The following is an interview with Jack Ward, co-host (with David Ault) of The Sonic Society, which is a weekly showcase of modern audio dramas. The Sonic Society will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this month, and the staff of Fanboy Comics wanted to highlight the years of Ward’s hard work and dedication to promoting the creative efforts of audio drama enthusiasts across the globe! In this interview, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor Barbra Dillon chats with Ward about what he feels is most appealing in the audio drama medium, his inspiration for creating The Sonic Society, his plans for celebrating 10 amazing years of the show, and what listeners can expect next from the organization!
Barbra J. Dillon, Fanboy Comics Managing Editor: The Sonic Society is an organizations that features modern audio dramas from around the world. For those who may be unfamiliar, what is an audio drama?
Jack Ward: Audio Drama has been called some different things through the years. It began as “Radio Drama.” Some people call it “Theatre of the Mind.” A couple years ago, I bemused to our listeners that maybe we need a new term to get people’s attention. We’ve had “Audio Cinema,” “Audio Theatre,” “Audio Pulp,” “Audio Play,” and the like. But, the short answer is that audio drama is a movie without the pictures. You might think that’s somehow less, until you consider that you can turn on the television and be anywhere in the house and listen to a movie, but if you had the TV on with the sound down, you’d most likely be horribly lost. Audio paints incredible pictures in our head.
BD: What is it about the audio drama that you feel appeals most to you and to listeners?
JW: If you ask me, I think the eclectic nature of audio drama is what I find endlessly appealing. You can do anything in Audio Drama and your budget is pretty much the same. Jenette Khan said the same thing once about comics. You can destroy a world in one “panel” and recreate it in the next in comics. You can do the same thing in audio. Stan Freberg’s pointed out that you could drain one of the great lakes, fill it with whipped cream, and have a helicopter drop a 10-ton cherry on top to the cheers of a thousand extras. He added, “Now, try doing THAT on television!”
But, if you ask most of my listeners, they’ll tell you about the economy of audio drama. With today’s podcasting, you can load up your iPod, run it through your stereo in your car, and go through an episode at a time of your favorite shows while driving back and forth to work. Radio today has the same music playing ad nauseam, but with the miracles of podcasting and audio drama you aren’t just sitting in a car going to work- you’re escaping to another world and often another time.
BD: The Sonic Society will soon be celebrating its 10-year anniversary. What inspired you to create the organization, and are there any special events that you have scheduled to celebrate this momentous occasion?
JW: I had a friend who knew I loved radio drama tell me about twelve years ago that if I wrote one, he could get it on an Internet Radio station. In typical Jack fashion, I said, “Let’s do a series!” By the time I had written about ten, one-hour long scripts, the Internet Radio station folded and my friend and I were disappointed.
I was determined to not let this idea die. We went to the local radio station at Dalhousie campus in Halifax. The execs at the station are ALWAYS looking for spoken word shows. (Hint to all of you out there thinking about doing this!) We began “Shadowlands Theatre,” where we ran old-time radio shows peppered with our own original plays. It was such a hit we were asked to syndicate. But, when we started looking around, we discovered that a lot of radio stations across Canada were concerned about copyright, even though these shows were in the public domain. It was suggested to me then, that maybe a show full of modern audio drama would be easier to syndicate.
“Modern Audio Drama?” I thought. “Who else is doing this?” So, I started searching on the Internet, and lo and behold, more people were making radio plays in the modern age! So, we rechristened the show “The Sonic Society” after I pitched a whole bunch of different names, and Shadowlands Theatre slid into the dusty wastelands of history. I won’t sugar coat it though . . . those first few years were a lot harder to find AD than it is now. Today, the Internet is spilling over with amazing shows!
As for special events for the Sonic Society, I began considering that it’s been a number of years since I’ve done proper interviews with the makers of Audio Radio Theatre. So, I began requesting interviews with new producers and old friends. Many have a lot to say about how their work is impacting in other media like novels, audio books, even movies. In the past, I would mix these interviews as part of the main show, but I decided that for Season 10 I would create a second podcast on the feed called “Sonic Speaks” where it’s just interviews. If I can get my co-host, David Ault, to find some folks in Britain to interview, as well, we’ll keep Sonic Speaks going all year.
And, because one extra show isn’t enough for me, I have been ruminating on all the people who have not heard some of the Golden Age radio drama out there. Our new productions owe everything to the pioneers who created those stories in the past. So, I created “Sonic Echo,” where every Friday I highlight an Old Time Radio show that people may not be familiar with. I’ve divided each month up into genres or themes. We begin with “Western Month” in September as our summer rides off into the sunset. So, that’s three shows on the feed, Sonic Echo on Friday nights, Sonic Speaks on Sunday nights, and, of course, the very best in modern audio theatre – The Sonic Society on Tuesday nights.
