Friday, April 14, 2017

Meet PPW Faculty Member Gregg Taylor

By: Laura Hayden
Pikes Peak Conference Director

I’ve always been a fan of Old Time Radio (OTR), and enjoy listening to old shows, despite their more limited roles for women who tended to be the Girl Fridays, the secretaries or the hapless damsels in distress.   



Then I found Decoder Ring Theatre about six years ago. Gregg Taylor is the genius behind DRT—the chief writer, a starring voice, sound editor, chief cook and bottle washer.  He has produced well over 250 award-winning full-cast episodes as well as books, audio books and comic books. He pays homage to the OTR shows of yesteryear with two main on-going story lines; The Red Panda Adventures: “In the tradition of the great mystery men of radio, pulp fiction and the golden age of comics comes The Red Panda, famed protector of 1930s Toronto!” and Black Jack Justice featuring Tough-as-nails private eye Jack Justice and his long-suffering partner Trixie Dixon, girl detective…”  (http://www.decorderringtheatre.com)


Needless to say, I was excited to have a chance to interview Gregg and ask all the questions that struck me as a fan and as a writer who marvels at the quality of what he does.  

Laura Hayden: So origin stories aside, what flamed the love for old time radio and how did Decoder Ring Theatre come in to being?

Gregg Taylor: When I was a kid, there was a radio station out of Toronto that played old-time radio programs on Sunday nights, and I just fell in love with them. I've always enjoyed that era of storytelling, and radio drama is such a creature of pure imagination, it just spoke to me. Many years later some friends and I devised an episodic mini-series as an ill-advised and totally unrequested pilot project for traditional radio. This was before the revolution in digital recording techniques made creating your own audio cheap and easy, so it was neither, and it pre-dated podcasting, so there was no way to get it to the audience.

It was also much too goofy, which was a byproduct of trying to sell it to a mass-market that didn't want anything to do with it. It was, from any kind of business perspective, a total train wreck. It was also the most fun I'd had ever had, and I couldn't let it go. A few years later, podcasting put the means of distribution into my hands, and I was ready for round two. I ran away with the circus and haven't been seen since.

Laura Hayden: I don't know of any other dramatic podcast that has lasted this long with such consistent high quality in both storyline and production. How have you been able to keep The Red Panda Adventures and Black Jack Justice (and the summer replacements) going for so long?

Gregg Taylor: Well, thank you. Audio Drama is a very diverse pursuit, and everybody has their own goals and styles. I think our productions have remained strong because we have kept true to our own hearts — made the kind of shows we wanted to create and shut out the noise of the self-appointed guardians. As a writer and a producer, I've tried to create roles and stories that are worthy of the remarkable performers that have peopled our worlds, and create a product that our audience will enjoy. Nothing else matters. 

Laura Hayden: I've been impressed with the cohesive long-term story arcs in Red Panda. What's your process when it comes to creating a story arc? Is it planned out long in advance?

Gregg Taylor: Yes! It's always fun on recording days, when the actors will pry to see if they can find out what is coming for their characters and they manage to get me talking. I remember revealing the storylines we used in our seventh season while we were recording our fourth. Some things still surprised me as I went along, but it was always my idea to tell a single-creator mystery-man story from very near the beginning until the “end. We've found ways to keep telling the stories, of course, but reaching that point of fulfilment of the continuity was the most satisfying thing I've ever done. And also the saddest.

Laura Hayden: As I've listen to the shows, it's struck me that you've really mastered character development. We've "seen" characters fall in love, be separated by war, have a child, face their personal demons, grow in wisdom, say goodbye to loved ones, and at same time, fight super villains, battle creatures from other dimensions, and of course, combat the evil Nazis who dabble in the occult. It's quite a balance. Which comes first? The needs of the story or the needs of the character?

Gregg Taylor: From the very beginning, I wanted to let the characters and their relationships grow, but always in the context of a mystery or adventure story. Each episode of the Red Panda Adventures is a stand-alone story, trying to tell a full-cast, golden-age adventure in 25 to 30 minutes. Every episode or two there would be time for a line or two, or little moment, that could advance the natural growth of those relationships. But that slow burn was also true for the characters. They were on a mission, and grew as people in spite of themselves. It made every change so much more significant when it finally did happen. It means we can keep a very simple structure and actually do some nice long-form storytelling. 

Laura Hayden: I know your life has changed since the podcast started in Oct 2005. And now the podcast is facing some changes. What's the future look like?

Gregg Taylor: I don't think there will ever be a time when I'm not planning new adventures for these characters, but I did manage to put myself on a crazy treadmill for a decade or so. We were releasing 24-full-cast audio adventures a year, plus novels and comics. I started to feel like a ghost. When I dialed it back to 12 new releases a year, I found myself with energy to work on other things for the first time in years, and I realized there were other adventures I wanted to have, other stories I wanted to tell. So we went from being the most predictable schedule on the internet to... well, we're still pretty predictable, but a little different. Some new video episodes, some audio prose stories... we're not going to disappear anytime soon.

Laura Hayden: You've written books within the Red Panda and Black Jack Justice universes, but you've also written other non-podcast works. Can you tell us about the new and upcoming projects?

Gregg Taylor: A couple of years ago I was approached to do some writing for a company called Stitch Media that was developing some interactive children's books under the name "Together Tales." It was a pretty fascinating process, and a very different narrative style. I found that I really loved writing for young people, I just fell in love with it.

At the moment, I'm working on a middle-grade series about a girl named Abagail Branagan who starts her own detective agency in her parents' garage. My daughter keeps demanding new Abagail stories, which keeps my nose to the grindstone while I'm busy leaving Daffy Duck-shaped holes in the brick wall of the publishing industry. It does make one miss the DIY ease of podcasting!

This is just a taste of the mad genius that is Gregg Taylor. I heartily suggest you listen to some of his podcasts, starting with Season One for each, especially if you’re planning to attend the upcoming Pikes Peak Writers Conference.  
All podcasts are free and can be found on the DRT website or iTunes,

Red Panda: Riddle of the Sphinx:


P.S.  Okay, this is when the inner fan took over the interview. If you’re familiar with DRT, you really want to hear these answers. If you’re not a fan yet, see the links above to the first episodes.

Laura Hayden: So, as a fangirl, I want more "missing" RP adventures/Kit's Diary while I'm also curious about Harry Kelly's future as the Black Eagle. And while I'm dreaming, what about a crossover storyline between your two major universes?

Gregg Taylor: Here are things I am most interested in doing in the near future in the Red Panda universe: Some serialized stories (15 min episodes, full of cliffhangers, like the old Superman or Captain Midnight shows) set in the year we skipped (from August 1939 to December 31, 1940), during which time we would most be foiling fifth columnists in the Archangel network. Also, would like to do a Black Eagle serial, with Kit in the Perry White role as Editor of the Chronicle. The crossover was never in the cards and is even less so now. Kit's diary is a good idea though.

Gregg Taylor is a writer, performer and podcaster. He has published novels, interactive children’s books, graphic novels and an absurd number of full-cast audio drama programs in the style of the golden age of radio. He is the Chief Bottle Washer of the Decoder Ring Theatre podcast and creator of The Red Panda, the masked protector of 1930s Toronto, and the detective series Black Jack Justice, and has won both the Podcast Award for Cultural/Arts Programming, and the Parsec Award, for excellence in Speculative Fiction podcasting. He is a great believer in the power of the spoken word.