Monday, Nov 30, 2009 — Troublesome Gap, a first-of-its-kind interactive online audio series makes its Web debut Monday, November 30th at 8pmThe man behind the audio drama is sound designer and multiple Helen Hayes Award winner Matthew Nielson, who also co-wrote and co-directed the series with Audible Group members Susan Lynskey and James Kornicek. Roles in this episodic drama series, are all played by actors from the Washington, DC area. The cast includes Tim Getman, Stephen Schmidt, Colleen Delany, Jason Lott, Eric Messner, Casie Platt, Kimberly Gilbert, along with Linskey, Kornicek and, occasionally, Nielson himself.
Something very bad and mysterious is happening near Hollowlog Cove, North Carolina – an ancient, tiny hamlet lodged deep in the Appalachian Mountains and nestled just below the aptly named mountain pass Troublesome Gap. At certain, unpredictable times, lights rise up out of the mountains – too steady to be insects, too close to be shooting stars. They materialize, spectral and full of foreboding, and then wink out, one by one. And the sounds – a fuzzy indistinct buzzing, a low rumble as if the mountains themselves were groaning, are occasionally punctuated by nearly human noises: a child’s cry, or laughter, or ghostly singing. When this happens, sometimes, the area’s power goes out – cars won’t start; cell phones fade into silence; and even the ubiquitous Internet is stilled. No one knows what’s behind this ominous phenomenon, though the Smithsonian has sent its experts, and now Federal agents are exploring the place. There have been attempts to unlock the mystery, God knows, but none of them have been successful – and many people have vanished along the way.
One man has some interesting theories for the mysteries behind Troublesome Gap, but the locals all dismiss him as the crazy old man of the mountains, and he’s proven hard to find.
Matthew Nielson has some interesting theories too, but he’s not talking. Much. Nielson, who has designed sound and composed for over 100 DC-area theater productions, launches his epic Web drama Troublesome Gap on Monday, November 30 at 8pm. Episodes will also be available as a podcast directly through iTunes.
The Audible Group (www.theaudiblegroup.com), a collective dedicated to preserving and advancing audio theatre while staying true to DC-area talent, serves as producer. DCTS listeners have heard Audible Group’s production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales last December, and the 2008 and 2009 Audience Choice Awards shows.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the potential to tell a story through sound alone,” Nielson says. “I’m not talking about dialogue, though obviously that’s important, too. I’m talking about the story that a creaking rocking chair tells, and how it can suggest so much more to the imagination than we would ever see on a television screen.”
The dialogue, though, is in good hands – or rather the good voices of some of DC’s most accomplished and well known performers. Actor James Konicek, a founding member of The Audible Group (along with co-founders Nielson, actor Susan Lynskey and DC Theatre Scene editor Lorraine Treanor), voices the role of Federal agent Tom Creason, who is a protagonist in the story’s early stages. Other characters are voiced by Lynskey, Tim Getman, Stephen Schmidt, Colleen Delany, Jason Lott, Eric Messner, Casie Platt, Kimberly Gilbert and sometimes-actor Nielson himself, among others.
“I feel so honored and, honestly, a little surprised by the enthusiastic response the project has received,” Nielson says. “I’ve never tried to create anything of this scale before. But this is not a B-list group of actors. Not only was this group willing to lend their considerable talents to Troublesome Gap, they got what I was trying to portray immediately, and they contributed to the final product conceptually as well as in execution.”
Nielson ultimately plans to have the Troublesome Gap audio narrative accompanied by a multiple Web site interactive experience. “We’re still in the planning stages on that,” he says. “The main site will be the ‘official’ face of Troublesome Gap, presenting a commercial yet eco-friendly outlook in hopes of drawing tourists.”
Rumbles of darker truths are unveiled, however, through the episodes and through other loosely connected websites. Audiences will be able to follow links to sites and blogs run by characters in the series. For example, a group of volunteers sent out by the seemingly eco-friendly company to map out mountain trails will run their own blog where they will post their findings for the day, interesting things they’ve discovered, etc. With these extras, audiences will be able to track characters’ progress through Troublesome Gap in real time and learn more about the mysteries surrounding them.
“The story is mostly fiction,” he continues, “but the great thing about setting it in the mountains of Appalachia is that there are plenty of historical events and struggles to delve into and explore; not to mention the endless supply of myths, legends and folklore that have been passed down through generations of folks whose lives are ingrained in the mountains.” Nielson says that he has also drawn inspiration from the ABC series “Lost”, which supplements its narrative with several apparently coincidentally intertwined websites, as well as from “Twin Peaks”, a television series written by David Lynch about twenty years ago. “I loved how eccentric Lynch permitted his characters to be,” Nielson observes, while promising to present a more conventional story line. “We’re steering clear of demonic possession. So far. We’ll see,” he says with a grin.
He goes on to explain how the audio piece might appeal to audiences who are too young to remember the classic pre-television radio shows of old: “I’m enthralled with the idea of taking a generations-old art form, the radio drama, and infusing it with the storytelling styles and technologies that current generations are accustomed to and expect from their entertainment.”
The pilot episode runs just over twenty minutes. “The goal is to make it long enough to draw an audience’s attention, but not so long that they have to put it on their schedule in order to hear it. It’s perfect for any DC area commute.” A short trailer of the pilot episode was well received at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage event in September.
There is no charge to listen to Troublesome Gap, which is commercial-free. “I just love the idea of telling a story with sound, and so do the other great artists who are helping me produce Troublesome Gap.” Nielson says. “If we find an audience who loves it just as much, we can continue to tell this story.”
As they say in Troublesome, “It’s time.”