BD: The Sonic Society provides a great platform for audio drama creators to reach a larger audience. What is the best way for creators to contact you with the hope of being featured on the show?
JW: The Sonic Society can be reached through gmail at sonicsociety (at) gmail.com, Twitter (@sonicsociety), we have a Facebook page “The Sonic Society,” and, of course, the website at sonicsociety.org. I can be reached on skype at jackjward, too. I didn’t create a Sonic Society skype handle, because I didn’t want to give the show a swelled head.
BD: What types of audio dramas have you featured on your site, and would you say that there are a variety of genres or styles that define the medium?
JW: The Sonic Society has featured everything from suspense, mystery and horror, to science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and beyond. Heck, we even have a rock opera never heard before by the seventies band “If,” I mean, I was dancing all week when I got that email. We’ve even had soap operas, in fact this season we’re premiering a new soap opera series called “Prenport” out of England. So, the answer is, if there’s a kind of story you like, you’ll find it in the Sonic Society. Don’t like a genre, skip a week. We won’t be offended. We offer a mix, because we love the variety!
As for the main kind of styles that define the medium, I would say that horror and sci-fi/fantasy tend to be the most popular and the most visual. It’s funny to consider audio as a visual medium, but, frankly, I think it’s the MOST visual medium, because the pictures are drawn right into your head. It certainly is the most intimate of mediums, because the story is closest to your brain. Even a book is a foot away while you read. Audio Drama is right there, along side your thoughts. Listeners are co-conspirators in the story. It reminds me of the power of “closure” in comics and how what we create ends up being far more visceral, far more terrifying. I have a standing dare for my students. Try to listen to “Woman in the Basement” by Midnight Radio Theater in the dark in your bedroom with nothing else to distract you. Shut off your phone. Listen late at night when no one else is there. Many said they had to shut the show off halfway through. That’s real terror.
BD: The Sonic Society has also posted interviews with writers, actors, and directors from the medium. Do you feel that this insight into the creative process has been well received by your listeners?
JW: Some of our most favorite shows have been the interviews. I think as fans we all love to know who the people are that make these amazing stories. As tradition, I’ve begun every Sonic Society season with an interview with my friend and pulp producing genius, Gregg Taylor. We talk about the state of audio drama today and what he’s up to in Decoder Ring Theatre. I feel kind of guilty about the interviews, because I think I learn as much or more than our listeners from them.
BD: In addition to your work with TSS, can you share with us the work that you have created within the field of audio drama?
JW: My production company is called Electric Vicuña Production,s and all my work can be found at evicuna.com. I’ve written more than a hundred radio plays if you include all the AD shorts I’ve done through the years in the Sonic Society. I love writing in a variety of genres. It doesn’t take a lot of listening to recognize that one of the great influences in my life is Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone. I have continuing anthology series and think mostly in single show concepts. “The Dead Line” corrals all my horror, suspense, murder mystery series. “Wave Front” most resembles the old fashioned “Outer Limits” or “X-Minus One” series, and “Darker Musings” runs a lot of the stranger more Twilight Zone-esque stories. That being said, I’ve run a number of shows that intend to be series on their own. Graves’ Shift- a noir detective series featuring Phillipa Graves. Phil Morris- Celestial Lawyer, about a guy who is in Hell but called to the Celestial Court to try cases for the Angels once in a while. “Spaceways starring Biff Straker” is my ode to Buck Rogers style pulp science fiction, “Jeremiah Crandall- Funeral Detective” and “Goth Girl” are my straight detective series. I’ve even dabbled with some comedy like “The Jack and Shannon Show” that was based on the fictitious lives of me and my previous co-host and many more. All of them (except Gate which I’m currently remastering) are available at the EVP website, or peppered through the Sonic Society feed in the last ten years.
BD: Being that we focus on all things “geek,” would you care to geek out with us about your favorite audio dramas?
JW: Writing in audio drama has really allowed me to “get my geek on.” One of the first audio drama series I wrote and produced was the first Firefly fan audio on the Internet called “Firefly Old Wounds.” I can easily say if there was one thing that got the attention of the Fanboy community, it was that. Once you get over the fact that our actors don’t sound like the original amazing actors of the show, I think you appreciate the tales we’ve woven. I also got a chance to write a ten-episode series that was totally inspired by the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After watching the entire show in just a couple of weeks, I thought, “How would I tell the story of a teenage fighting evil demons?” and “Gate” was born. It turned out to be one of our most popular shows, and people keep asking for more episodes even though all the actors have moved on long ago now. I am really anxious to go back to “Blue Defender” and finish that series. One of our fans made an animation based on the audio comic.
