Actor Christopher Flockton was born in Scotland, worked in New York City and then five years ago, moved to Hartford, Vermont with his family.
Longing to be immersed in the theater community, he wanted to form a theater company that would stage new works. Being that there were already fantastic theater companies nearby (think Northern Stage and Weston Playhouse Theatre Company), Flockton and his collaborator Brian O'Neill had to think out of the box, out of the barn and off the stage and into the world of podcasts.
Amy's Horse is that podcast. Flockton and friends put together a live theater podcast featuring new works by mostly unknown playwrights with actors far-flung across the country and reciting their lines from their home, using the latest technology.
Recently, Flockton spoke to VPR about Amy's Horse.
How did Amy's Horse come to be?
"I do a lot of voice over work and that I can do wherever I am, but I found myself very quickly missing the theater community and the people I'd known over the 16 years I worked in New York. [I] wracked my brain about how I could sort of stay relevant and involved and my old friend and frequent collaborator, Brian O'Neill, and I thought we would start a theater company.
"We had in mind a series of staged readings that we'd do during the summer. We had this sort of romantic notion of bringing actors up from the city and there all sitting around a makeshift table in my barn, rehearsing while my wife Amy's horse snuffled around in the background. We referred to project affectionately as, 'Amy's Horse.' Now, it didn't happen. Partly because, you know, starting a new theater company from the ground up is a huge undertaking and also because there are people in this neck of the woods who are doing the same sort of work and doing it remarkably well. Last spring, it just struck me: use the technology day-to-day that I use to do voice overs [to] record actors. That's what we do. The project changed slightly, but of course there was never any question it would be called, 'Amy's Horse.'"
Why do you choose to perform new works?
"It's partly a practical decision because new works are generally unpublished works and...dont' have the complications of rights. But from a more artistic point of view, I wanted to encourage emerging playwrights and playwrights whose voices might not otherwise be heard.
"We solicit new scripts through play-writing groups. We get these wonderful submissions from all over the world. We've had submissions from as close as New Hampshire and as far away as Australia. Some of them are comedic. Some of them are dramatic. And what we look for are plays that obviously are great pieces of writing, have small casts because that's also practical but also plays that fit with our particular format. This is basically re-imagining radio theater for the 21st century."
How do you find actors?
"A lot of them are people that I've come to know over my 16 years in New York. Because there's not an audition process for Amy's Horse, we go out to people who we know. And if we don't know somebody then we go to someone who knows them. It's sort of casting by six degrees of separation. And at the end of every show, I say, 'Actors, if you're interested in being a part of this project, submit yourself.' And we take that very seriously. I love meeting new actors and considering them for roles on Amy's Horse."
How does the process work for creating a live theater podcast?
"We all gather online using an online collaboration tool and then when we're ready, we just start reading the script. Obviously, we want a performance level but I encourage actors to treat it like they would a theater rehearsal and then when we're all happy with it, we all take a pause and then we do the chat portion of the podcast. I always envisioned it as if we were all sitting around in somebody's living room, reading a play and then afterwards, we might sit around and have a glass of wine and just chat about the play and the other things that people are working on and that's very much the format that that takes."
Amy's Horse actors are from the worlds of film, TV and stage. What is the draw for them?
"I think that actors are by nature, sort of adventurous and inquisitive people. When I go to somebody and say, 'Hey, we're doing this very new thing. Plus, you get to do it from your living room in your pajamas!' I think that's actually quite an attractive proposition. Plus, they get to work on exciting, new pieces. We've been lucky enough to work with 18 fantastic playwrights and, as of my last count, 44 different actors.
"This is sort of the definition of art for art's sake, not a commercial venture. This is my passion project. Do I think this would make a wonderful radio show, perhaps on public radio? Yes, I do. And it's been produced from day one to sound like something you might hear on public radio. If you ask any podcaster, it's all about finding your audience and we are working every day to find out audience. So I think broadening our audience is very important to this venture."
You can check out the latest episode of Amy's Horse here.