For the interview series, I thought it might be fun not only to speak with fellow members to learn more about each other, but also to reach out to those out there who are currently engaged in Sherlockian endeavors that would interest the John H Watson Society.
John Longenbaugh is popular writer and director here in Seattle. He’s well-known amongst local Sherlockians for his presence in the Sound of the Baskervilles, his participation in Sherlock Seattle, and also for his lovely 2010 yuletide play “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol.” He is currently working with a creative team to create an audio series that is sure to be of interest to us Watsonians, so I contacted him to talk about his new project: BRASS
To start us off, John, may you give us an idea of what BRASS is about?
BRASS is the story of a family of science geniuses living in a Victorian England that’s significantly different from our own. Each member of the Brass family is extraordinary in a different way. Lord Brass is an inventor and master tactician, his wife a Sherlock-level detective, his daughter Gwendolyn a mistress of disguise, and his son Cyril a formidable martial artist. Due to changes in history, the 1885 that they inhabit is filled with all sorts of strange technology, including airships, Babbage engines (mechanical computers), aetherial batteries and other unlikely innovations. It’s an adventurous and extremely optimistic world, and they are the chief agents of the Crown, leading them to be known as “The First Family of the Realm.”
In what ways do you feel this series shall strongly appeal to Watsonians?
Every good Victorian adventure, I believe, needs a Great Detective, because no matter how much value you might place in your trusty service revolver ultimately you need more than pluck and derring-do to uncover your villain’s plots. I thought it’d be fun to have a Sherlockian character who was not only a woman, but whose natural anti-social tendencies are balanced by an entire family of Watsons, as it were. Given the absence of her children and husband, Lady Madelyn Brass might indeed have become a “high functioning sociopath,” and as it is her intellect often frightens her family. But her powers of ratiocination and deduction are channeled to complement the formidable yet different intellects around her.
There’s also the matter of a certain other “Great Detective,” who Lady Brass never mentions by name but has been known to call a “hawk nosed poseur.” I think it’s fun to imagine the frustration of the various “rivals of Sherlock Holmes” in a London where due to the writings of John H. Watson there’s one sleuth who has a supreme reputation.
Can you tell us a bit about the cast and crew behind BRASS?
BRASS is being produced by Battleground Productions. My two co-producers are Katherine Grant-Suttie and Ron RIchardson, who like me wear many creative hats. Because they’re also both actors and because I’m wily, they’re also playing the parts of Gwendolyn and Lord Brass. The actors who fill out the parts of the Brass family are Kate Kraay as Lady Brass and Jeremy Adams as Cyril, both experienced Seattle actors who have already turned in great performances for the audio series. Other actors featured on the audio series include Phillip Keiman, Tadd Morgan, Nancy Frye, Margaret Bicknell and Matt Middleton. Seattle audiences who saw my play “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol” will be gleeful to hear that Terry Edward Moore, who played Sherlock in that play, is also featured in the cast of BRASS.
BRASS is happening not only as an audio series, but on stage at Seattle’s Theater Schmeater and as a short film that might evolve into a web series. This is partly because I love a good challenge (why not start your own franchise, right?) but also because I’m intrigued by the different ways that different mediums can be used to tell a story. Each of the mediums will also feature different but interlocking stories of the Family Brass. The audio series, for example, picks up just after they’ve returned to London following several years off in different parts of the Empire, and their battle against a shadowy organization of London crime bosses. The plays show us a couple of different “side quests” that the parents and children get up to, mysteries involving mysterious bodies falling from the sky, gurkhas and an ill-fated production of Oscar Wilde’s first play. (These are being co-written with Seattle playwright Louis Broome.) And the film “The Lair of the Red Widow” tells of their encounter with a villainous white-slaver who may hold the key that finally uncovers their arch-nemesis.
Is there a site where we can learn more about this series?
Yes! Battlegroundproductions.org is your place to find links (when we’ve got them posted) to listen to the audio series, updates on the stage show and details on our crowdsourcing campaign to film “Red Widow,” among other things.
Aside from the launch of BRASS itself, what other events for the series is planned for the near future?
I’ll be appearing at Portland’s GearCon Steampunk Convention on July 4th and 5th to read one of my original stories and also give a “BRASS Teaser,” which will include a live reading from the scripts with Katherine Grant-Suttie and several local actors. BRASS also fits into several other works of fiction that I’ve been writing for the last few years, so you can expect to see several ancillary characters (such as Ponder Wright, the “Mechanical Detective”) show up in other mediums.
BRASS will branch out into different mediums, but the audio series will kick off the franchise. What made the idea of performing an audio drama so appealing to your creative team? What do you feel makes it unique to other mediums?
The audio series made sense for two reasons. The first is that thanks to the huge popularity of such non-fiction serial drama as “Serial” as well as new radio dramas like “We’re Alive” and “Leviathan,” there’s a new interest in radio drama of various genres and forms. Podcasts and audio books are changing the way people listen to radio, and we’ve already had interest from both public radio stations and commercial radio stations for broadcast. And what’s more, radio’s a wonderful medium for being able to tell big stories with a modest budget, while drawing the listener into an intimate involvement.
The other is that I’m a lifelong radio theatre fan. Since I was kid I’ve loved radio drama, even though in America its Golden Age was back in the 1930s and 40s. I grew up listening to recordings of shows like “Suspense,” “Escape” and “The Jack Benny Show” made many years before I was born. I had a renewed burst of interest in it when i was in college in England, as the BBC continues to produce some amazing radio theatre, including pieces written by writers of the caliber of Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett and others. And I’ve done some work in the past in creating radio drama, both at University and at a public radio station in my hometown of Sitka, Alaska.
In its audio form, BRASS is a specific homage to my favorite old time radio adventure serial, “I Love a Mystery.” This was a daily radio written by Carlton E. Morse, a man equally well-known for writing a hugely successful soap opera called “One Man’s Family.” In “ILAM,” a trio of detectives travel from one unlikely adventure to another, facing murderers, cultists and criminal syndicates, all while carousing, joking and generally having a great time. The shows had wonderful titles like “Temple of the Vampires” and “Bury Your Dead, Arizona,” featuring some of the most ridiculous cliff-hangers you can imagine. Morse was able to create stories that brought together outrageous adventure with charming character development, which is precisely my goal with BRASS. I want to write stories that are fun, thrilling and feature characters you actually care about.
(Learn more about BRASS at: http://battlegroundproductions.org/brass/)