Michigan-based theater artists create "The Call of the Void," a sci-fi audio drama set in New Orleans


The Call of the Void

The Call of the Void is a sci-fi audio drama following Topher and Etsy as they look for the truth behind a mysterious illness taking hold of victims in modern-day New Orleans. The audio drama has 10,000 listens in 54 different countries on 14 different streaming platforms -- and it was all created in a living room in Pinckney, Michigan.

Creators, lead voice actors, and engaged couple Josie Eli Lapczynski and Michael Herman are theater artists who are using podcast technology to share their talents with a global audience through a nine-part series podcast audio drama. 

While immersing themselves in sci-fi culture by reading HP Lovecraft, binging shows like Stranger Things and listening to the podcast Rabbits, Lapczynski and Herman decided to make their own sci-fi audio drama.

“We wanted to make a television show for your ears,” said Lapczynski. “In the last year, we've also been getting more and more into cosmic horror. We knew we wanted to create something in this genre and this seemed like the perfect opportunity, but rather than write about Cthulhu, we wanted to make our own monster, and so The Call of the Void was born."

Lapczynski serves as the audio drama’s producer, co-writer, lead actress, and art director. Her character, the clairvoyant Etsy, is aloof and confident. Lapczynski executes this flawlessly with palpable chemistry alongside Herman, who plays Topher. Herman is also the head writer and co-producer of the podcast.

Topher begins retracing his father's steps after he goes missing. This journey leads him to a psychic card reading tourist trap on Bourbon Street where he decides to have his palms read by a former high school classmate, Etsy. She has a precarious reaction to her read on Topher but sends him away without explanation. Before too long, Topher’s dad is found at a hospital in Kentucky and has gone from a professor to an incoherent, babbling shell. The doctors classify it as a mental breakdown, but Topher knows there is more to the story, and so does Etsy. 

"For us, this show is all about bravery, forgiveness, and love," Lapczynski said, "and how essential those emotions are to the genre of science-fiction and storytelling. Once we started landing on these themes, we knew we were headed for the finish line.”

The voice acting and sound design are professional quality and paint a vivid picture while listening to the unnerving narrative, but Lapczynski describes their studio as a modest space. “Our sound studio is built right into our home in Pinckney, Michigan," she said. "We have soundproofing along the walls and a single mic to make the magic happen."

Scenes of crowded New Orleans cafes or the cutting sounds of the nurse’s note-taking pencil add to the cryptic intensity of the story, which is created in layers, from initial performances to the sound effects.

“First, we decided which take was the best from the actor's performances, then we layered the dialogue to make it sound more natural, and ultimately we added music transitions, sound effects, and background sounds. This could take well over 60 hours of work per episode,” Lapczynski said. “Sometimes there are as many as 12 audio files playing and interacting at the same time at a single moment. All of these sounds had to be handpicked by us or made by scratching objects, dropping things, and even arm-wrestling in front of the mic.”

Listening to the voice acting is comparable to hearing fine-tuned instruments, as many of the performers have extensive acting backgrounds on stage and film, including the creators. Lapczynski and Herman noted most of the work happened in the post-production of the podcast with sound engineering. The voices for The Call of the Void were recorded during two very long days, yet the editing and sound design took upward of six months. 

“All of the voice actors are our theater friends,” Lapczynski said, and that includes fellow Michigan talents Bruce Bennet, David Galido, Dan Johnson, Julia Garlotte, Joseph Zettelmaier, and more. Although many of these talents have stretched beyond Michigan -- their united voice is being represented in a new light to a global audience with The Call of the Void.

“We treated the directing process with the voice actors very similar to a staged reading,” said Lapczynski, which happens during the writing process or early rehearsals of a stage production. But like staged readings, Lapczynski said The Call of the Void is similar “because you cannot rely on things like set and costumes to tell the story.”

Just talent and imagination.

Marissa Conniff is a digital marketing consultant, yoga teacher, and musician.

"The Call of the Void" downloads are available at acornartsandentertainment.com/thevoid and popular podcast services.