Friday, September 19, 2014


Last month, The Collinsport Historical Society asked you to name your five favorite DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish. Every day this week we'll be revealing the results.

#1 The Night Whispers

While the character of “Barnabas Collins” has made scattered appearances in Big Finish’s line of DARK SHADOWS audio dramas, only once was he played by the actor who originated the role on television: Jonathan Frid.

In fact, “The Night Whispers” represents Frid’s only return to the role since the cancellation of the series in 1971.

“‘The Night Whispers’ was probably always destined to be Jonathan Frid's swansong,” said Stuart Manning, the episode’s writer. “There was a vague notion that it might be the first of many Barnabas stories, but I always expected it to be a one-off.”

“‘The Night Whispers’ was produced before I joined the DARK SHADOWS audio range, but I remember just how utterly exciting it was to hear Barnabas again,” said Joe Lidster, who today produces of the line for Big Finish. “A fantastic script by Stuart Manning that explores his relationship with Willie, three lovely performances and some beautiful sound design make it really something special.”

"The Night Whispers" received a great deal of attention outside of DARK SHADOWS fandom, as well, and won the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for "Best Horror Soundtrack" in 2012.

Frid has been resistant about not only returning to the role of “Barnabas Collins,” said Jim Pierson, the marketing director and producer at Dan Curtis Productions. The actor also refused to take any role even vaguely similar.

“The art for Jonathan was in delivering the lines,” said Pierson, who directed Frid’s recording session. “He was in paradise when delivering his one-man shows like ‘Fools and Fiends,’ the ‘Shakespearean Odyssey,’ and all the variations of those performances — whether it was in a library, a theater or somebody’s living room.”

The audio dramas proved to be an easy transition for Frid, Pierson said.

“He resisted doing anything vampiric after DARK SHADOWS, and he turned down tons of things,” he said. “Everything from movies to tooth paste commercials. Because he was coming back to be with fans for the 40th anniversary of ‘Barnabas,’ it seemed to be a natural progression.

“He got his fangs wet again and really had a good time,” Pierson said.

Jonathan Frid and John Karlen
 “As detailed in the ‘Remembering Jonathan Frid’ book, the play took a long time to come together and it's really only due to the gentle persistence of Jim Pierson and Bobbi Jacobs-Meadway that it happened at all,” Manning said. “During the writing I listened to Jonathan's narration from the old Dark Shadows music LP on a loop, trying to get his vocal tics down, and those speeches are probably etched onto my psyche permanently as a result. I may well have been the first ever sufferer of Frid earworm.”

Darren Gross, co-director of “The Night Whispers,” said it took careful coordination to get the actors’ lines recorded. Because of the international nature of each production (Big Finish is headquartered in the United Kingdom) the participating actors sometimes never meet in the studio.

“Often the actors are recorded separately, sometimes months apart and thousands of miles away,” Gross said. “‘The Night Whispers’ was done in three pieces, with John Karlen, Barbara Steele and Jonathan Frid done in separate recording sessions.”

Frid in the studio for "The Night Whispers."
Frid’s session was recorded in Canada, while Steele recorded her lines in Burbank, California. Both sessions were supervised by Jim Pierson.

Gross directed Karlen’s performance, which was also recorded in Burbank.

“For this kind of piecemeal recording, I brought in Andrew Collins to read-in for Barnabas and the other characters, so that Karlen had someone to play off of,” Gross said. “You don’t know how the other actors are going to play their lines, so for scenes that are tricky or where there’s arguing, low key line delivery or some kind of intense moments, I would tend to get a couple of different versions to give Nigel Fairs or David Darlington latitude in the editing.”

The goal, he said, is to make sure the actors sound as though they’re performing together in the same room.

“It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s miraculous and very convincing,” Gross said. “We did the same thing for ‘Beyond the Grave,’ where most of the pieces were recorded in the U.K., except for the sessions with Kathryn Leigh Scott, which I recorded in Los Angeles, again playing off of Andrew Collins.”

Andrew Collins, who played “Barnabas Collins” in earlier DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish, was a vital part of recording sessions, Gross said.

Barbara Steele as "Dr. Julia Hoffman" in the 1991 DARK SHADOWS television series.

“Andrew just makes these sessions fun, as he’ll do a dozen different voices as he jumps from character to character, feeding lines to his scene partner,” Gross said. “These sessions can be a bit of a challenge for the actors, as we’re frequently jumping from scene to scene, but it does create a very focused atmosphere, as we only focus on their character’s scenes.

“I’ve always felt blessed to have actors like John Karlen and Kathryn Leigh Scott, who can just turn on a performance like a light switch,” Gross said. “That kind of engagement in the material is invigorating."

“Honestly, I was just grateful that Jonathan played ball,” Manning said. “After 30-plus years, he finally agreed to be Barnabas again for a day, and that alone was a milestone. It was a little piece of history and I hope we did the old guy proud.”

1 comment:

StonedGorgon said...

One of my all time favorite Big Finish DS audio dramas. It still is an amazing thrill to hear Jonathan Frid voice Barnabas again.

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