Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Electric Vicuña Productions

Electric Vicuña Productions is a production company out of Nova Scotia, Canada and represents all the original audio drama written and produced by Jack Ward, Shannon Hilchie and with music composed and produced by Sharon Bee.
Electric Vicuña has a number of different offerings from dark fantasy, science fiction, horror and suspense and some comedy. They also created a fan-fiction based on Joss Whedon's Firefly. Mr. Ward and Ms. Hilchie also produce a weekly series called The Sonic Society which showcases their audio drama as well as nearly everyone else in the amateur audio drama world. They have another fiction podcast which appears to have podfaded called The Library of Jack and Shannon and have completed the first "season" of Sonic Gold which showcases professional audio drama companies. EVP is a newer name and includes the last six years of production of audio drama from previous companies/series called Shadowlands Theatre and Sonic Cinema Productions neither of which has a link. EVP episodes can vary widely from AD-G to AD-R ratings.

Website
The purple theme is different, albeit somewhat oppressively so. I'm not certain why people decide to go so far away from a readable white or off-white sheet for text. The About section has some detailed information on the main people in EVP. There is a lot of background information, and little about the current projects written and produced in Electric Vicuña. But perhaps one of the most glaring errors is not even a whiff of the acting that Ward and Hilchie do. Outside of their own productions, both have amassed a rather impressive "guest starring" role in one production or another. One added benefit however, was a link to Sharon Bee's music page where if you're a Firefly fan like I am, you can purchase her CD she created based on the music from "Old Wounds".
The link Catalogue of Plays is confusing (and I mean beyond the strange spelling of the word "Catalog") as it mentions selling their two anthologies series- The Dead Line and The Dead Line Shorts both of which are available for free in their Audio Downloads section. Are these paid versions a higher quality? Do they come with special tracks or a CD liner? More details should be provided.
The Actors Section is perhaps one of the other big problems with the website as there is a year old audition call, and only four actor links provided. Clicking on the link provides more detail, but it would be nice to have the information better formatted right in the document and a smaller headshot available or a quick browse.
The Services section is equally bereft of content and detail. There seems to be some basic information about recording services, but it provides no costs, no specific service packages available, and no contact information directly.
The design is a little flimsy but the largest problem is the content is not updated and as clear as it could be. A page on the Sonic Society, Sonic Gold and other projects that EVP has started would be welcome.
Rating: 2/5

Audio Drama Style- "Mostly" Modern
Mr. Ward has expressed many times in the Sonic Society his admiration for OTR and there are examples of that influence in the production of the shows. His anthology series to date- "Shadowlands Theatre", "The Dead Line Anthology", and "Wave Front" all reflect the older sensibility of a narrator character to introduce the shows. Similarly the series "The Jack and Shannon Show" is set much like the old fashioned Jack Benny and George and Gracie shows of radio's yesteryear. Despite all that, the productions have all the trappings of modern audio theater. They are produced with sound effects added later, music in most of the productions, and many of them have varying time frames from five minutes to well over an hour and some times multi-part series.

Acting- Amateur
Most of the roles are performed by Mr. Ward and Shannon Hilchie although many of their productions come from actors in their local area. The odd occasion I have noticed some of the Internet "stars" of the Audio Drama world in their recordings. Gate has both Stevie Farnaby as a guest villain, and Bill Hollwege as well as J.T. Shea from The Gig Cast. John Bell guest starred recently in Blue Defender as did David Ault as the narrator in Any Man. But these were names I knew already and picked out of the shows as I relistened. The actual actors in the EVP Company are incompletely listed on the website, and the shows themselves do not have a complete listing of the actors performing. In the future, I hope to review specific shows and will attempt not to slaughter names there. As for Mr. Ward's roles he can do a passing performance, but seems best suited to some of the more character roles than a main one. Like many producers of audio drama, he doesn't have the same rich voice as a Gregg Taylor or John Bell, or even a Cayenne Chris Conroy.
 Shannon Hilchie on the other hand seems almost under-utilized as she's shown herself to have a great range in roles from Faith to her quirky characters in Gate. Like many modern audio drama, the rest of the casts have a varied effect. Ken who plays in a lot of the shows has a great dynamic voice from Dead Line episodes to The Jack and Shannon Show. Most of the actors in The Jack and Shannon Show from Jake to Showell (excuse the spelling) to Kristin and Eric all showcase very well in other series.
Part of the problem in developing a local acting troop is being able to stick with a strong group of actors and work together to get stronger. There have been many voices in the EVP shows through the years, it would be best if they stuck to a solid team like the Decoder Ring Theatre folks and work on building skills.
Rating: 3.5/5

Production- Mostly Detailed
One of the genuine delights is hearing the evolution of the sound in EVP. If you don't believe me, go search the Sonic Society feed for The Jack and Shannon Show and listen to the growth from the first episode to the last. Better miking of the actors, less blaring, better pacing, clearer sound effects, panning, and good use of music. 2009 was a much better year for improvement, and much of that goes to Jack Ward and his work at trying to improve the sound. Some Dead Line shows have been farmed out to different companies and for the most part the sound is fairly even, but Mr. Ward needs to make certain that a consistency is pressed across all of his shows. Gate as well shows improvement, and Mr. Ward has expressed on the Sonic Society that he is remastering the original series for a release on Podiobooks. That was nearly two years ago, we can but sit and wait. Listening now, Gate sounds a little slow and needing some cleaning up. Some of the worst sounding shows were in the early years with what appears to be changing producers. Phil Morris is uneven and not as clear as it should be, Muse of Madness is better but missing some better direction.
The productions are improving vastly though, and some have professional production sound.
Rating: 4/5

