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:

Veteran actor brings ‘Mr. Mayhem’ to life

Alan Wade is a character. It’s a description he likes, one that has brought him work in theater (King Lear), movies (The Pelican Brief) and television (House of Cards Season 4). And one of the reasons he was drawn to the narration of Mr. Mayhem, the first in my series of crime novels starring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker.

Alan is a veteran of film, television and stage. Actor, writer and director, he has appeared in regional theater and off-Broadway, as well as television (Homicide) and film (The Pelican Brief, Major League II).

For almost four decades he has served as a professor of speech communications and theater at The George Washington University and directed 30 plays there. His professional work has won praise from After Dark magazine and The Washington Post.

For his latest project, Alan drew on his extensive stage experience to bring the dark story of Mr. Mayhem to life as an audiobook, as he explains in this two-part interview, conducted shortly after he finished the narration.

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Tell us a bit about the path you took to a career in acting and narration.
I was a freshman in high school when the “bug bit.” I took some after-school courses, went on to Northwestern University’s theater program, to Catholic University’s drama program (M.A.), and back to Northwestern for a Ph.D. in what is now Performance Studies. Intertwined with this academic work was a stint as a resident actor at Center Stage in Baltimore.

You’ve appeared in everything from King Lear to The Pelican Brief. How has stage and television influenced your voice work?
Well, I’m what is thought of, certainly now, as a character actor, which can often involve roles differentiated in part by changes in vocal characterization: dialects, accents, vocal qualities, and other speech mannerisms. My first Equity role was as Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Center Stage. Billy suffers from a pronounced stammer.

How does audiobook narration differ from your other projects?
You’re by yourself and, for someone like me who enjoys the culture of theater and its sociability, this aloneness is a pronounced difference. I’ve done two one-person shows during my stage career, so I’ve had a performance experience that approximates being in a booth alone, but there was always the audience to provide companionship.

What do you like best about voice acting?
In the case of audiobooks, it’s somewhat self-directed (though you do interact with the author and sometimes a producer), so there is a larger creative component to voice acting of this kind.

Next: the challenge of multiple characters.

Listen to Alan Wade bring Brinker to life in the first chapter of Mr. Mayhem:

‘House of Cards’ actor narrates thriller ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Murder is murder, whether it’s in a play by Shakespeare or a popular television show. Which is one of the reasons House of Cards actor Alan Wade agreed to narrate Mr. Mayhem, the first in a series of crime novels I’ve written to feature the defrocked journalist turned PR whiz known as Brinker.

Alan Wade at mike“There were two traits that led me to his voice, which I will characterize as harsh or gravelly,” Wade said. “The first is his attitude: he’s a wise-ass. The second is his substance abuse, pretty much of all kinds.”

Mr. Mayhem has garnered widespread praise from the critics. Kirkus Reviews calls the work “eccentricity at its finest in a detective story, and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.” And My House Our House author Louise Machinist says the novel “socks you in the gut like a shot and a beer. The mayhem never stops in this plot-driven thriller in creepy small-town PA, where there’s not a hero to be found.”

Set in the snowy mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania where I was raised, Mr. Mayhem is published by Allusion Books and available through Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and my website.

Listen to the audio sample as Alan brings Brinker and his crew to life.