The real start of The Clifton Monroe Chronicles is a mystery to us too. Thomas and I were living in NYC and as normal we were having a silly conversation about what cool things we would love to see on stage. We started talking about doing a talk radio show that led into an old-time radio theatre show idea. I have always loved the genre and have not seen or heard much from it in a very long time. I have always been a fan of other shows like Prairie Home Companion and the film Radioland Murders. With those shows in mind we started constructing the early stages of what Clifton Monroe was going to be about.
The ideas were flying out of our brains too fast to write them all down. We knew we wanted live sound effects, we wanted fun commercial and characters that a younger generation would love but also that an older generation could appreciate. I remember listening to The Shadow, Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon on my old record player and wanted to re-live those feelings on stage in front of an audience. Clifton was originally a detective solving cases in the Big Apple. Thomas created the names for the characters of Clifton Monroe, Matilda Parker and Evelyn Knickerbocker. I created the characters of Winston, Caroline and Evan Knickerbocker in our first episode The Case of the Scarlet G. Thomas wrote the first 10 pages. The setting was in an old bank then changed to a brewery. Clifton became an ace reporter, siblings joined the story, the number of live sound effects doubled and the show was full steam ahead.
Then we had a 6 month delay due to my decision to move back to New Orleans. I was happy in New York City but for an idea like this to work it needed to be in New Orleans… and I missed being home. Like most great ideas it was shelved but not lost. We still talked about plot points, how corrupt the characters would be, the settings, flashbacks, timelines, future development of the world around Clifton Monroe and other ideas. They were all kept in a handy notebook by my bed in which I constantly wake up in the middle of the night and write in. Then the next morning I have to read and wonder “What the hell was I thinking?” at 3am. One day I picked up the notebook and wrote the next 30 pages of the script to finish our first story. I had one of those moments were everything was clear to me. I knew how I wanted the twist and turns to happen. I knew what the characters were going to say and mostly importantly I finally knew how I wanted the show to end..
When you have a finished piece of work you really don’t have a finished piece of work. It was now a very long rough draft nearly 42 pages long. I have a tendency to write like I speak and if you know me that can sometimes be very long-winded. Thomas and I had many fights and disagreements but after some struggle I managed to get the script down to 31 pages.
It was about 3 months of edits, read-thrus, workshops, friends advice, research for vocabulary, research on New Orleans history, and a ton of other boring stuff. However, the characters were now fully formed with a rich backstory and a storyline that was easy to follow if you paid attention. The actors on stage would all play multiple characters. They would need to change their mannerisms and voices to portray other characters at a moments notice. In addition, there is a story within a story but I will not go into detail just yet. I don’t want to give too much away after all.
The next challenge was coming up with a cast for the show. I had met Andrea Carlin through a friend of mine at a show and we immediately clicked with each other. She is the Grace to my Will. We have a great capacity to read each other’s mind and I knew she was the right person to direct my work. The role of Clifton Monroe was cast to Richard Mayer. I had performed with Richard in a show called La Sirena and knew he was the right person with his unique voice and talent. The role of Matilda Parker was originally written for a friend of mine that I went to acting school with but ultimately Leslie Boles was cast in the role. She read and Andrea and I just both knew. The most difficult role to cast was Evelyn Knickerbocker because of the complexity of the characters she would have to portray. I am pleased to say that we cast an amazingly talented actress named Jackie Freeman in the role. The role of announcer is yet to be determined. Finally, rounding off the cast is me as Evan Knickerbocker. This will most likely be the only role I play in the chronicles. I may like to write them but I could not pass up the chance to perform in the first one. Yes, I cast myself and you can laugh all you want about that.
The next part was the graphic design part of the show. We have a great script and a great cast but who are we. The graphics and design of the show really determine the mood of the show. Thomas and I have a small graphic business called Rhomas Designs. I developed the overall concept for the show and how I wanted it to look and feel. Thomas is the magic man at pulling my crazy ideas out of my head and getting them on paper. I don’t honestly know how he does it. We also developed posters for three other shows which you will see at the premiere of The Case of the Scarlet G. The posters all came out amazingly well. A good team has to be honest with each and not worry about hurting each other feelings. I have called him many times and said “move that to the right, I don’t like that color, the whole concept is wrong, you need to try this” but the next day I always get something ten times better then the image before.
