Interview with Roger Gregg, Eddie the Computer in the new H2G2 radio series
Published the 29th February 2003
Roger Gregg is Eddie the Computer in the new h2g2 radio series. He’s also the creator of the Crazy Dog Audio Theatre, an irish company which produces some damn funny and surealistic audio plays. For these two reasons, he’s someone fascinating for me, whom I interviewed with great pleasure.
> ABOUT ROGER AND THE CRAZY DOGS !
Nicolas Botti : You’re actor, musician, playwright. You work for theatre, radio, TV, movies. How would you define yourself?
Roger Gregg : I am playwright who also acts – primarily in front of microphones. I also get work composing and recording music and sound designs for plays. Being freelance I do different things throughout the typical day. Between 4 and 7 this morning I was working on the first draft of one of the audio plays Crazy Dog Audio Theatre is producing for RTE this year. At ten this morning I was auditioning for an animation feature film. Then I collected a new stereo microphone for use in a Radio Theatre workshop I am teaching at Dublin’s Gaiety School of Acting. Yesterday I had a voice over for Rover cars and then worked on the theme music for one of the plays. Every day is slightly different – except every early morning when I write.
NB : You settled in Dublin in 1980. How did you begin your career?
RG : All through my youth in the United States, I was heavily involved in theatre. In high school I also had the chance to be involved in radio. In University I studied Social Theory but my M.A. thesis mutated into a musical stage show which led to a job offer in radio. The door opened and I walked through. I’ve been working in theatre and radio professionally now since 1983.
NB : Why did you found the Crazy Dog Audio Theatre in 1998?
RG : The advent of digital recording meant that it was now possible to create independent productions and oversee broadcast quality projects through to fruition. Crazy Dog was born with a one-man radio comedy I managed to get onto RTE.
> ABOUT AUDIO THEATRE
NB : What do you like the most in audio theatre?
RG : The boundless freedom to create worlds and realities. Audio like no other medium has the power to really exploit the human imagination.
NB : What are the strong points of audio theatre?
RG : Economics: 10, 000 orange flying saucers landing beside Napoleon Bonaparte’s tent near the Sphinx in Eygpt, just to present Bonaparte a saddled foaming Gak beast of the planet Orgo carrying a bewitching dancing girl with a sparkling magic jewel in her navel – is quite cheap to do in audio, compared to film. [Napoleon later dangles this jewel before Josephine to try and make her jealous – to no avail of course.] At the same time, audio is the most fertile terrain to unleash the power of the eloquently crafted word.
NB : You’ve made some surrealiste comic audio plays as “the Apocalypse of Bill Lizard”. Which is your aim when you write and direct audio theatre?
RG : It depends, some projects arise from my own whim while other productions come about at the behest of RTE commissioners. When I write for audio I’m very conscious of making it something that really has to be done in audio to do it justice. Otherwise it becomes a stage play with the lights off or a tv show with no picture. Sadly that kind of thing is done too often and they usually fail precisely because they are neither conceived nor crafted for the audio medium.
NB : Does the fact of being a musician help you when you make audio theatre?
RG : Definitely. Having a musical ear I think helps with all theatre. It gives you a sense of timing and pacing. More specifically, music to audio theatre is what lighting and set design is to the stage. Being able to craft the music yourself is even better because you can ensure that there is music in the first place. Again many many audio productions fail to use music – often because budget prohibits. This is a pity akin to a stage play without any lighting. I consider music one of the core elements.
NB : Which is your way of working in audio theatre? Is it very different from classic theatre?
RG : Firstly I tend to hire and work with the small pool of people. They are mostly well established Irish voice actors. Most are my friends. So it is very informal. If any one of them disagree with me, I hear about it! I welcome their comments and criticisms. It is in this context that we work. From the outset I am writing particular parts with particular performers in mind. I always say to my casts ‘Consider what I write a working draft, if you can improve it, let’s see what you have in mind….’ So there is a collaborative comraderie. Sometimes we disagree or perhaps I haven’t been clear and it becomes apparent as we do the readings. At that point we’ll clarify things. Classical Theatre most often has set texts and more formal lines of authority.
NB : How do you work with actors, sound engineers and so on?
RG : I tell them to obey my every word as if I were God and then they hurl sharp objects at me. After I’m bandaged, we get on with the work. Our dialogue and some spot fx are usually recorded in Moynihan Russell studios in Dublin. The sound engineers there are great and really help to make recording a pleasure. Together with the sound engineer I’ll work out the blocking of the scene with the actors. Often I’m in with the actors so the Sound Engineer is the one actually keeping an ear on how it sounds over the monitors, levels and so on. I later take these recording into the home studio for all the post production, special fx., big location sounds and of course all the music.
NB : You’re also “a left hander who refuses to own a car”. When you make audio theatre, do you feel like you’re going against the mainstream trend?
RG : Let’s face it, audio theatre is off the beaten track. If Dirk Maggs had made as many movies as he has blockbuster landmarks in audio theatre, he’d be bigger than Speilberg! On the other hand, audio theatre is an area where an artist or group of artists can see a project through to fruition without having to compromise – they may not get it on air – but they can get it out on CD. Producing and bringing out a limited CD edition of an audio theatre production is far less expensive than mounting a stage production – let alone a film.
