In the atrium of ornamental trees at the world’s coolest tech company, ancient forces are waking that will change the destiny of shy, ambitious, developer Mira. That’s the concept of THE GROVE, the exciting new audio drama debuting today on The Fantasy Network’s Audio Channel.
THE GROVE’s writer and director, Meg Toogood, is a native Londoner who likes to travel in her imagination. THE GROVE is her first audio piece, though she’s also self-published a novel and had work on stage in London. She recently chatted with TFN to talk about the show and what inspired it.
How did you get into creating audio dramas/podcasts?
TOOGOOD: Like many theatre writers, I had a show canceled at the beginning of the pandemic. It was the idea of my genius producer Stevie that we should try and get an audio drama off the ground to keep us in touch with the regular group of actors we work with and stop us going mad in lockdown. Both of us had previously placed in an audio drama writing competition with the BBC, so it felt like a pretty natural step to produce something independently.
What sparked the idea for THE GROVE?
I’ve always been fascinated by trees in buildings. The juxtaposition always strikes me as odd, because trees are so full of ancient magic and office buildings are so soulless. This is very much a story idea that begins with what if…
What can listeners expect when they tune in?
A story that pulls them in, keeps them intrigued and then comes to an end — THE GROVE is a six-part, stand-alone drama.
What makes audio a great medium for SFF?
The sound designer on THE GROVE always says, “the pictures are better with sound,” and I think that’s so true. The budget for a screen version of THE GROVE would include special effects, stunts, and a fair amount of destruction so it would be a huge story to bring to screen. I also love the way audio brings listeners close to characters. It’s a very personal medium.
What makes a good or successful audio drama or podcast?
I guess audio isn’t different to any other medium when it comes to the basics. You need an interesting story with a bit of mystery to it, great actors to bring it to life, and sound design that creates the world of the story. The audience are letting the characters into their earbuds so they have to want to get to know them.
How do you make the story come to life for listeners without visuals?
Fantasy is a great genre for creating worlds and stories that leap into the listeners mind and won’t let go. Hopefully we’ve created some astonishing images that will really stay with listeners, and we really thought about that at the script and development stage. We had visual references for the story so that we as creators were all trying to create the same thing. It helped that Google have several buildings around the world that look exactly like the offices where THE GROVE is set (let’s hope they are looking after their trees!).
How did you find the actors, writers and production team?
I’m the writer /director and have worked closely with Producer Stevie Cooke for the last six years; we met on our screenwriting MA. We’ve worked with several of the actors before, so wrote parts specifically with them in mind. We cast some through Mandy.com. Sound designer Ed Clarke was a real find — he’s a very well-known stage sound designer and has worked at the National Theatre with Danny Boyle on a famous production of Frankenstein starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. He was suggested to us by someone we know, but we were extremely lucky to have him on board as usually he’d be too busy.
How did you support the making of the show?
The show is self-funded, expenses only for cast and crew so if you hear some ads, then thank you! We are still in the process of recouping our investment. But almost all shows are like this, especially in theatre, so we’re used to it.
Now that you’ve made some episodes, what are some things you’ve learned?
I wrote the show with no reference as to how the sound effects might be created or how music would work within the scenes! I just went with my imagination. Now I’ve done one show, I’ll definitely be much more careful about some of that in future. I’ll also be more careful of how I’m writing physical space, since cross cutting is trickier in an audio show. Really you want one scene, one time one place; otherwise audiences get confused.
What has been the most rewarding part of making THE GROVE?
Two things — working with the team, in truth that’s always the most fun. One thing we did slightly differently to some audio shows is that we record all together in the same room. We don’t record with actors in different spaces; they need to be able to work off each other’s delivery. (We timed production to when this was legal for us to do, obviously!)
Ed was the recording engineer as well as the sound designer, and that allowed us to be quite fluid and improvisational in creating the show. Recording days were really fun!
Second thing is watching the audience grow and receiving nice comments about the show. Especially when people like the writing. I love to be flattered.
What advice would you give to creators interested in making their own podcast?
Do it! You can get a really complex story off the ground for a really tiny budget. You will need someone who can record and edit sound, you will need really good actors, and you will need a good script and a place to record. Also, don’t schedule your original recording weekend to be on the final of the European Football Championship, however unlikely it is that England will make it all the way. We moved our recording date when we realized, obviously.
What storytellers have been most influential to you?
Fantasy fans will be able to spot a few elements here that are drawn from the work of C.S Lewis and Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood. In terms of fantasy audio, Pilgrim by Sebastian Baczkiewicz is the gold standard for intriguing visual stories that won’t let you go.
What advice do you have about building an audience?
My day job used to be in marketing, and I think one thing people rarely appreciate is the tiny percentage of audiences that will actually click through or listen. It can be 1% or even lower, so to get a thousand listeners you need to promote to 100,000 people. I think some creators think they are doing badly when only a fraction click through, but it’s absolutely standard in all fields. So just keep plugging away and getting your link in front of the right eyes!
What excites you about being part of The Fantasy Network?
It’s always nice to find a community of likeminded people. One of the most exciting things will be listening to and watching what other people are creating. Plus, I’ll be honest — if we can find some fans who want to help crowdfund series two, we are not going to say no to that!
How can listeners stay connected with you and your team?
Follow us on Twitter (@RoarLondon) and take a look at the website.
If you want to find out more about the cast and crew, then take a look at our production page for The Grove, where there are links to agents’ pages and bios of our amazingly talented actors who you should definitely be casting in your next big production! For more about sound designer Ed Clarke, see his page.
Tune in to listen to THE GROVE on TFN Audio.