Designing a show set in the vacuum of space has its limitations. Audiences can’t go to the set and examine the crime scene. Through the talents of voice actors, Master Mystery Productions has brought an astronaut’s dying words back to Earth. Writer/director Daniel Stallings and voice actor Calvin Johnson tell us how this final transmission came to life.
Voices from Beyond the Stars: The Making of Ex Luna (Part 3)
When I design a mystery, I always look for places to add a human element. It’s an easy temptation to treat these characters as little more than stock characters (The Jealous Wife, The Shifty-Eyed Butler, The Cheating Husband, etc.) but the rewards are richer when I take these people and breathe life into them beyond their simple job description. Designing their backstories allows me to turn two-dimensional paper people into real, dynamic characters.
The characters for Ex Luna are:
Commander Cassiopeia (Cassie) Ross–Commander of the Clio I mission, part of an astroarchaeological program tasked with recovering and studying the remains of past human technology from outer space. Clio I focuses on retrieving the wreckage of the Eagle, the lunar module from the first manned landing on the moon in 1969. Ross is a passionate, intelligent, dedicated, even-tempered, no-nonsense commander with a secret compassionate side. She served on many back-up crews for missions before finally seizing command of her own. She is determined to prove her worth through the success of this lunar landing.
Command Module Pilot Brad Pietro–Pilot of the Command Module Phoebus for the Clio I mission, Pietro is a veteran pilot, this being his third mission before he retires and his second trip to the Moon. Although he’s a generally unambitious man, Pietro is possessive of his module and rules it with an iron fist, often disputing with the commander, Cassie Ross. His tough as an asteroid demeanor often rubs the starry-eyed Dr. Fredericks the wrong way.
Lunar Module Pilot Cooper McGovern–Pilot of the Lunar Module Chariot for the Clio I mission, McGovern is a rookie pilot who was a last-minute replacement to the crew. Despite his inexperience, he is a quick thinker and improviser, able to assess situations speedily and efficiently. He tries to stay in the middle ground, placating the three opposing sides in his crew.
Payload Specialist Gary Fredericks–Professor of Archaeology with a passion for astronomy, Fredericks is an expert in how the study and exploration of space and celestial objects shaped human culture and history from ancient to modern times. He was contracted to help develop the astroarchaeological program and to assist in the recovery, transport, and analysis of the Eagle wreckage. He has an imaginative streak and is responsible for the naming of the program after the muse of history and the modules in honor of the Apollo program.
But how do I portray these characters’ feelings to an audience without having a cast of actors perform in front of them? For Ex Luna, the solution was a transmission. I pictured a murdered astronaut’s dying words transmitted by his radio to a crowd of listening ears, a final–fatally final–message fraught with clues and emotion as it describes both the wonders of the moon and the agony of dying in space. The human element. Can there be anything better?
Working in theatre, I have connections to many actors across all spectrums. Talented voice and stage actor, Calvin Johnson, agreed to take on the role of Dr. Gary Fredericks, the murdered astronaut, for this unique challenge of bringing a space-age message back to Earth. Johnson is a Master Mystery Productions veteran, having originated the glamorous (and sleazy) character of 1940’s heartthrob actor, Geoffrey Challenger, in both Goodbye Hollywood and its stage expansion, Goodbye Hollywood: At the Rainbow’s End. I interviewed Johnson, and he will share his story as an actor and his process in creating the role for Ex Luna.
MMP: So Calvin, what got you into acting? What are your favorite parts of being an actor?
CJ: Ever since I was little, I’ve found that I was just naturally attached to acting. Theatre, ironically, is one of the few places where I feel comfortable being myself. My favorite parts of the acting process would be being able to create something by stepping into the shoes of another character and the bonds and friendships that can come with it.
MMP: What inspired you to start voice acting?
CJ: A family friend told me about the Famous Radio Ranch in Sherman Oaks, a school for voice acting. I’ve been going there for over 2 ½ years now, and it’s done wonders for my craft and the range of my abilities.
MMP: What is your acting experience?
CJ: My acting experience is somewhat large. I’ve participated in more plays than I can count, in both school and community theatre. I also was an extra in the TV series, The Event. As for voice, I receive auditions frequently.
MMP: How did you design the character of Dr. Gary Fredericks for Ex Luna?
CJ: As I read the copy for him, I determined the salient points, or the key lines in the script. From there, I assessed what his attitude should be, based on who I was speaking to, as well as where, when, and why.
MMP: What was the process to create the final voiceover?
CJ: I recorded and edited it on my computer using Audacity. After making sure I followed the directions that Daniel desired, I sent it to him for the final editing and rendering.
MMP: Thoughts on the final product?
CJ: This was very fun to work on! I had a very good time bring life to the character (albeit in his final moments, ha ha), and I hope everyone can enjoy it as much as I did.
MMP: Words of encouragement for aspiring voice actors?
CJ: My advice would be never stop training and improving your craft and take advantage of whatever opportunities you get!
You can learn more about Calvin Johnson and hear samples of his voiceover work at calvinsvoice.com.
An excited audience awaits the world premiere of Ex Luna and the unveiling of the amazing work done by both writer/director, Daniel Stallings, and vocal talent, Calvin Johnson. MMP is only days away from its sixth production, and it’s going to be out of this world!
Launching in 10…9…8…7…