Focus. Focus. Focus.


“Focus sent you something in the mail…”

It was a word.

Focus.

It became an abstract concept.

Focus.

It was a place. It was people. It was Adventures in Odyssey.

Focus.

In fact, for the first 20 years of my relationship with them, Focus on the Family in my brain WAS Adventures in Odyssey.

Confession: I have never once, in my entire life, ever listened to a single Focus on the Family broadcast. I’ve never heard a single snippet of Dr. Dobson’s eponymous radio show that built an empire and brainwashed generations.

I couldn’t tell you what audio products they created other than the one I participated in. I knew they made other stuff like McGee and Me, but it never really crossed my radar.

I’ve never read any books or any magazines they’ve published, or was on any mailing list that I know of (until after the 20th reunion)… The only thing I knew about Focus on the Family was they were the company that made Adventures in Odyssey.

One of the smartest decisions I ever observed the consequences of without realizing the fact that a decision had been made at some point, was when it dawned on me after I started putting pieces together after the 20th that I had never seen any of the FOTF upper brass during studio sessions. There were never any organization “suits” around to hover over the creative team. And so… I didn’t even really understand what we were doing beyond making a show for the church crowd kids.

And so Focus became this shorthand for everything.

Focus = Odyssey.

Odyssey = Focus.

Focus = Odyssey = Hal = Will = Katie = Fun

It was a word that represented happiness.

“Focus sent you something in the mail.”

There it was.

A yellow/orange padded envelope with the Focus on the Family logo sticker on the front.

Focus.

Family.

THIS MUST BE IT.

I’d been waiting since that first recording.

I ripped apart the package with the fury of 10,000 tornadoes. A giddy expectation akin to christmas morning. But this was better. I MADE THIS.

I had learned that the one down side to theater was that I never got to observe my performance to see how I did. You have to trust the audience. But nobody ever really gives you performance notes. And I was trying to get better at this thing called Acting. And no one would ever really tell me how to do that. I just had to wing it.

The experience of acting live always left me with a desperate need to recall every moment. Every decision made. The choices and chances taken in performance. With each passing hour/day/week/month after the curtain fell and the lights dimmed the memories would fade– a morning fog slowly dissipating in the afternoon sun until no trace remains.

I wanted to know what takes they used. I wanted to know what the sound effects were like. I still had the script! I wanted to listen to the post-production and read along and see how they put it together.

I shook the package. And out slid…

And there it was.

A tangible, physical thing I could touch. Hold in my hand.

I begged to borrow a tape player from a parent and ran to my room and shut the door. Hands fumbling with excitement I flipped the tape over and jammed it into the player only to find out…

IT WAS EPISODE 2. THE TAPE IS SET UP FOR EPISODE 1.

!@#%^$*^%$

Dear Future Generations,

There was this time long ago. Way back when…

When the latest and greatest audio products were called “tapes”.

DOES IT HELP IT IF I SAY IT LOUDER FOR EVERYONE IN BACK? THEY WERE CALLED TAPES!

And if you wanted to listen to the B side of the tape you had to listen to the whole side A or you had to fast forward side A or rewind side B. This takes time! Minutes of precious, precious time.

Do you understand that I was 10 years old? And while I was patient– like most Effin’ Evangie Kidz™ I was disciplined severely enough to be rather unusually patient and well-behaved for my age– THIS PATIENCE COULD NOT HOLD. Time for a 10 year old is counted in dog years. 5 minutes is equivalent to 3.5 hours to a child.

Which goes faster? Rewind or fast forward? These are the life changing and urgent decisions a child must make under extreme pressure. I calculated that since side B was already in the tape player even if the fast forward setting was faster, the time it would take to press eject and flip the tape around and then press eject again once it was done and flip the tape back around would negate any mechanical advantages of the fast forward setting.

Rewind it is!

And go.

C’moooooon.

Why is it rewinding so slow?

It’s hard for a child to face the heavy regret of a decision and the hedging and wondering if making a change of strategy is the best course of action once the wheels are in motion of committing to the prior decision– It’s hard to let go and correct course. Much like the Donner party, wondering if the shortcut they made was a good idea as the first sprinklings of snow fall… an omen of the horrors to come.

It’s rewinding so slow it’s becoming worrisome. Is this a battery problem? Please don’t be a battery problem….

It’s sad how addicts can convince themselves that the shitty reality in front of them doesn’t require swift action to solve the problem. Just hope and pray that some magical solution will arise and we can stay in our constant bubbles of denial. Just like church!

*click*

FINALLY!

Get my pages of my script together… and here… we… go!

*presses play*

mmmmmmmmmmmmmooooooooooooooofofofofffffffffffffllllllllllllllllloooooooooooooooooooooosssssssssssssssss

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck it was the batteries!

I was a kid that used to get my mouth actually washed out with soap if I swore. Perhaps I’m making up for those years now. But back then I rarely uttered a bad word, ever. So, if I swore then it was certainly well deserving.

Mom! Do we have any batteries?

NO?!?

DOUBLE FUCK!!

90 MINUTES AND ONE BIKE RIDE TO THE STORE LATER

Ok.

This time it’s gonna work. Let’s do this.

*gets script ready*

*presses play*

*holds breath*

….

….

*falls in love*

The first burst of sound as the music cues up and then…

Hal’s voice!