Writing
This is where I feel Electric Vicuña shines. I find it hard pressed to find another writer who has produced as many different original works from such a wide variety of genres with such over all effect. Mr. Ward's writing resume includes horrors like his Shadowlands Theatre series which includes the mystical Completion, Soul Survivor and And Lo, Thou I Walk, as well as thrillers like Right Number, Wrong Party and The Hitchhiker, or horrors like Muse of Madness and Bravery. He's created Comedies like The Jack and Shannon Show, Phil Morris, Spin, Spin, Spin and Hill Manors (the unabashed tribute to Fawlty Towers). He's written original science fiction/fantasy like Ghosts of the Present, Gate, and the Wave Front Anthology Series. He's delved into adventure with Comics Consortium shows about super heroes (although only two so far), the sci-fi pulp adventure Biff Straker, and crime drama and suspense with The Dead Line Anthologies as well as Grave's Shift the stories of his female detective Phillipa Graves.
A detailed analysis of which scripts works well and which did not would be unfair to Mr. Ward at this time as a cursory reading shows that he alone has written and produced over 50 scripts available for download on their site. That's quite an accomplishment for any writer.
A brief note about Shannon Hilchie as a writer. She has only produced two shows that I can think of- Pony Tales which is not available on the downloads section and Time Enough which is. Time Enough is a powerful hour long slow draw into fear. A fan favorite, it has been played on other venues. Pony Tales, which was written as an April Fool's joke backfired for Ms. Hilchie and has been mentioned on SFF Audio as a possible mid-season replacement for a Disney show (tongues placed firmly in cheek no doubt).
Rating: 4.5/5

Additional Notes
It needs to be noted here that Jack Ward and Shannon Hilchie have spent much of their time working on many projects that are aimed to help the audio drama community. The Sonic Society has been the bedrock showcase for five years of new and old modern audio theater. They have interviewed and featured many new podcasters and acted as cheerleaders for the entire milieu. It was through their podcast that a fan launched Audio Drama Talk which is considered to be the vibrant community of new audio actors, writers, and producers. In another episode another fan created The Audio Drama Directory after Jack and Shannon bemoaned that there needed to be one directory to find new shows. Mr. Ward created in concert with some others the new Audio Drama Ratings System which is being implimented in audio drama shows everywhere. They created the first subscription podcast paid content in Sonic Gold. Each year they present the Uni Awards in which the listeners get to vote on their favorite shows of the season and that has become another end of year celebration for all things Audio Drama.
No where in the Electric Vicuña Productions site are any of these mentioned. Nor is there a list of where Jack and Shannon can be heard in other shows. My biggest complaint is that the EVP site should bring together all the things Jack Ward, Shannon Hilchie, Sharon Bee and their production company is involved in so that everyone can see. The only reason I'm aware of these accomplishments is that I follow the Sonic Society regularly (and read the website notes).

Over All
The biggest problem with EVP is overwork of the producers. While there are others who work just as hard putting out steady content, most of them work strictly with one show at a time. With all the various projects Jack Ward and Shannon Hilchie are involved in, it is little wonder the unnamed Pirate adventure and the western shows continue to be put off later and later. I for one would be happier if they took on less, and produced more. They are obviously concerned about continually improving their productions and we would see them more often. That being said, I would hate to see The Sonic Society canceled any time soon. I believe it and Radio Drama Revival have been key in aiding in the revitalization of Audio Drama.
Speaking of their involvement. Exactly what IS the deal with Jack and Shannon anyway?
Rating: 4/5

3 comments:

  1. First, thanks for taking the time to do such a thorough review. I appreciate the detail.
    I agree with you on the website. It's not my forte. I'll get back at it and see if there's anything I can do. It is a weak point.
    Second, I never considered myself that connected to OTR in my work. That was an interesting point.
    Third, I need to find a way to get the actors names up. It's actually spelled "Schoel Strang" and the others are Eric Bensen, Kristin Slaney and Ken MacAlpine.
    Fourthly, I accept all poor acting remarks as to being entirely my fault as a Director. I'm getting better at engaging actors in knowing what I want from them. And yeah, my voice kinda sucks. What are you going to do. :(
    Fifth. Thanks for noting how we're trying to improve. I think you've scored us a little higher there then sometimes I deserve, but I appreciate the "improvement" bump.
    Sixth.
    Thanks so much for the writing comments. It's indeed where I live. I don't hit it right all of the time, but I hope I get it right some of the time. I love stories.
    Seventh. All the "accomplishments" in the Additional Notes are absolutely because of many people. I'm just glad I was there at the right time to mention something and let them go ahead. Audio Drama Talk is the brain child of Marrcus "Crash" Beatty and it's the best place to find out about new and old audio drama, hands down- you should come and check us out. We're usually a pretty tame bunch.
    Audio Drama Directory is entirely Jeremy Yanser's idea, and beautifully done and expertly executed!
    The Rating System was something I got input from lots of folks. Jeffrey Adams, John Bell, Bill Hollweg among them.
    I'm just lucky to know really talented people.
    Finally, I know we do too much... There are days when I think maybe I should just focus on one or two shows like the amazing Gregg Taylor. But I couldn't abandon the Sonic Society. I love it too much.
    Thanks again for the very very kind words.
    Jack
    P.S. Shannon Hilchie is the better writer. Wish she'd write more! ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. My thanks Mr. Ward for your detailed response, and for your corrections of the actor names especially.
    I look forward to the day both "Pirates" and the "Western" are produced.
    Perhaps by then, I will be through all the different companies and be able to review single productions!
    Warmly,
    ~J. Snowe

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Jack. you didn't make a comment on James's query as to whether the shows in catalogue section would be of a sound quality than those in the downloads section. But I notice the words "production development" so can only assume they will be.

    ReplyDelete