Words to Action (The Genesis of Lady Starr, Space Ranger)

The Lady Starr, Space Ranger cast performing.

The “Lady Starr, Space Ranger” cast performing Episode #1: “Lady Starr and the Tentacle Monsters of Venus!”.

As an essayist and novelist, most of the words I write on the page stay there, nice and safe and able to be interpreted by me how I meant for them to be interpreted (i.e.: how they sounded in my head when I wrote them down). Other people may read them and interpret them differently, but I won’t know that unless they say something in the comments section. No, they are … safe.

But recently, what started as a side-project of mine — the “Lady Starr, Space Ranger” audio play series — has been teaching me about the dynamism of words.

“Lady Starr” is about an aspiring actress and former Miss Kansas from, erm, Kansas who goes to Hollywood to break into movies, but winds up in the Space Ranger Corp instead, protecting the galaxy from evil and stuff. Okay, that makes it sound all heartwarming and life-affirming. It isn’t. It’s a spoof of those old, pulpy, science-fiction radio plays of the 1930s, 40s and 50s — the Flash Gordons, the Buck Rogers, the Shadows, and so on (such as this 1935 production of Flash Gordon). Lady Starr likes her job, but she isn’t particularly good at it — unless there’s zapping or sword fighting. She’s good at that, but not so good at diplomacy or making meetings on time. And her crew is just as misfitish. There’s her exasperated sidekick, the genetically-modified, cybernetically-upgraded, intelligence-enhanced mollusk (read: snail), Vermicelli. And there’s the mopey, self-conscious, and soul-searching Speaker Phone, propagator of all things exposition-y.

Plus a lot of bad guys — many of whom have tentacles.

I started writing the series for a friend of mine who wanted something to fill some time on a radio program she was involved with. That fell through, mostly because the Lady Starr episodes I wrote were too long and — as far as I could tell — didn’t have enough references to bodily functions.

But in a fluke of serendipity (hmmm, if it’s “serendipity”, can it be a fluke? Discuss), I happened to mention the project to a local producer who also happened to be staging a series of dramatic readings (and humorous re-invention and improvisation) of the original Star Trek series. He was primed for interest in an original retro-pulp story like Starr’s AND he’d just been approached by a radio station to provide some programming.

So I started working on more scripts and he started working on all the other stuff: getting actors, liasoning with the radio station, and so on and so forth and so such and such.

George Cron works behind-the-scenes on the production of "The Adventures of Lady Starr"

Our producer, George Cron, working behind-the-scenes on an episode of “The Adventures of Lady Starr, Space Ranger.”

To glaze over this next part, well, that didn’t work out. The deal with the radio station fell through and our first recording was lost to the aether. I was out of the country at the time and hadn’t been able to make it to the first recording sessions, but had been told they’d gone quite well.

There we were. But I had the “pilot” season finished, writing-wise (five, 20-ish minute-long episodes), so we decided to just record the thing ourselves and put it out there and see what happened.

Plagues of technical difficulties followed, along with losing some of the original voice actors due to, y’know, life. But we persevered, despite having to completely re-tape the first episode no fewer than three times and having to do all of this with the most basic of gear and studio space (a couple of mics, a computer, and a back bedroom in the producer’s house).

But I got to be a part of that, since I had returned from my trip by then. And that’s where we get to the oddity of hearing your words come out of other people’s mouths, interpreted sometimes in ways that you the writer might never have expected.

I sit in on the recording sessions as head writer, of course, making changes on the fly to the script as needed (and depending on how tongue-twistingly I wrote some of the original dialogue) and serving as informal behind-the-scenes videographer and still photographer.

But sooo strange. Inflections, pitches, intonations — all were subtly or vastly different than those of the voices in my head (which I should probably take something for, but don’t. Heh).

The voice actors were pulling the words off the page and making them into something else, something new, and something (hopefully) compelling to our (hopefully) vast, future audience.

Here’s a sample. These two characters, Bob and Phil, were originally throw-away characters used to pitch products in one of the show’s fake advertisement bits. But when I was writing, they just kept pushing their way back into the script. Here, Bob and Phil are scientists on Titan working on sentient pizza toppings and trying to sell their product to a pizza-loving galaxy. Keep in mind, too, that this isn’t how the final audio will sound; it’s behind-the-scenes, after all. Enjoy:

Not what I’d heard in my head, which wasn’t quite as over-the-top. This was better.

“The Adventures of Lady Starr, Space Ranger” is a shoestring production, so help us out by following us on Facebook (Lady Starr, Space Ranger) and Twitter @SpaceRangerHQ  and, when post-production is done and the season is up on iTunes, have a listen, and enjoy the action of the words taking you to a place far away and very silly.

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