Wait! I was there when they recorded that intro! And they added all the sounds!

To finally get to hear the fully produced episode. The creativity of the sound effects. The musical cues matching the script notes. Trying to remember which takes weren’t used and picking apart why certain ones were chosen over others. Or where I could hear splices had occurred or lines or jokes or even whole scenes were removed for expediency.

The magical feeling that the day in the studio had produced these vocal tracks and that somewhere in that big building I got to walk into were the people who had added the layers of production that made the piece come alive.

It was a moment of awakening for me artistically. The whole process was from beginning to end. Every new element of it expanding my mind and knowledge and interest. I WANT TO KNOW HOW THEY DO ALL THAT.

The medium of audio theater took hold of me and has never departed. To have the unique and rare opportunity to make this kind of art. The excitement of learning that the studio Acting process is the most fun part, but that another group of artists I had yet to see or meet had made this background world come alive. I was hooked on the post-production side of it. And I’d follow along reading the script notes and see how the script structure was providing the direction for everything that was happening in the soundscape. And that got me hooked on writing and pre-production.

All of it. Every tiny little element of the production process would hold an endless fascination for me as the years would tally and fade into the past.

But that first episode. It was real. This wasn’t a dream. Or a failed project that wouldn’t come to fruition. This got made and finished.

AND IT KICKED ASS.

The thing that made Adventures in Odyssey unique at that time was, as an Effin’ Evangie Kid™, most christian products sucked. The videos. The old Davey and Goliath claymation. Most of it was crap. Low budget stuff that was cheesy and not cool.

But the one area that was kicking ass was audio. Music and talk radio and audio theater. It’s super cheap to produce. The economic barriers for making something high quality were easier to reach for organizations that didn’t have the funding that the secular entertainment industry had.

A fan once told me the quality of the show had been the primary and instant attraction for them to get hooked– it was the highest quality, best acted, best produced product that your parents would let you listen to. It filled a niche that was non-existent or neglected at best.

And it felt amazing to know that I was getting to participate in a project of this caliber.

The one part that sucked was that at the end of the episode… THEY DIDN’T CREDIT ME. WTF?!?

That’s… weird.

Well, maybe they forgot.

They’ll remember next time.

Anyway, it still was awesome!

This was professional stuff! Not bad for a kid who was chasing copperheads in the woods and helping my friends get unstuck from quicksand in Texas 6 months earlier.

“Focus called. They want you again.”

Back to Pomona.

Thru the front doors.

Up the giant staircase with the blank walls.

Through the doors of the AIO section.

Down the hallways.

Thru the doorlocks.

Into the booth.

Handed the script.

“You’re Jeremy this time…”

Odyssey USA: Episode 012- The Tangled Web

Finished with the recording.

Gather the pages.

Down the big staircase into the atrium.

Thru the doors.

Into the car.

And wait by the mail.



“Focus called. They want you to record again.”

Back to Pomona.

Thru the front doors. Hey, they’re building a bookstore…

Up the giant staircase with the blank walls– hey, there’s stuff starting to be put up..

Through the doors of the AIO section.

Down the hallways. Waving to newly familiar faces.

Thru the doorlocks.

Into the booth.

Handed the script.

“You’re Bobby again.”

Bobby? I already was Bobby. Did they run out of names already?!?

Odyssey USA: Episode 013- Bobby’s Valentine

Finished with the recording.

Gather the pages.

Down the big staircase into the atrium.

Thru the doors.

Into the car.

And wait by the mail.

At that point, I had done 75% of the first 4 episodes and 50% of the first dozen episodes in the span of 2 months.

I never had an agent.

I never had a manager.

I don’t recall ever signing any kind of contract.

Or having an adult sign a contract in my presence.

$75 per episode.

And no credit.

My parents largely stayed outside in the car taking my siblings to the park (shoutout to my brothers for their years of patience) while I disappeared into the main building only to reemerge hours later clutching a loose leaf, marked up script, thrilled, but exhausted, and certainly not having much bandwidth for homework.

I was starting to feel very comfortable. Learning the big people’s names. Starting to recognize staffers. And I was beginning to explore the complex trying to learn where were those people that made the music and edited the tracks and added the sound effects. Around which corner would I find them while I got sugared up with endless hot chocolate– OH! AND THERE’S HOT CHOCOLATE!!

Admittedly, Fucking Evangelicals™ don’t drug children the way Old Hollywood used to. I was not force fed amphetamines to keep my energy up on a long day of recording.

But… ENDLESS PACKETS OF HOT CHOCOLATE IN THE COMMISSARY.

I was a King again like back in Texas. Sipping my 3 packs per cup of pure liquid sugar (there may have been some experimenting to determine the precise ratio of how many packets of hot chocolate could be successfully dissolved into a cup’s worth of steaming hot water before the sludge was too toxic to be consumed) whilst standing at the windows, gazing down upon the parking lot beneath me.

Feeling a happiness and grounding that didn’t really exist elsewhere in my life. It was starting to become a regular thing!

There were many other christian products I would work on and perform in all along this journey. Sing on albums. One-off performances of varying nature. Some industrial spots. Always, always maddeningly uncredited. Guess Jesus doesn’t care about giving people credit for their work… weird.

But, working on this show was without question the closest I was to having a regular, professional, Hollywood-level Acting job… um… experience.

And I was loving every moment of it.


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