Greg Romero is a Philadelphia-based playwright, and Mike Vernusky an Austin, TX -based composer and sound artist. Together, they’re the creative forces behind RADIO GHOSTS, which gets a featured reading this week in the First Flight New Play Festival on Sunday November 20th.
1) What was your inspiration for writing Radio Ghosts?
ROMERO: The question– do we still need things, even after we die?
And this question started with Mike. While Mike and I were working on another project a few years ago, he sent me an email that said, “maybe for the next one?”. In the note was a link to a Wikipedia entry about “Electronic Voice Phenomenon” (or EVP) which described how the dead are talking to us through radio waves. Whether or not science could hold this up, I was interested immediately in people being lost or stranded across worlds/realities, and people (spirits?) so desperate to connect to each other that they come through your radio (and from where??) to find what they were looking for. This opened up all kinds of juicy questions for me about who we are, what the world is, how we hear and see, and how far and deep do humans’ needs go.
And with Mike’s particular talents with electronic music composition, this seemed like the exact perfect kind of impossible worlds to explore and then try to theatrically create.
Also– I really wanted to have my own personal experiences with real-life ghosts.
VERNUSKY: I remember randomly landing on that EVP Wiki page one day, eventually sending it to Greg and hoping it’d strike him the way it did me. I had so many questions – how have I not heard of EVP before? How does it work? This can’t be real…right? If it works, how does new technology make it more feasible? Where would we even begin to attempt such a thing? Dare we ask who or what is out there?
The possibilities seemed unknowable if not endless. Like the audio equivalent of a Ouija board, it was a means to discover some sort of ‘other-world’ which is, according to the phenomenon, always there. But where? And what do you do with what you find?
We obsessed over it quite a bit – Greg wrote about it and I began setting words and sounds to music. We even conducted a few of our own mediation sessions for inspiration, which can now be heard in the play. Since then, we’ve been approached by many people about their own personal ghost experiences, or their thoughts and dreams of the after-life. After all that we’ve encountered, it’s a bit hard not to believe there is something beyond our perceived reality, and I think Radio Ghosts has provided us a portal into what it might be.
2) What’s it like to collaborate on a play while you are hundreds of miles apart?
ROMERO: I’d prefer to be in the room more with Mike (eating tacos together), but we’ve made it work out ok. Mike and I both used to live in Austin before I moved to Philadelphia in 2007. Early parts of Radio Ghosts were created while we were both in Texas, actually.
Besides Radio Ghosts, we’ve created a number of projects together in the same city and in separate ones, so I guess the distance hasn’t really slowed us down too much. I personally thrive on the continued exchange Mike and I have– sending each other thoughts, materials, art work, memories, news items, dreams (some of my best writing comes straight out of Mike’s dreams). Electronic communication makes it easy to exchange this way, by sending things to each other, and we’ve taken advantage of it pretty well.
And sometimes we’ll go weeks or months without really sharing anything as we both stay very busy with other projects (all of which, of course, inform our continued collaborations).
The biggest challenge is when we’re ready to put our work up on its feet, to try things out in space with other theater artists, because it’s really difficult (and expensive) to get us all in the same room and for any length of time. This is a goal that we’re still working on– to receive the kind of support that allows us to work in the same city for as long as we’d like.
The one way that this distance might benefit us is that since we can’t always communicate whenever or as much as we’d like to, it means that the work we pass back and forth to each other does most of the talking.
VERNUSKY: It may be a fortunate byproduct of working with limited means over the years, but I don’t even think about the distance much anymore. In fact I think I hear from Greg more than I do from my neighbor next door.
Creatively, Greg and I have a fluid and organically evolving work dynamic that seems to benefit from various ebbs and flows. And in some ways we are different artists with our own style and aesthetic, but our methods of creation overlap perfectly. So when we finally do get in the same room, we get down to work where our last email left off, and we’re somehow able to dive right into the fruit bowl and make a delicious salad.
I would also add that, ironically, having limited time resources makes these windows that we have together that much more inspiring. We are able to cut right to the core of our vision which helps us avoid some of the tendencies of a more informal collaboration. And as Greg mentioned, like any good cross-pollination of artistic disciplines, he and I are constantly feeding each other ideas that we enjoy or feel might inspire each other, so the cycle begins again.
And of course, we make up for lost time by eating lots of tacos.
3) When do you like to write? Early morning or late at night? And what do you always have to have with you when you are working?
ROMERO: I like to write when I’m very close to bursting. And this can happen any time of day. But I often begin writing when I am not close to bursting and, on a good day, the writing process will bring me there.
For this, having coffee with me is sometimes useful. And the very bravest version of myself (which I find inside of other people and works of art that I love).
VERNUSKY: My most rigorous work happens on weekends, when I can pull an extended creative shift that starts in the morning and ends in the evening. More often than not though, you’ll find me working from bedtime into the wee hours of the night.
I typically fixate on a beverage like an hourglass, and it keeps me tethered to my desk and focuses my energy, which in turn yields the work. Although I can’t hold a candle to Greg’s machine-like caffeine tolerance, I’m a worshipper of the coffee gods as well. Iced. Sometimes beer is better for those extended nights though..
RADIO GHOSTS will be read on Sunday November 20th at 7pm at ART/NY, 520 Eighth Avenue, 3rd floor. For reservations, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.