Dr. Watson explores the dark side of ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Alan Wade is a busy man. When he’s not teaching theater at The George Washington University, he’s acting in plays (King Lear), movies (The Pelican Brief) and TV (House of Cards Season 4).

He’s also narrating audiobooks, including Mr. Mayhem, the first in my series of crime novels starring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker. And one by another chap, fellow named Watson. Ring a bell?

Alan took some time recently to talk about the influence of stage and screen on audiobook narration.

Alan Wade as the drunken clerk in Shaw’s “Augustus Does His Bit” for the Washington Stage Guild (Colin Hovde Photography)

Alan Wade as the drunken clerk in Shaw’s “Augustus Does His Bit” for the Washington Stage Guild (Colin Hovde Photography)

What’s the most challenging part of audio narration?
Being in a confined space for a few hours. Thankfully, I’m not claustrophobic!

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
Well, here’s a clichéd response: Shakespeare tops my list. His work simply does not exhaust an exploration of human character and motivation, and it’s the locus for a discussion of an extensive range of ethical, political, and social issues. Samuel Beckett comes in second for me. Clearly, not a popular dramatist, but, like Shakespeare, though with a much narrower social purview, Beckett is sensitive to the richness of human character and motivation. It would perhaps not be a surprise that the first one-person theater show I did was based on Beckett’s prose work (I, from the Prose of Samuel Beckett at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater), and that the second was comprised of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays (Shakespeare in Soliloquy).

How do you prepare to perform an audio piece?
I do articulation exercises and drink water. I don’t read the book in its entirety as that would not be “cost-effective.” I skim a chapter before I do it to see what characters are involved.

When you’re narrating a work with multiple characters, how do you differentiate among them?
Let’s take Brinker as an example. There were two traits that led me to his voice, which I will characterize as harsh or “gravelly.” The first is his attitude: he’s a wise-ass. The second is his substance abuse, pretty much of all kinds. This suggested to me that he wouldn’t have a healthy voice (contrast his with my rendition of the Colonel’s voice).

So, a character’s attitude, whether it’s a male or female character, dialect or accent requirements (assuming I can do them credibly), and certain vocal stereotyping of character (a “whiner” might be nasal in vocal resonance).

What new and exciting projects do you have coming up?
Coming up for Audible is a new Sherlock Holmes collection for which I’m delighted to “be in England” as Dr. Watson.

Listen to the second chapter of Mr. Mayhem as Alan Wade brings Brinker and the cast to life:

Retro TV takes wing with ‘Pan Am’

Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed drama “Mad Men” comes the high-flying “Pan Am,” ABC-TV’s retro look at the swinging sixties. Debuting this fall the show stars Christina Ricci, Karine Vanasse, Kelli Garner and Margot Robbie. New York magazine is reporting that Jonah Lotan, who plays an ambitious new pilot, is being replaced.

ABC bills the show as full of “passion, jealousy and espionage. In this modern world, air travel represents the height of luxury and Pan Am is the biggest name in the business. The planes are glamorous, the pilots are rock stars and the stewardesses are the most desirable women in the world.”

The executive producer and writer is Jack Orman, who served in similar capacities on “ER” and “JAG.”

The show’s appeal may lie in its contrast with air travel today. No doubt the writers will handle body searches differently than the Transportation Security Administration. As for the soundtrack, producers have chosen the perfect backdrop for a martini-loving generation, Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me.”

Hopefully the show will fare better than the airline. A cultural icon of the 1960s, Pan American World Airways operated from 1927 until 1991. After declaring bankruptcy that year its assets were acquired by Delta Air Lines.

Everything I know I learned from TV

In the novel Tell No One, Harlan Coben’s POV character floats an intriguing theory: “It’s an amazing thing really, but when you think about it, we learn life’s most important lessons from TV.”

Such as how to fire a gun, spot a tail or read someone their rights. Or if you’re not the star of a suspense novel, how to look smashing in jeans, score on a first date or cook a meal even the North Koreans would appreciate.

When education and religion reach their saturation limits, television eagerly fills in the blanks. It teaches us how to deal with alien races (“Star Trek”), bask in constant applause (“Seinfeld”) and talk to women (“Xena: the Warrior Princess”). It shows us how to impress our buddies with our athletic prowess while balancing on a bar stool (“SportsCenter”).

jetsons-video-phoneI’m not even going to get into the absurdities of life we’ve seen paraded across screen: Balloon Boy, OJ, Watergate, the Lewinski scandal, the McCarthy hearings. Maybe the revolution will be televised.

On the other hand, we can find practical ways to improve ourselves and our property by installing hardwood floors, landscaping the backyard and learning to speaking another language with our furry friends on Sesame Street—especially if Bob Vila stops by. With the advent of the Wii, we can even get stay fit without leaving the apartment. Jane Fonda meets the Jetsons.

Television has shown us the best we have to offer (the Olympics) and the other stuff (Jerry Springer and “The Price is Right”). We’ve seen the struggle, triumph and greed born of a capitalist society. TV has challenged (“The Twilight Zone”), horrified (live coverage of the 9/11 attacks) and, as always, entertained (the Marx Brothers and the early days of MTV come to mind).

I’ve learned a few things while watching the middle screen over the years: compassion from the cast of “M*A*S*H,” determination from crime shows like “Colombo” and “Monk” and the importance of character from “Foyle’s War,” Anthony Horowitz’s brilliant saga of life on the British home front during World War II.

What lessons have you learned from TV?