I started out with the Whovian fandom young, at about age nine or so, and like many Whovians, I dreamed of someday writing for or playing a part in the show. Well, that first, best dream of writing for the show is still out of reach (if any of you have contacts in the BBC, put a word in for me, will you?). But recently, the dream of acting in Doctor Who came true—sort of.
I dropped into the Facebook group PDX Whovians, as I do every couple of days, to see if there is anything of interest going on in the local fandom. There I saw a casting call for a Doctor Who Audio Drama. Now, this is not a BBC or even a Big Finish production, but a not-for-profit group made up of professionals, semi-professionals, and serious amateurs that have been doing Doctor Who audio dramas since 1982.
I decided to try out as a lark. Other than a semester-long class in oral interpretation in high school, I have no formal training in acting. My only experience in theater was few months’ stint as a props master and publicity assistant my freshman year in college. Other than giving readings of my work, I have no experience in acting. The casting call specified preference given to British accents, which I do not have and cannot fake, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. Still, I thought it would be fun to try.
I have some friends with recording equipment and experience, and so I messaged Mike Zamudio of Otter Crossing and Rose in the Heather. (Local readers will recognize Otter Crossing as the Irish trad/classical fusion band that plays my book launches). Due to some crossing of messages and texts, I wasn’t even sure we were going to get the audition recorded in time until the evening we had to do it, and so I hadn’t put much into preparing my lines.
I dropped in at Casa Zamudio after my day job. We had a leisurely dinner, and put some time into photography for the cover for an upcoming short story release. Then we warned the children Zamudio to be quiet, removed the jangling collar from Pepper-the-pit-bull, and settled into the music room to record. I decided to try out for two roles, one with seventeen lines (I’d mentally dubbed her the Bitch) and one with one hundred forty-some (the Flirt.) Julie helped by reading the lines of the other actors, and despite my lack of preparation we recorded the auditions for both characters in one go.
I liked the character of the Flirt better, but I was afraid my voice was better suited for the Bitch (those of you who know me can just hush). I thought I’d be offered the smaller role, if I got any role at all. Much to my surprise, not only was I offered a part, I was offered the part of Lucinda, the flirt!
Needless to say, I was excited. And nervous. And more nervous still, when I had the chance to read the full script and realized I had to sob and scream on cue. To add to the stress, my publisher for Where Light Meets Shadow (my upcoming stand-alone fantasy novel) presented me with a round of edits to be gone through the very same week I would be prepping my lines. (Did I mention I have a day job? And a horse that requires attention?)
How DWAD works is that the actors record their individual lines and then email them to the folks who put it all together. (I don’t envy the person in charge of mixing his/her job!) So, with another flurry of emails between myself and Clan Zamudio, I set a time to go back in for recording. After another leisurely dinner (are you seeing a pattern?) we took the collar off the pittie, told the kids to go be quiet somewhere, and started the recording process.
I’d like to say it went effortlessly. But I try not to lie. I remember seeing blooper reels of the fifth Doctor flubbing a line and using language I’d never have suspected either the Doctor or Peter Davison of knowing. I now knew exactly how he felt. I stumbled over dialogue. I breathed too loud. The hour grew late, I grew tired. Worse, I couldn’t have any whiskey until we finished for fear of slurring my lines. Mike and Julie, showing a capacity for cruelty I wouldn’t have suspected, were drinking in front of me.
Finally, at a quarter past one in the morning, we had only one scene left. We decided to save that for the morning out of consideration for the neighbors, since it featured a bit of screaming. So I had a shot of Kilbeggan’s (at last), and crawled off to the crash space.
The next morning, we fortified ourselves with doughnuts and bacon, told the long-suffering boys to quiet themselves, and headed back to the music room with the resolution of soldiers returning to the front. And realized we had a problem we had forgotten about.
Pepper-the-pittie is a sensitive soul. She wasn’t going to be happy about one of her people-friends making sounds of apparent distress. And with her keen hearing, merely locking her in another room wouldn’t help. So first we had to desensitize the dog to screams. Julie gave a little scream, and immediately fed Pepper a small treat, and then repeated the process, until we worked up to me screaming, and then me screaming loudly.
Finally we were ready to record the scene. The dialogue part went fairly smoothly. Then we came to the scream at the end.
Mike is experienced with recording singers and instrumentals. Screams are another thing entirely. We tried pushing the mike back on its boom, but the sound levels were off the chart. We tried having Julie hold the mike on the far side of the room. We tried adjusting the sound levels electronically. I started to grow hoarse. We tried having Julie hold the mike outside the room. We tried again to adjust the sound levels manually.
Finally, just as my voice was about to give out entirely, we got it.
I have always respected actors, but my respect has now broadened and deepened.
And if I ever talk about trying out for live theater, please shoot me before the auditions.
(Doctor Who: The Dying of the Light will eventually be available online for free download. I’ll let you know here and on Facebook and Twitter when that happens).