We now had the script, the cast and the graphics but no money. This is when we reached out for help from trailer maker and all around guru of video, Patrick Hoffman. Thomas and Patrick developed the amazing teaser trailer you are watching on Youtube, Facebook and the CliftonMonroeChronicles.com website. They also developed the Kickstarter program to help raise money to fund our show. It is truly an amazing program geared toward getting a dream off the ground. It will help us to pay for printing cost, production cost, playbills, studio rental, and of course the actors. We have to feed our starving actors something. Our budget is shoe string but I feel that reaching $2,000.00 is very reasonable. We are well on our way and our fan base is growing everyday. We will be performing at the Shadowbox Theatre at the end of April. The sequel The Case of the Murderous Mister is currently being written and who knows where this adventure will take us. That is all I can tell you for now but I promise to write more once this first adventure is over.
Ren French, Co-Creator
The most important item to report is the casting of Liam Kraus as the Announcer. His role is extremely important to the success of the show. He will be creating the environment in which the actors will be performing. He describes the settings, the actions, and performs all the live sound effects on stage. It is a challenging role because he has dialogue, then needs to break glass while trying to tear curtains, while also stomping his feet because your characters are running down a hallway only to have more lines to say. It’s a lot to do at one time but Liam is up for that challenge. The cast is now complete and we are really connecting after only two weeks of rehearsals. We have a very talented group of local actors who are making interesting choices with their characters.
They are also asking me difficult questions about the script – some I defend and others I have to keep an open mind about. There are elements of the script at which I have to look, analyze and change to make the show flow better. We have had to make several edits and move scenes around but that is all part of the process. If it slows the action down, or doesn’t make sense, you cut it or move it. I will admit it that I have never been that great at memorizing my lines. I find that memorizing my part to be even more of a challenge than I thought it would be as I am the writer of those lines. The reason being because I have thirty different edits in my head and not sure sometimes which is the final version of that line. I am officially saying that I now understand why playwrights do not cast themselves in their own pieces of work.
The next challenge has been finding all the sound effects. I wanted items that make the sounds we need without them looking like the sounds we need. For example; ten pounds of rice slowly poured from box to box to make the sound of soft rain, a coffee can full of nails to sound like a typewriter and lots of other fun stuff. I didn’t want to spend any money on these items because they are probably in your back yard or under your house. I have now been under a dozen houses in New Orleans pulling out odd pieces of stuff to find just the right sounds. We have almost everything we need. It’s funny to see Liam’s face each rehearsal only to have him ask what something new does. Andrea is making great directing choices with the sound effects and breathing life into every scene we rehearse. Yes, we are doing a live radio broadcast – although we are in a studio reading these lines without an audience – we are still on stage performing in front of an audience. When you have worked next to someone everyday on your job you develop a certain rhythm or routine to your workday. She is creating this with our cast.
We are having fun, performing our show and getting in trouble by our boss. We want the audience to be entertained visually and not just through the sound effects. The show website now has a photo gallery to get a better understand of what I mean. We have been very lucky in attaining local sponsors to help us with our production. Keith Pinkston Photography is providing us with promotional photos and the first photo shoot was amazing. It was three hours of the best time I have ever had in front of the camera. We have great pictures of Clifton and Matilda as well as me and Andrea. You can see a little glimpse of this world and the creative team behind it.
The final thing to mention in this update is our unbelievable success with the Kickstarter program. We reached and surpassed our $2,000 goal in under 30 days. The amount over we get will help support the production further – giving it the professional sheen the audience deserves. If you want to donate you still can until April 2nd.
That is all for now but stay tuned. I will write the final “Creating the Chronicles” segment once the show has run its course and we close at the end of April. I hope you can all come see the show.
Co-creator and writer