Those are some of my favorite shows I’ve made that would be very geeky. John Bell, who played “Blue” in Blue Defender is the Mel Blanc of modern audio theatre. The man has a million voices inside of him, and if you want to hear incredible comedy go listen to the entire back series of “Bell’s in the Batfry”. The only other single performer comedic audio drama show I know is the incredible “Teknikal Diffikuilties” with Cayenne Chris Conroy. Between those two (who I am proud to say have featured in a couple shows of my own including most recently “Galaxy Master Versus the Varn”). “Decoder Ring Theatre,” I’ve already mentioned with “The Red Panda” and “Black Jack Justice” is a must listen for anyone who loves the old pulp “The Shadow” or “Sam Spade” style stories. There are so many others that I just can’t do justice naming them all, but I’ll throw out a few more of my favorites. “A Beginner’s Guide to Interplanetary Destruction” is a brand new series which is a must listen for anyone who loves roleplaying games and geek culture. “We’re Alive” is the incredible zombie series that’s garnered a number of awards. “The Witchhunter Chronicles” by Audio Epics has a fantastic “Lord of the Rings” style story and mythology and a powerful orchestral sound. Broken Sea Audio has a pile of great geek works like “Planet of the Apes”, “Escape from New York”, “Battlestar Galactica” and “Logan’s Run” along with super original series. Final Rune Productions have a fantastic series called “The Cleansed.” “Pulp-Pourri Theatre” is taking old pulp stories from public domain and dramatizing them. Pendant Productions has a truck load of amazing original audio drama . . . The list goes on and on, and I’m already regretting the dozens more I haven’t mentioned. I listen to all of these and more, religiously. When I’m doing the dishes, driving somewhere, working out, going for a walk to clear my head, all I have on my iPod are audio stories and podcasts. I highly recommend just going to The Sonic Society and picking up the feed to do a little “taste-testing” of your own. The website has a complete list on the right hand side of all the people and companies who have gratefully contributed.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you and/or The Sonic Society have in the works that you are able to share with our readers?
JW: We’re coming up to our 400th regular episode of The Sonic Society in November. I plan to have one of my original Wave Front shows produced for then: “Black Knight.” November will be an extra special month as well because on Halloween Night, and Chatterbox Audio Theater (another fantastic group I didn’t yet mention) will air live their winners of their Horror Audio Script. I was one of those winners and my story “Tulpa” will be included. The entire two-hour live broadcast of audio plays will be included in the first two weeks of November, and those who missed the live show will get to hear all the winners. I’m excited to hear what the Chatterbox team does with one of my own scripts! Similarly, I’ve been writing for the phenomenal Colonial Radio Theatre headed by the endlessly talented Jerry Robbins. I haven’t mentioned CRT yet, because they are professional radio drama company and their works aren’t free like the above podcasts. Thanks to the kind indulgence of Mr. Robbins, we’ve been lucky to bring a lot of Colonial Radio to The Sonic Society for our listeners. We begin Season 10 in fact with two different episodes from their “Vincent Price Presents” anthologies.
Look for “Dead Ahead,” a zombie apocalypse story I adapted from the Blue Water comics by Mel Smith. I just handed in my completed script to Colonial, and they’re excited to have the production ready for April. It will be about two hours of terror!
Finally, since the inclusion of my latest co-host – Audio Drama’s rock star actor, David Ault – we’ve been running the intros of The Sonic Society as a tiny meta-story. Last season, we created the TORTIS. The Time or Radio Theatre Inter-dimensional Sound Vehicle as David is most known for his work as a certain Time Lord. It’s been fun zipping through the various worlds in audiospace and seeking adventure. David has really been a needed shot in the arm for The Sonic Society, and I’m grateful every day he came aboard.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for readers to find out more information about The Sonic Society and your audio drama?
JW: Please come visit us free through the iTunes store. Search for “Sonic Society.” You’ll find our entire backlog of ten years of stories. Locate us at www.sonicsociety.org, find us on Facebook or Twitter, or check out my own literary adventures at jackjward.com. Send us an email at sonicsociety (at) gmail.com, too. We’d love to hear from you and talk about this amazing medium!