you need to do: You want to go back and try again. I'll be happy to listen to the next time you put this together'. And you know, I'll tell you something, I've had people who come back 2 and 3 times and it gets better and better and better each time. I'm thrilled that it means that much to them. I see them growing as artists. It's just a matter of somebody sitting down and saying to them what works and what doesn't. And having standards.

You know the film industry has standards. The television industry has standards. We have no standards because we haven't been an industry for a very long time. It's just been all these independent artists. One of the big missions of NATF is to pull together a language for us to criticize each other's work in a positive way. So many times I have artists come to me and present work and if I do say something to them, some of them just do not appreciate the critique. They just don't want to hear it. 'What do you mean I'm not as good as…?!.' … I think part of the problem is that it's such a small group of people at the moment who all know each other. Everybody's trying to be polite. Everybody's trying to be nice to each other. Because we do want to be supportive of each other. There is no critical language like there is in film or in television to be able to critique the art and say; 'This is what was right with it. This is what was wrong with it'. I think in some ways Yuri tries to approach that critical listening standard.

GREGG: Yuri is very forthright.

ZIZZA: Yes. Yes I think he tries to approach critical listening. But again there is not a standardized language. In film if you screw up, people say 'Your lighting was bad', In audio theatre there's no language for that.

GREGG: In theatre, film and in television, it's perhaps sad to say, but there's the box office. There's bums on seats. There's how much money a show makes. There's viewing figures. Now I personally may think that for example, the show 'FRIENDS' is awful. But who cares? I'm just one guy. Meanwhile the market is out there. 'Friends' has a lot of loyal viewers, the advertisers are happy, so the show gets continued for another season. And behind the scenes you also have a lot of editors sitting in offices looking at the scripts saying; 'This is not good' 'We need a funny line here'. 'Rewrite this - it's feckin' shite !' And it goes to teams of writers. This is what used to happen for Jack Benny and Bob Hope and so many shows on radio. There was that same pressure to keep up the quality of material, because the bottom line was holding the audience. Some Emeritus Literary Scholar can say 'This work has Cultural Merit' but really the show's creators couldn't give a shit about that, what they want is viewers or listeners - in other words an audience. They want to make sure that the audience is riveted.

ZIZZA: That's right, but we also have in theatre, in film and to a much lesser extent in television, a small independent community here in the United States where every once in a while, even if it's not selling a lot of seats, even if a lot of people are not waiting in the box office, people still know it's good work and it gets attention. And maybe next time their next project will sell more tickets. But the thing is that there is at least a way to evaluate the material in a way that is not personal.

Part of the problem that we have some of the time in our industry is that when you want to give honest criticism, because the language isn't standardized, your criticism comes off as very personal or overly negative. For example there was a group of people who produced a multi-part Audio Theatre series. I was absolutely appalled. It was the worst piece of crap that I ever heard. And it got a lot of airplay and a lot of attention and I could not believe that it was even on the air. It was so badly produced! I started to sit down and write a letter to say: 'You made a good effort here, but not for nothing, this series really isn't very good' And no matter how I tried to write this letter, it came off as me not liking these people. I just threw the letter away because I thought there's no way for me to say this because there's no non-confrontational language out there. You don't get that in film or television.

GREGG: Well film or TV. is more ruthless, because there's money involved. Because money is involved there's no kid gloves. They bare knuckle it out. But in a little audio production, they do it as a labor of love, they see it as their child. This is their child.

ZIZZA: That's exactly right.

GREGG: There was no money involved. This is their child, their dream, their life's work. And now someone is going to come along and say: 'The acting is terrible'. Or 'Everything is drowned out by the background' Or 'The music is too loud'.

ZIZZA: They take it personally.

GREGG: They take it personally because it's an entirely personal thing. Whereas the professional writer for example with the team working on a show like 'Friends' or whatever, if the boss says; 'Look it's crap!! Rewrite it'. It gets rewritten. That's their job. That's what they get paid for.

ZIZZA: That's right.

GREGG: If they cannot divorce themselves from their writing, they will go insane or become drug addicts or alcoholics. The writer has to watch their child get picked up by the ankles and slammed against a brick wall.

