Interview with K.C. Wayland

KC Wayland is one of the eminent audio drama podcasters working in the field today. He shared some thoughts about creating audio drama in October 2019. His new series produced with PodcastOne, “We’re Alive: Goldrush” evokes a “spaghetti western,” and premieres 17 years after the events of “We’re Alive.”

In “Goldrush,” a team of four soldiers learns of a legendary cache of gold, and sets off secretly to find the treasure – with their friendship and fates hanging in the balance. In real life, K.C. shares solid advice about discovering audio treasure – whether it’s learning to trust your own creative instincts, using more professional techniques, or finding ways to collaborate with others.

The shadows of four soldiers can be seen in the word "Gold Rush", as the sun appears to be fading out of sight. Two large mountains are in the distance - with a staggering zombie appearing much nearer.

What was the first audio drama that really engaged you, and made you feel that you wanted to work in this field? 

Jim Dale’s version of Harry Potter. Now, some might say “that’s not an audio drama!”, but as a dramatic piece read by the Guinness-book-of-records-most-distinguished-voices holder, I beg to differ. That’s the fun part about audio drama, is it can come from most anything dramatic.

From there that book opened up several other worlds of audio publications that I absorbed afterwards, but that audiobook was my big hook into the medium. I’ve heard lots prior, all the way back to the early 40’s, but this was the one that unlocked a part of my brain to the possibilities of what I could do as a storyteller.

What would you tell a fan of “We’re Alive” to tune into, once they’re managed to exhaust all of the Wayland Production episodes, and want something new and terrifying this Halloween?

I would say check out the 11th Hour Productions this year and past years as well. (Ed: As you may have already read, 11th Hour is the yearly event, similar to the “48 Hour Film Fest”, that challenges audio artists to collaborate on new work each October. K.C.’s “Possessions” is available from 2018, as well as a new story for 2019!)

The community as a whole creates episodes based on a collaboration of artists in the field. I had the privilege to work with Steve Schneider and Austin Beach this year for our production of “Lover’s Leap”. I actually acted and directed this, which is not common for me, and learned a lot about having to do both at the same time.

“Bronzeville,” which you produced with Larenz Tate and Laurence Fishburne, is set in Chicago during the 1940s and looks at the historic African American community.  It’s unique in many ways, not least the star “wattage” that came to tell this story, and the undercurrent of music and Chicago history in this story.  

Can you explain how “The Policy” worked? What are the parallels between Bronzeville and issues in communities today?

The Policy Wheel in Bronzeville was just like that of the Lottery; matter of fact, that’s where the idea came from. You could bet on single or multiple numbers and win if the wheel landed on yours. It funded a lot of what some might consider “gangsters”, but they put money back into their communities, and supported black-owned businesses that would not be supported otherwise.

The racial tensions never stopped since the Civil War in Bronzeville, and the fight continues into the streets… and many became geopolitical pawns. These types of issues will unfortunately continue, so long as there are those who can not see past the color of another’s skin, and understand that we are all still one human being in one single fight: to live.

Laurence Fishburne sits at a microphone, recording "Bronzeville" from a script, as K.C. Wayland and another crew member look on
Laurence Fishburne sits at a microphone, recording “Bronzeville” from a script, as K.C. Wayland and another crew member look on

“Bronzeville” is also a good example of how audio drama has `room to reach out to a broader community. Are there stories you think more audio dramatists should be telling – but aren’t?

Sometimes it’s not just about having a good story, but also presenting it in a way that is enjoyable and suited for the medium. There’s a fine balance in the relationship with the audience through audio, so sometimes finding that untold perspective that’s perfect for an aural environment is difficult.

The one thing that any good author can do is tell their perspective, and that connection will resonate with an audience. I can point at so many successes in our industry that chose to tell a story that is true to the author and have a unique connection with.

Authenticity can’t be faked, and that is one quality that resonates with listeners, especially in podcasts. The is something to be said about the similarities to the root of Auth-or and Auth-enticity. 

The great thing about storytelling is that there are millions of variables and any author could pick up a proverbial pen and write the next great series. Audiences want unique perspectives presented in entertaining ways. Also, what story is NOT being told? Look at what others are doing, and tell something different. Take chances, and be bold. No one likes an author who doesn’t take risks. 

The improv podcast you’re working on, “ImprovFX”, is less structured than “We’re Alive”.

Does it take a certain kind of actor or producer to be able to roll with this kind of work?  What is it like to edit to existing recordings, rather than to an already blocked script?

The nice thing about working with “ImprovFX” is that it’s all created in the booth with the players in the scene, and what you get is what you get.

It’s almost the perfect training ground for new editors not able to use other takes, but focus on how to present the story in a cohesive way from what exists. It’s almost like a mast-storytelling lesson of how to make things work, and experiment in the field of audio in ways you wouldn’t think possible in writing.

As we continue the show, it also strengthens our editing and storytelling chops on the narrative written-side.

From left: Christy Carlson Romano (“Gloria” in We’re Alive: Goldrush), K.C. Wayland, and Austin Trace (“Alex” in We’re Alive: Goldrush).

Your 2018 book, Bombs Always Beep, was designed not only as a resource for producers, but as a potential textbook for students. What are the benefits of developing an audio drama in the classroom, rather than a video?

Well, for one, in order for there to be a video, there would need to be a text-version first. Manuals, references, and such all require some sort of technical guide to make sure steps are followed properly and in order, and accessible via index. A video doesn’t really give those options, and while it can be presented in certain entertaining ways, it made sense to start with the book and go from there. The next evolution will be an update to the book along with an audio-version with story-samples from “We’re Alive: Goldrush.”

While I could make additional online videos instructing how to use equipment or storytelling, I found it far easier for the students to produce something more hands-on and in person. This art medium has so many variables that any step-by-step guide while helpful, is not the same as a teacher who is mentoring your own idea and assisting you in your own production. If something is done incorrectly, like a mic setup is uncomfortable for the actor, or even something like the subjectiveness of a performance in two takes, can be analyzed and conversed about in person. Even something as simple as a story idea not working, can be workshopped before the next stages where things are irreversible.

Production is very difficult, and many people just jump right in and do it one way if it works, without learning any principles or basics in audio or storytelling. While there is an element of accessibility of equipment nowadays that anyone can create in this medium, there is a balance of understanding how this is art, technology, and business in how everything is crafted. 

For me, I enjoy teaching because I want to create creators, because when artists work with and inspire others, it only improves everyone’s abilities.

If you could reach your next Bombs Always Beep reader who wants to go out and produce their own work — and give one piece of golden advice, what would you tell them?

Find the artist in yourself. What do you want to say? How do you want to say it? The wrapper in which you disguise your story, does not diminish the perspective you have. I write stories about zombies. And I also write about human drama pushed in extreme conditions, with a large base of worldbuilding that I love to do. 

Make art for you, but understand the power in how it impacts others.