Volume 16, Number 3, Summer, 1998


Traveling in Radio

An Interview with Brad Linaweaver and William Alan Ritch

Anders Monsen: I understand you both are involved with doing radio/audio drama adaptations of Robert A. Heinlein. How did that come about?

William Alan Ritch: We were visiting Mrs. Heinlein, explaining to her all the things that we were interested in doing, hobbies, professional work, things like that. We started broaching her on the subject of doing [Heinlein] radio adaptations because that’s one of my hobbies—I’ve worked with the Atlanta Radio Theater Company (ARTC), as has Brad. My first experience with them, and Brad’s too, was adapting a story that Brad wrote, back in 1980, and I adapted the story into radio format, and that was our first experience.

Brad Linaweaver: “The Competitor,” and it appeared in Fantastic Stories.

Ritch: That was an adaptation that I wrote. Brad played one of the characters in it, and his good friend Brad Strickland played he other character, his nemesis.

Linaweaver: I was typecast as the Devil.

Ritch: And Brad Strickland was typecast as the good guy. Mrs. Heinlein’s interested in audio drama. Well, we said, is it possible that we might be able to do an adaption of some of Robert Heinlein’s material? She said, “Well, it’s possible. You go talk to the agent, and I think we can work out a deal where you can do it very inexpensively.” And, we did that, with her approval—we gave her a list of stories we would like to do, and she selected from that list “The Menace from Earth,” as the first story that we could adapt.

It’s a short story about a young girl on the Moon, who is in love with her engineering partner, although she doesn’t realize it at the time the story begins. She slowly beings to realize it throughout the course of the story, when a young actress from Earth comes up and becomes a rival for his affections.

Part of the shtick of the show, of the story, is that on the Moon people weigh a lot less, and you have very heavy updrafts of air you can actually fly, with the right kind of wings and the right kind of air pressure, which you could not ever do on Earth. That's the plot of the story. The science fiction element is the people flying, and the, and human element is the human element of the rivalry of the two women for the love of the boy.

Linaweaver: An older woman and a teenage girl.

Ritch: You don’t know it’s an older woman through the course of the story. This was a great thing to do for radio, because we have to make people imagine someone flying by using sound. It’s very inexpensive for radio to make people fly, because you just have to hint at it. You describe things. You have sounds of wind in the background, you have people reacting to the feeling of being up in the air. But if we had to do it as a television episode, it would cost us millions of dollars just to fake flying. That’s why we thought it would make a great radio episode. That’s how we actually got started on this.

I wrote the adaptation and then we performed it at a couple of science fiction conventions, at Necronomicon, and at DragonCon, and we got some very good response to it, and now we’re ready to go into the studio and make an official, professional version of this.

Linaweaver: It turns out that audio drama is something that’s interested Ginny [Heinlein] for a long time because, of course, she and Robert got to see some of his stories adapted in the golden age of science fiction radio. I still remember the first time I heard Universe on X-Minus One, and I thought that it was far more effective than even Spielberg or Lucas multi-million dollar movie could ever be. So it’s not like radio drama is anything new to someone of her generation. What is new, is that we have people from our generation who are interested in it, and are trying to bring it back.

Of course, this happens at a time when Hollywood has just spent over a $100 million, perhaps $130 million to do a travesty of a Heinlein classic novel, Starship Troopers, and of course, along comes Bill and myself, and we say for mere hundreds of dollars we can do very tasteful adaptations of Robert A. Heinlein in the cheapest form of electronic medium, which of course is radio/audio drama. So, this is a very good time to be getting this cooperation from Mrs. Heinlein, and providing product that she is very happy with so far.

“The Menace from Earth” was the first one as Bill told you, and Bill did that adaptation himself. The second one, and she even told us, and she even told us that it would be quite a challenge, is “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants,” which many people have considered one of the more difficult to dramatize of Heinlein’s. But since I have always thought of that as Heinlein’s Ray Bradbury story, and as everybody knows Bradbury is my favorite writer, and I have a definite psychic link to the Bradbury thing, I felt uniquely qualified to do an adaptation of “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants.”

Ritch: For producing “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants,” I persuaded Brad to get his script done much earlier than we anticipated. We were originally planning to do it at Dragoncon[Labor Day Weekend]—and still are—and we were expecting to have the script ready in late June. But I persuaded Brad to get me the script about three months prior to this, so that I could take it on the road, as it were, to other science fiction conventions where we could try it before an audience and see what parts worked, what parts didn’t work, find out how difficult it was to do the sound effects, things like that.

We performed it first at a convention in Orlando, Fla., called Oasis, in May. That was met with very big success. People were quite happy with it. We discovered a couple of minor problems, technical glitches that we worked out by doing it the next weekend at a local arts festival, here in Atlanta, called the Decatur Arts Festival. It went over very well there, too, and we actually had most of the glitches ironed out.

We did this with our own actors. We didn’t have any big names we are going to have at DragonCon. I think it went extremely well. Brad turned in a very good script. After Brad turned in the script I got together with him and we made a couple of minor changes to make it flow a little differently toward the end, and then we have a few more editing things to do on it, before we do it at DragonCon where we have our big professional experience.

