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Glorious Appearing

The Making of Glorious Appearing Dramatic Audio

by Dr. Stu Johnson

GapDigital, under the direction of Todd Busteed, has produced the dramatic audio versions of all the Left Behind adult and kids books. We were invited to sit in on a very special session—the reunion of characters following the Glorious Appearing.

Not only is the story line full of emotion, but, for the actors, this represents the culmination of a five-and-a-half-year project. Some have been in nearly all of the 144 episodes. Others, like Bethany Evans, who portrayed Irene Steele in episode #1, now return for the reunion in episode #144.

After the session, we had a chance to sit down with director Todd Busteed.

Left Behind: Todd, as you approached turning Glorious Appearing into a dramatic audio, did you face any unusual challenges?

Todd Busteed: This book was very visual, so that forced us to throw out the model that worked for the first eleven books. We realized we needed to tell the story through a narrator.

So we decided to use Buck and Chloe's son, Kenny, as the narrator. In this dramatic audio, he's making a documentary fifteen years after the Glorious Appearing. Kenny talks to characters who were involved in some of the very visual scenes of the book and asks them to describe them. So they paint the picture for us through dialogue. We found a very talented young man to portray Kenny.

Another challenge was the voice of Christ. We searched nationwide for just the right voice. We eventually settled on someone, but we had to make a slight electronic modification to his voice to get the correct timber.

There were real challenges with some of the scenes when Jesus speaks. If you've read the book, you realize he's being heard all over the world at once, but he's very much in control—not yelling. That took some creative work electronically.

LB: There's a lot of Scripture in Glorious Appearing, partly because, as Jerry Jenkins explained, they didn't want to put words in Jesus' mouth, so they stayed with the biblical narrative. Did the extensive quotes, especially from the King James Version, cause any problems?

TB: That was an initial concern. First of all, we had to pare the whole story down, so if some of the scriptural passages were not directly germane to the scene—the story we're trying to tell—we removed them. The portions we kept were from the KJV vernacular because it was yet another sign to the listener that it was Christ speaking, not Albie or Ray Steele."

The challenge is we don't have the visual presentation—we don't see Christ on a white horse. What we needed was a way we could differentiate that Christ was speaking.

LB: Isn't reading from the King James something like reading Shakespeare—where the talent of the actor is critical?

TB: Excellent point. Pacing was key. Our actor worked on the pacing, and we made sure that—oddly enough—as good as he was, we kept him in a box. We didn't want him lashing out, we didn't want him going flat. We kept him in a controlled box so there was always a sense of control. Even when he was condemning the enemy army, he was doing so in a voice that, for the most part, was controlled. That was part of the character we wanted him to portray: not panicked or lashing out, even at the judgments. And, we introduced sadness in his voice.

LB: We understand the dramatic audio of Glorious Appearing puts more emphasis on the reunions than the book itself does. Why was this?

TB: This is the last dramatic audio we'll make for the series, so we had to try to put a bow on it from a dramatic audio standpoint. That was why we made a commitment to bring back as many voices as we could from earlier in the series. We would have liked to take more time with the reunions, but we also wanted to hit the key judgment events toward the end of the book.

We were able to manufacture a few scenes that weren't in the book, such as Buck and Chloe with Kenny and the Amanda-Irene-Rayford reunions. We took snippets of dialogue, as we always do, but we added more texture.

LB: This must have been an exciting day. We understand some of the actors haven't seen each other for some time, having been raptured or martyred in earlier episodes.

TB: It was exciting. I set the call for one o'clock. As the actors arrived, they were ushered immediately into the studio to capture the energy of their seeing each other after so long a period. I think we captured it.

There was a bit of celebration in the same way you celebrate the end of something—which is what that day was about. The wrap. This was it, this was the end of an odyssey—144 episodes, five-and-a-half years, 72 finished hours of product. Some of these people worked with us from the beginning. My favorite is Bethany Evans as Irene Steele, who is in episode 1 and episode 144—bookends.

There was a good bit of teaching in the last book, as well. While we recorded a portion of it, it also gave us opportunity to trim down and stay with the story. Our commitment was to the story. We had to make sure that got first dibs on the amount of minutes in which we had to tell it. LB: In our previous conversations, you've talked about the suspension of disbelief, creating a world the listener can reach out and touch, and the importance of developing a rich aural texture. What about the actors, especially when you work with such a large ensemble?

TB: When I'm looking at a scene, I need to make sure that if it really has to be hot that there's enough fuel in the room. What I mean by that is two of the actors, Jill and Tom, are phenomenal, and I know when those two are in the studio there's enough fuel to heat up just about anything.

Obviously with the size of the ensemble we had, there are actors who don't have as much experience or perhaps not as much range. Sometimes, just to differentiate new characters who were introduced in the books, we looked for diversity of voice—something unique about their voice quality that would make them stand out—but we may have sacrificed a little bit of dramatic range. Nonetheless, if we threw them in with some of the folks who had been associated with this series, like Tom, who played Rayford, we knew he would help them elevate a scene.

Our goal is suspension of disbelief. If everybody's committed to the scene, we can suspend disbelief. If one guy is not committed or can't lift it off the page, then we have a problem.

LB: Todd, what did you find most satisfying about working with such a large ensemble (206 actors throughout the 144 episodes)?

TB: The most gratifying aspect of the series from a actor's standpoint is that we were an unknown commodity when we started this. The books were known. When we started recording Left Behind, Trib Force had just come out, and Left Behind was doing very well sales wise. There was a real sense of "let's just check this out." In August of 1998, I was working on a session for another project. At the end of the session, I said, "Folks, if you'd like to help us record a ten-minute demo for a project I'm pitching [Left Behind], I can't pay you for it, but if it pops, we all could be busy." Everybody agreed.

We pitched it, and by the end of the year we were under way. I had my core. I had people I was working with on a regular basis and helped put the demo together. But, then we had so many characters we needed to fill from the books, so we threw it open to the Chicago acting community.

What's been most gratifying is the way the acting community has embraced this. They've seen we're committed to excellence. We don't do a shoddy job. And, besides that, audio drama is a gas! It's not something that happens a lot in Chicago. You don't have to wear makeup, you don't have to put on a costume or anything like that. You can act and you can use your voice.

People came through the experience saying, "I've really developed a sense of what I'm able to do with my voice." And they would say to me, "You always push for more. You always push for nuance." I would say to an actor, "I want to hear you say something when you mean the opposite, and I want to be able to tell by the way say it that you mean the opposite." I pressed people to really explore what they were able to do with their vocal craft.

LB: Well, Todd, we can't wait to hear the finished production!


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