NB : Do you think technology improvements have changed the way of doing audio theatre and has even helped to improve them?
RG : Digital audio and home based computer recording has changed everything. What one used to have to hire a sound production studio for at great expense can now be done equally well at home. This has placed the tools into the hands of the artists and would-be artists. At the same time, I do think that most of the best working methods were perfected before digital and remain the tried-and-true methods we should continue to use even in the digital age. I’m speaking for example about recording actors and spot fx live choreographed in an dynamic ensemble before a stereo microphone rather than using the everything separate animation approach. Technology should most always be bent to serve the performance rather than the other way round.
NB : Are you happy with the support of radios to audio theatre?
RG : Radio Drama needs to broadcast young adventurous audio theatre in order to attract young adventurous listeners. At the moment I must admit to finding most of the daily output boring, sanctimonious and production-wise, feeble – not at all tapping into the unique possibilities of the audio medium. Adventurous content is there, but it is in the minority. Having said this however, I am extremely thankful for the likes of the BBC and RTE – who are keeping professional English speaking radio drama alive. It could be much, much worse as is the case in America.
NB : Do you think radio theatre will survive and how?
RG : Again its’ about connecting with young listeners. There is something about the receptivity of the 15 to 25 year old. If they get knocked over by something during those formative years it will stay with them. That’s what happened in my case having heard ‘THE FIRESIGN THEATRE’’s audio play ‘How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All’. I heard that when I was 15 in 1973. And zap! I haven’t been the same since. So official Radio Drama departments I believe should always be in part thinking about hooking that younger group as well as providing the kind of late-middle age, ‘literate’ content they’ve been focusing on for decades.
> THE H2G2 NEW RADIO SERIES
NB : When did you first listen to the original Hitchhiker’s radio series?
RG : It was re-broadcast by Radio 4 sometime in the 80’s I first heard many of the episodes then.
NB : Why do you think this radio series had such a success?
RG : It was in the right place at the right time saying the right things in the right way. There was a generation in the 70’s used to The Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd and ‘weird’ stereo effects. The original Hitchhiker was tapping into this, bringing this kind of sensibility into the realm of radio comedy-drama. Douglas Adams was a great writer, a giant of a comic wit, a wonderful creator of a universe of possibilities. Very importantly his production notes, make clear how he truly wished to exploit the unique potential of the medium. Make no mistake this medium is very powerful IF done right.
NB : You play Eddie The Computer in the new h2g2 radio series. How did you get involved in this project?
RG : I have a huge collection of audio productions and Dirk Maggs’s work stands as the contemporary gold standard of our medium. I sent Maggs and Above the Title my demo and pleased with what they heard, Maggs arranged for me to audition as Eddie.
NB : How was the mood, atmosphere during the recording of the h2g2 radio series? Was it an enjoyable moment for you?
RG : Are you kidding? It was like being asked to sit in with The Beatles! The recording sessions had a ‘this is history in the making’ vibe and at the same time, the principal actors, Simon Jones, Mark Wing Davy, Susan Sheridan, Geoff McGivern and Stephen Moore, were all extremely warm and fun to work with. Everyone was having loads of fun. It was the first time the actors had all been together since they worked on the original series! In short it was an absolute BLAST.
NB : What kind of director is Dirk Maggs?
RG : Just the best. On top of every aspect yet able to poke fun at himself and put everyone at their ease. Very hands on. He’s the fizz in the soda once he gets on the floor, really working with the cast and whipping things up to a truly exciting level. I found him charismatic yet very down to earth and self effacing.
NB : Is it the first time you worked with him?
RG : Yes and hopefully not the last!
NB : Do you think this new h2g2 radio series will seem very different for die hard fans (in the writting, acting and directing) from the original radio series?
RG : In a sense yes, because it is years later and people whose lives were rocked by those original shows are now in their 40s and 50s. But at the same time, it is the same Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, the same Mark Wing Davy and so on… and Maggs has been so careful to respect and carry on Douglas Adams’s intent and to keep that connection. Personally I think it’ll rock and hopefully impact profoundly on yet another, younger generation as well as the original.
NB : The broadcasting of the new radio series have been postponed. Do you know why and when it will be broadcasted?
RG : A grey man in a grey suit is sitting in a grey office high up in a tall grey building in a grey city unable to make a decision.
> AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETLY DIFFERENT
NB : Which are your projects for the “upcoming future”?
RG : At the moment Crazy Dog Audio Theatre is commissioned by RTE Radio 1 to independently produce 7 radio plays: a series of 6 studio based plays and a 7th. ‘Haunted Lighthouse’play to be recorded on location in an Irish lighthouse. We’re working on a Western about a cowboy with a pet troll, a Mermaid Sea Monster adventure, a dark comedy about a Guy obsessed by his computer game, a ‘documentary’ about an Irish poet with magical sexual powers, a farce about a utopian future world of human clones and an adventure about an Irish tour bus which stops at a banquet in Hell.