ZIZZA: What is that writer's expression? 'You always have to kill your darlings'

GREGG: Yes, You have to watch some of your children die. You just have to.

ZIZZA: Right. Absolutely. I had a very pleasurable experience this year in working with two writers whose work I directed for the National Conference. And I have to say that these two people were really pros. When I went to them and said; 'This joke doesn't work, and here's why it doesn't work. How are you going to fix it or are we going to loose it ?' They didn't say; 'Oh NO! That joke has to stay in'. They instead would either find a way to make it work based on what works in comedy or they would walk away from it. We had people in the audience in tears. O.K. ? So we were obviously good at what we did. But the point was that the writers were really into the process and understood that if we want this to be funny, if we want people to laugh, some of these jokes have to go, some of these jokes have to get re-written, and some of this is going to stay just the way that it is'. I never had an argument with them. I would just say to them; 'This works. This works. This doesn't. What are you going to do to fix it ?' And in rehearsals, they would come to me and say; 'You were right about that joke, it doesn't work, now that we hear it on its legs, get rid of it.' It was a delightful experience to have adults to work with who didn't feel that every word was their child that they were killing.

Meanwhile at NATF, Sarah Montague worked with a man who is a published author who teaches creative writing at a college here in New York City, and again the guy was like; 'Sarah whatever you want to do, I'm more than delighted to try and create your vision of my work' And he was thrilled with what she did. It's a level of professionalism.
Sara Montague
One of the great lessons I learned happened years ago when I sat down to work with Martin Jenkins from the BBC. He was teaching a course at the Public Media Foundation up in Boston. He gave us a scene to produce from a work of his own. I created this unbelievable soundscape for this piece. Most of us did. We all had quite involved soundscapes. And he looked at us all and said; 'This is crap. All crap! Not one of you got the point of the play. This is the pivotal monologue upon which everything turns. If the audience is going to get what is going on, there should be nothing but the actor and the word at this moment. And all this crap that you've created to put behind it, is nothing but distraction, because you don't understand the work you are producing!' And man, I'll tell you Roger, that was the greatest experience I ever had. I walked out of there high as a kite. It was like; 'Holy Cow I totally missed the point. I can't believe it.' Some people were very upset by what he said [LAUGHS]. I was totally thrilled and I'm a sound-designer by trade. I was totally thrilled because he was absolutely right. … It really made me think long and hard the next time I went to direct a piece, how I approached it. And what really was the story I was trying to tell. What really was the message. And I am still learning. I am still learning everyday.

GREGG: The BBC comes from a different culture and ethos of what inspired and drove the American OTR. For example there have been these Scottish Police Detective murder mysteries recently on Radio 4. They're set at the turn of the last century. The scripts are excellent. The acting is excellent. There's like 12 seconds of theme music at the beginning, 12 seconds of theme music at the end. No other music. If the characters are out on a city street you might hear horses hooves on cobblestones. And if someone enters a room, a door might be heard. And that's it. The rest is the word. And day after day after day that's the typical 'BBC Radio Production'. Whereas if you listen to American OTR, especially after magnetic tape came in, they follow much more the lead of Hollywood. For example 'Yours Truly Johnny Dollar' and such shows. There's music there to underpin the emotional thrust of a scene or the transitions. There's an underscore, working in the same way as film. Don't get me wrong. Martin Jenkins was right. There are definitely moments where anything is a distraction from the actor and the word. And you're always trying to tell one story and must never loose sight of it, especially if you only have 26 minutes or even 45, but there's a different culture there. But personally I prefer the OTR style and find most of the BBC productions very very sparse.

ZIZZA: I find that today here in the United States, because the technology has become so much more accessible to more producers, that they go completely in the opposite direction. They put so much crap in the background. Then they think; 'Oh my god, I didn't need that much information and now I don't know where the hell I am!' It becomes mud.

GREGG: 'More is better' this is the false thinking. They clutter it up with all the bells and whistles at their disposal.

ZIZZA: That's right. But they don't know how to use it.

