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Online Theater Group Specializes in Frightful Tales
Interview by Garrett Riggs
Gallery images courtesy of Carmen Online Theater
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was afraid of the dark. She covered her eyes (but still peeked through her fingers) during scary movies. That little girl loved to write and make up stories. When she was older, she discovered books by Bram Stoker and Stephen King and was wooed by the darkness and suspense. That little girl grew up to be Liane Moonraven.
Moonraven is the primary writer for Carmen Online Theater, a web-based radio theater that specializes in horror serials. Together with producer and actor, James Jay Bryhan, Moonraven has been the driving force behind the popular series “The Burbs” and “Neverlasting Love”.
“The Burbs” is the story of a woman who moves into a new home with her daughter after her husband dies. Lisa Sheraton and 14-year-old Brittany think that moving to a new town will help them put painful memories behind. Fans of the horror genre know this almost never works out. A new and different life certainly awaits Lisa and Brittany, but it is not at all the one they bargained for.
In some ways, online theater is a medium being re-born. The Golden Age of Radio brought weekly shows into American homes from the 1920s to the 1950s. During that era, families gathered around the radio to listen to everything from soap operas to sitcoms. While there were shows like “Lights Out” and “The House of Mystery” that had elements of horror, most of these shows were predominately crime and mystery stories with the occasional spooky story thrown in.
Much like Orson Welles’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air, Carmen Online Theater uses serious drama and taut storylines to stir the imagination. What makes the online theater so chilling is the judicious use of sound to create atmosphere behind the actors’ voices.
Unlike Welles’ hour-long shows, Moonraven’s scripts are usually under 15 minutes, a nod to the digital generation she writes for.
“I wanted them to be bite-size—10 minutes per episode and six episodes per season,” she says. She wanted The Burbs to be a show people could listen to weekly, or for those who like to binge-listen, they can digest an entire season in about an hour.
When asked how she got interested in the horror genre, Moonraven laughs and says, “the horror genre got interested in me. I was never a horror buff. I grew up being terrified.”
She says reading Stephen King’s work when she was a teenager and then discovering Dracula and the movies of Alfred Hitchcock all pulled her into the genre.
“I was fascinated by what kind of person writes that stuff, and more important, who sleeps next to that kind of person.” Moonraven laughs again and says, “I sleep alone.”
She says she learned different things from dissecting the works of King, Stoker, and Hitchcock. “Hitch is the master of psychological terror. Stoker is the master of description and King is the master of being able to scare the living crap out of you.”
Moonraven says everything in the entertainment industry is cyclical. She knew horror was on the rise again, but her instincts told her audio theater was also ripe for renewal.
“In audio, you’re in control of your own senses,” she says. “The soundtrack and the actors’ voices tantalize the listener and forces you to use your own creativity and imagination instead of having the film director’s vision playing on the screen in front of you. The listener becomes part of the production.”
Moonraven says she has wanted to act and write ever since she was little. She attended film school, wanting to be a producer “before Oprah opened doors for black women”, but dropped out after an advisor told her she would never make it in Hollywood due to her race and being a woman.
She went on to finish a degree in sociology and had a teaching career before returning to her first loves of writing and acting. She had a podcast where she interviewed other creative people and eventually met filmmaker Paul Sampson who encouraged her to pursue her dreams of film and theater.
While she was working on getting her theater group started, she did voice work and did a trailer for a film featuring James Bryhan. She had watched him in “Peaky Blinders” and thought he had the voice and presence for one of the characters she was writing, so Moonraven contacted him.
Bryhan is the supervising producer for Carmen Online Theater as well as the voice of Norman Lightfoot in “The Burbs”. Bryhan grew up in Birmingham, England, and studied under Chris Rozanski at the Birmingham Theatre School. His other roles include The Apostate: Call of the Revenant and To The End of the Road.
With Bryhan in England and production partners in Canada, the UK, and cities across the U.S., Moonraven says the biggest challenge is being in different time zones and teaching new partners the technology. She says technology makes their work possible. They meet online and exchange digital files to produce the episodes. For consistent quality, Moonraven insists that each person involved in the production has the same equipment and uses the same setup.
Moonraven’s goal is to keep expanding the Carmen Online Theater so that it is a full network. She says that she hopes to have three serials and several stand-alone projects in production by Fall. To listen to “The Burbs” and other productions, please visit Carmen Online Theater.
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