The Whisper of ALIEN VOICES PART I
Listen as these SF actors dramatize the works of Jules Verne & H.G. Wells.
By: JOHN de LANCIE
Illustrated by: Tom Holtkamp
(Reprinted from STARLOG Magazine July 1997 #240)
One exception is Alien Voices. It's the answer to my own "what if" question: "What if a group of actors could do the projects they wanted to do, instead of waiting to be asked to do some other project they might not want to do?" And "what if" I put together just such a company to make it happen? Here's how it came about:
The first whisper of Alien Voices came to me when I was attending my first Trek convention in Florida. It occurred to me that, while actors are good at talking, we are better at acting, and I wondered whether a Trek convention could ever provide us with the venue to do what we do best.
A few years passed and I never really did anything about it. But then one day I started working with a group in Los Angeles devoted to putting on radio-style plays. As an actor/director in that group, I realized I now had the tools at my disposal to explore my original idea.
The group was LA Theater Works, and in September 1994 I asked Susan Loewenberg, the producer, if we could mount a production of the famous Howard Koch/Orson Welles radio classic War of the Worlds (a dramatization of H.G. Wells' classic novel, a.k.a. Invasion from Mars), which had scared the pants off of America when originally broadcast in October 1938. Because of its science fiction status, and because it was to be aired on Halloween on National Public Radio, it seemed the perfect vehicle to bring together a predominantly Star Trek cast headed by Leonard Nimoy. Susan agreed. I was now going to get to try out my original idea albeit not at a con, but in a hotel ballroom.
With the production on the calendar, I could now concentrate on the show. Why not include a sequel? So much had happened since 1938, both to broadcasting and to America, that a sequel might be a good place to explore some of those changes. My first choice to script this 20-to-30-minute epilogue was the broadcast's original writer, Howard Koch, by then 93 years old and living in upstate New York. I called him and we talked for quite awhile. Howard had some interesting ideas for extending his original script, and we spoke about them several times, but it didn't work out. I was on a deadline that simply couldn't be met.
Less than a two weeks away from Halloween and a little concerned that a sequel would ever come to pass, I asked my friend Nat Segaloff to come over for dinner. Nat is a writer and producer with whom I had enjoyed a successful association the year before when I directed a play he co-wrote, The Waldorf Conference, also for LA Theater Works.
During dinner, I asked Nat-no, I inveigled him-into collaborating on the sequel. We half-jokingly called it When Welles Collide (after both Orson and H.G.). Our idea was that after the performance of Invasion from Mars, the radio audience would follow the actors into the green room for an aftershow chat. Within moments, the radio station is rocked by what sounds like an earthquake. We (actors and radio audience) make our way outside onto the bluffs which overlook Santa Monica Bay. There in the distance, we witness three enormous Martian ships emerging from the depths of the ocean.
"Journey to the Center of the Earth"
© Alien Voices®, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Are they stragglers from the original attack left dormant on the sea floor, or is this a new invasion? Who cares! They're here. They're attacking. And the world doesn't believe it. That's the premise Nat and I wanted to explore: the idea that we had become so jaded that we wouIdn't believe the real thing if it were happening today. In 1938, the Martians didn't invade and everybody thought they did; in 1994, the Martians do invade and nobody believes it.
After one performance, I approached Leonard and asked him if he was enjoying the experience. He said that he was indeed. I then suggested we might form an ongoing company for the exclusive production of science fiction material, particularly the classics. He was quite enthusiastic, so Nat and I began collecting material. A month later, I signed on to do Legend for UPN, and Alien Voices was accorded "back burner" status for the next nine months.
When I got back to Los Angeles from Tucson, where Legend had been shooting, I re-awakened the project. Leonard was still interested and immediately became instrumental in getting us together with an agent, Andy Zack, who brought us to Simon & Schuster Audio.
By the way, the name Alien Voices was suggested to me by David McDonnell, the editor of STARLOG. I asked him for a list of titles he thought might be fun to produce and while he was probing his considerable mental inventory, he also suggested a few names we might call our company. The one that instantly jumped out at me was Alien Voices.
One of our earliest decisions was that we would honor the original authors of these great SF works by presenting their stories as accurately as possible. As SF fans ourselves, we had experienced the cavalier distortion of our favorite stories, especially by the movies, with the unwarranted introduction of giant chickens, paste-up dinosaurs, ducks named Gertrude--all in the interest of "improving" the material. We wanted to deliver quality material that the authors would recognize. We also didn't want Alien Voices to just do single reads. We wanted to turn the material into full-length plays. There are great advantages in this for the listener-it's more fun to hear; and obvious downsides for the producer-it costs more! Towards this end, the agreement that we have with Simon & Schuster provides that Leonard and I be featured in all of our productions. The agreement we had amongst ourselves was that we would form a company of actors known for their involvement in science fiction-be it Trek or other series.
Our first show under the Alien Voices banner is The Time Machine (already out on audio). Leonard plays the Time Traveller. He and I shared the lead roles of Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew Axel in Journey to the Center of the Earth (out this month). We've just finished our third production, The Lost World. Its two main characters, Professor Challenger and reporter Ed Malone, are played by Armin Shimerman and Dwight Schultz rather than by Leonard and me. That's what you do when you have a company.
There's nothing more fun for an actor than being given a role you might not normally get. Armin was especially pleased at the chance to play Challenger and that, in turn, delighted us.
Besides Armin and Dwight, our ensemble for the initial productions includes Andrew Robinson, Roxann Dawson, Ethan Phillips, Robert Ellenstein (perhaps most familiar to Trek buffs as the grey-bearded Federation head in Star Trek IV) and Richard Doyle (an accomplished animation voiceover actor).
Casting has also become a family affair. Supporting voice roles have been taken in these first plays by actress Susan Bay, my wife Mamie Mosiman (who has her own Trek connection, having guested on The Next Generation) and our children Keegan and Owen (ever-innocent as Eloi).
Future productions will introduce other truly Alien Voices-probably Jerry Hardin, Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden (all veterans of War of the Worlds) and possibly William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, Jonathan Frakes, Rene Auberjonois and Kate Mulgrew (old friends with whom Leonard and I have already discussed the idea). Just who else may join us-and who they'll play-are mysteries for the future.
But Leonard and I will continue to share the lead roles with our colleagues. I only wish that the producing roles could be shared as well. Nat, Leonard and I produce every inch of tape and every page of script, and it's not always fun to do, even though the results have been terrifically gratifying.
(Continued on "The Whisper of Alien Voices" Part II)