ZIZZA: Within the commercially viable industry you're going to hear stuff that you love and stuff that you hate. I love Tom Lopez dearly, as an artist, as a friend, but there have been a couple of things that he's turned to me and said 'Alright it wasn't my best' [LAUGHS] There are times when that happens. Some people are going to love what you do and some people just aren't.

GREGG: But still no carrot. This is the hope for the satellite digital stations. I hope they try to break new talent, to create a space where new high quality productions can reach a national audience. This would at least help cover the costs.

ZIZZA: I don't disagree with you, but I don't think that carrot is going to come for us until, just like in the audio book industry, there's enough work produced by enough qualified producers to get the ears of people out there. Given the fact that people are hungry for audio books and when they hear stuff that's new work, that has more production values to it, they are primed for it. They are totally primed for it. It's just a matter now of producing better stuff ourselves.

Education is the place. If we educate producers from the beginning to understand what engages the audience and keeps them there, then we all have a chance at commercial success. I think that the American public is hungry for this stuff. I don't think that audio books would be doing as well as they're doing if people couldn't sit and listen. I mean some of these books are 15 or 20 hours long. Robin Whitten [AudioFile MAGAZINE] has said to me many times; 'The audio theatre community could be making a commercial dent in this market place if producers were better trained. If they knew what it took to make better product. If they understood everything from writing to packaging.'… And she's talking about new plays and new concepts not based on other material. Brand new original work.

GREGG: Tell us about the upcoming Audio Theatre writer's workshop.

ZIZZA: This November, The National Audio Theatre Festivals is going to sponsor a 4 day writer's workshop in Portland, Maine in association with AudioFile ®  magazine. We're going to have Tom Lopez talking about original play writing. We're going to have Ralph Pazullo has done a series of historical audio dramas, has a background as a screen and stage writer, and is an accomplished dramatist. Pazullo is going to talk about adapting and abridging and also working from other source materials. And then we're going to have Bruce Coville, as our keynote speaker. Bruce is a very well known children's author who actually started the Random House's Words Take Wings, the imprint for kids. He owns a company now called Full Cast Audio. His whole thing is that you take a piece of literature and you don't adapt it, you don't abridge it and you don't dramatize it. You do it the way it was written but you do it with really good actors and really good sound effects and music to create what we call a 'Read-A-Long'.   So at the Writer's Workshop people are going to have 3 very different opinions from 3 well known and competent teachers talking about the different ways you can present your material in the audio industry.

It's going to be for a small number of writers, no more than 20. Lindsay Ellison who also works with us and has done a lot of stuff for the Library of Congress will be there. Lindsay is going to be a one-on-one person so that someone can sit and talk with you about your work. The workshop will be focused solely on the writer. We're not performing anything. We're not producing anything. We're just going to work with writers. Because without a good script, you can have all the production bells and whistles and the greatest actors in the world but it's going to be crap. This Workshop is an event that's being announced this month. [August 2002].

ZIZZA: I'd like to invite everyone out there to find a way to support each other. I think that a way to do that is through the National Audio Theatre Festivals. We're out there lobbying. When NPR PLAYHOUSE went off the air, we just didn't sit around and go 'Oh that's too bad'. We wrote a letter to Jay Kerins J., the Director of Programming, and said 'You've got to remember that these artists exist and they have a right to have a voice.' Basically he wrote back and told us 'NPR does what NPR does, but thanks for the input and look for new ways to incorporate what you do in our formats.' We tried to represent our membership in a positive way. There is an organization that exists.

If we all work together we can make a change. I'm delighted to say that two of the artists who came to our conference this year, both happen to live in the Chicago area and they're starting a whole new children's series because they met at NATF. They're both very talented individuals so I can't wait to hear what they're producing. We create opportunities for people. It's not a lot to join but that money spent in joining our organization goes a long way in helping us meet the educational and association needs of our members. I'd like people to think about joining the National Audio Theatre Festivals. We're really trying Roger, we're really trying - now we need to try together. [LAUGHS]

* FullCast Audio produces unabridged multi-cast readings of books with music, but no sfx. ed.