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Sitting Down with Andrew Gaboury: The Algonquin Tapes, Pandemic Art and Radio Drama

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

August 20th, 2021 by Isidora Kecman

Andrew Gaboury by Noelle Hamlyn

Coming to you live with the magic of the internet, I’m Isidora Kecman, Frog in Hand’s PR and Marketing Manager. Today is National Radio Day! I thought this was a perfect opportunity to chat with one of our very own guest artists, Andrew Gaboury, about his experience collaborating on creating Frog in Hand’s 3 part audio-drama War of the Worlds Reimagined. While Part 1 premiered at this year’s Fringe festival, the whole thin is set to be shared with audiences through Ko-Fi from September to December 2021. So today, I wanted to celebrate the amazing work we have going on in light of National Radio Day, and give our readers a little BTS, inside scoop to get them even more excited for what’s to come. Happy reading! :)

Isidora Kecman (IK): Thank you so much for sitting down with me today, Andrew! With National Radio Day coming up on August 20th, I thought it would be an awesome time to talk about your work on Frog in Hand’s productions of The Algonquin Tapes - our very own radio drama! To begin with, could you start off by telling us about the Algonquin Tapes and what inspired you to write it? What was your vision when creating this piece? Did you have any particular influences or inspirations?

Andrew Gaboury (AG): So, The Algonquin Tapes is part one of a 3-part retelling of The War of the Worlds by H.G.Wells. Colleen (one of my co-creators) grew up listening to radio dramas, and recently became inspired by the Orson Welles' version of War of the Worlds and she wanted to turn it into a dance piece somehow. So we actually got a Toronto Fringe slot for 2020. Then there was some research and development (R&D) with that, like listening parties for the radio dramas and reading other script adaptations of it but then, in March the pandemic hit and we had to switch gears. All of a sudden, a project we had been planning to happen in a few months for a live audience wasn't going to happen for another year. So we now had time and we took it. What could we do during a pandemic year? What kind of performance can we make that doesn't require people coming together in the same space to experience? And so we decided to not just do our take on the Orson Welles' piece, but to reimagine the story altogether, modernize it and place it somewhere closer to home.

From it’s conception, The Algonquin Tapes was literally inspired by the beginning of the H. G. Wells novel. I originally wanted to take the exact structure he had for it: this scientist's preface/warning, followed by a quaint story of people living in rural England when some things start landing in fields. When you read the book there's this amazing casual air to the whole thing because everyone in that book is just going on living, talking about livestock and what-have-you. I love this - it rings so true to me that people in real life don't automatically jump to sci-fi or horror movie explanations for things, right? So I wanted to capture that and write characters going about living with their own plans and goals and there's all this chaos out there that maybe also has its own plans and goals too. What happens when these intersect?

One of the first parts I wrote that eventually became the story of Alix and Sam is Alix seeing the beacon late at night while sitting at a campfire. One of the other concepts from Wells' novel is the uncertainty in the narrator's voices. They'll describe something and then re-describe it completely differently the next time and I just thought that was a brilliant way of capturing something unimaginable, something truly alien in words. Vandermeer, Gaiman, Lovecraft, King, they all do this in their writing and it works. So I just started describing things as a person trying to make sense of what they were seeing. The addition of the campfire brought these characters into the woods, because

what's freakier than being in the woods by yourself late at night and hearing/seeing something you don't understand/can't explain? Also, what's more beautiful than the natural world?

During our R&D sessions, we pulled a bunch of quotes and images from the original novel that we loved and wanted to hold onto. We had a big piece of craft paper with all these bits of text on it that we eventually threw into a document and mulled over some more. Once we settled on this being an audio drama that we would then create a "super-cut" of to turn into a dance piece, everything just opened up. I had never written for radio before, and we were lucky enough to have Miquelon “Mickey” Rodriguez on board as our sound designer. Mickey is an audio wizard, so when I started writing I always had that in the forefront of my mind, like, what would be a fun thing to hear?

Images of Lizzie Moffatt (top), Andrew Cromwell (bottom left), Clarke Blair (centre), Colleen Snell (bottom right) as we recorded, wrote and developed War of the Worlds Reimagined!

IK: Unfortunately, there’s no way to escape the harsh reality that this pandemic has had an especially large impact on artists and our work. Did you find that that had an effect on your creativity?

Callahan (our 3rd co-creator) and I met weekly to just sit around on Skype and write, to hold each other accountable, you know? We were both a little exhausted and anxious - that whole uncertainty I think most people were experiencing last year. So we'd meet, once a week, usually at noon or 1pm, and we'd chat for a bit, get on the same page and then take it easy; there wasn't a looming deadline anymore so we'd find an album, some sort of concept album or some rather epic video game music and write for an hour by ourselves, not even talking to each other, but just having the other there on the screen and listen to the same music. The Stellaris soundtrack is phenomenal to work to while writing sci-fi, btw. And this continued for a little while, a couple months. It was a wonderful source of comfort, to have a friend right there and a scheduled commitment to fulfil once or sometimes twice a week. Eventually Colleen joined us and I believe we settled on the 3-act structure, with each of us writing a different act of the story: me taking the beginning, Colleen the middle, and Callahan the end.

Two musicians jamming in front of beige wall
Image of Callahan and Andrew together (from rehearsal for Stories in the Woods 2019). By Nettie Seip

IK: What did you find to be your greatest challenges throughout the work?

AG:The disparity of reliable wifi connections. This is not in regards to writing, but more so in regards to the recording of the piece. So we all made our own bedroom closet recording studios and set up USB mics and softened the space with sweaters and blankets and things. But this maybe put our computers in places where we've never really tested our wifi signal strengths before. Oh man. So we'd meet over Zoom and have each actor record on their end. Poor Alice and Lizzie. There was so much lag. Luckily the recordings weren't compromised on the actors' ends, but those Zoom calls were messy. Mickey, being the audio wizard he is, flicked his wand and you'd never be able to tell.

IK: What do you find are the biggest differences in writing for radio versus writing a stage play that is experienced by audiences visually? Did your creative process differ?

AG: It was so fun to think about sounds. It was fun to throw ideas for setting and soundscapes down on paper, sometimes specific, often quite open (especially for the alien sounds) and even more fun to hear what Mickey sent back. The interesting thing about writing for audio is that you actually have to manufacture things you usually just take for granted, i.e. footsteps or sounds of objects being used. The conceit for The Algonquin Tapes is that we experience this story through a series of field recordings that Alix is making over the course of their trip. So proximity of characters and things to the mic becomes important to track. You really are leaving enough clues for the listener to be able to picture who's talking, what they’re doing and where they are.

IK: Do you think the different mediums affect audiences differently? What benefits do you find radio plays have in storytelling?

AG: Yeah I think listening to an audio play is akin to reading a book, although an audio play has to make some more definite decisions about things, there's still a whole lot left up to the imagination. There's something refreshing about preferring your hearing over your sight.

IK: Thanks Andrew for your incredible responses! That's it for now, folks! Join us over zoom on Fridays and Saturdays in September, turn off your camera and close your eyes... Escape your screen and immerse yourself in a world of sound. See you there!

Our thrilling audio drama, "War of the Worlds Reimagined," is a response to crisis fuelled by science fiction, inspired by the writing of H. G. Wells. You will witness remarkable friendships, and hear eerie encounters with the unknown. Playwrights Andrew Gaboury, Colleen Snell & Callahan Connor each crafted a chapter in this three-part adventure. We recommend bringing headphones for an optimal experience. Listen now.


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