That’s one thing about doing audio media as opposed to a book, is that you actually want to expose it to an audience early, whereas a book, the audience you expose it to early tend to be your friends or an editor, and then by the time your public sees it, it’s in its finalized form. While with any play or TV show or movie, they quite often do test audiences just to see, basically if things work the way you think they’re going to work. Also you have a tendency to experiment with the sound effects; anything that can go wrong you want to experiment with early on. The more you do it in front of a live audience the more you have a test of how it will really work when you do it for you major audience. You can test it in the basement all you want by trying it out without audiences but you go, “Well, I can do, or I can do that,” and you don’t have the pressure of doing it live, until you do it live.

Monsen: Well, Bill and Brad, you’ve talked about having some stars, or some celebrities, performing in the show at DragonCon. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Linaweaver: We’re very pleased to have Harlan Ellison playing a lead role in “The Man Who Travels in Elephants.” I was on pins and needles, waiting to hear what Harlan thought of the script, and he called up very happy with it and even trying out different voices. Which is kind of a weird and pleasant experience, having Harlan Ellison so happy with the script that he’s already auditioning for it in the phone call. But Harlan Ellison is well-pleased with the script, and well-pleased with his part.

We also are going to have a small role in “Elephants” for Brinke Stevens. This is especially appropriate, because Brinke as you know is a professional actress—one of the actresses who’s worked with Fred Olen Ray and other low budget movie producers over the year—who starred in the Atlanta Radio Theater adaption of my story “A Real Babe.” Then when they did the first live stage performance of Bill Ritch’s adaption of “The Menace from Earth,” Brinke Stevens starred in that. Now, she’s not in the commercial release version of “The Menace from Earth” that will be produced by ARTC, but she is going to have a small role in “Elephants.”

Also, since I have persuaded Ray Bradbury to attend DragonCon this year, I am going to ask Ray, if he would be willing to do an introduction for the show. At this time I don’t know what his answer will be, but I’m very optimistic. When he finds out we’ve got a Heinlein [radioplay], and Harlan’s starring in it I’m sure that Ray will be interested in doing something with it because the big thing was just to get Ray to attend DragonCon, which is definitely going to happen now.

In addition there’s going to be a short subject, that we will do before “Elephants” which will have some more DragonCon celebrities in it, including Ray Harryhausen, the famous special effects genius, who did it all by hand before the days of CGI and the computer revolution. Ray Harryhausen’s going to play a computer in a little science fiction parody. We are going to try to get Jonathan Harris, of Lost in Space fame, to also be in that short subject—bear in mind, this is all building up to “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants,” which is our feature presentation, like in the movies. Finally, one more celebrity in “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants” is none other than Anthony Daniels, who has agreed to be in it, and played C-3PO in Star Wars.

We’ve quite a lot of star power in this one.

Monsen: Building on this, what are your plans for adapting other Heinlein stories?

Linaweaver: Bill and I make an annual pilgrimage to Ginny Heinlein. We are quite pleased that she lets us visit her annually. All began interestingly enough, in part due to the special Heinlein issue of New Libertarian, where Ginny was a very active participant. She was supportive of the project all along. It was because of Ginny we got some unpublished Heinlein, so that Sam Konkin legitimately could put Heinlein’s name on the cover, along with the usual gang of Prometheus Award winners: the Neils [L. Neil Smith and J. Neil Schulman], Victor [Koman], and so forth. At any rate, she seems to be happy with “Menace.” We hope she’ll be happy with “Elephants” and she’s agreed to at least two more stories, and we hope we can persuade her to agree to even more.

We were thinking other writers could be doing adaptations, as part of our [two future adaptations] would include a collaboration between Tom Fuller, the founder of Atlanta Radio Theater Company, and Brad Strickland. That would be another Heinlein adaption. We’ve also discussed future adaptations by Victor Koman and J. Neil Schulman.

Ritch: In general, I am the overall series editor for this project—the Heinlein project—and I think once we actually get professional tapes and CDs out in the market place, and we’ve done our four Heinleins we might get more Heinlein episodes for the ARTC done. I would want, of course, to adapt everything that Heinlein ever wrote to radio format. That would be my goal. It may not be an achievable goal, but it’s definitely a goal nonetheless.

Linaweaver: After all, Ginny has to give us properties that won’t interfere with ongoing plans to make movie sales. Of course, right now, we’re all very excited about the deal that has been made with Speilberg’s DreamWorks for possible a possible film version of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Quite obviously, some radio adaption deals cannot be allowed to get in the way of some potential movie or television deals. But there is a lot of Heinlein. That’s the thing people forget. There sure is a hell of a lot of Heinlein, and we can continue doing this for some time to come, I think, so long as we keep Ginny happy with final results.

Ritch: Of course, it would be wonderful to do an adaption of Starship Troopers that actually was the book, instead of something completely alien to the book. But, we’ll have to see how the negotiations on something like that go.

Heinlein wrote a lot of short stories. Short stories are perfect for half-hour to one hour adaptations. They are perfect for that. If you’re going to adapt a novel you really need to spend several hours doing it and that makes it commercially more dodgy to have a multi-hour format that you try to sell. Especially if you’re trying to airplay, unless you turn it into a serial.

Part two of this interview will continue in the Fall, 1998 issue of Prometheus.

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