What does it take to script an audio drama that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats? What goes into creating compelling characters and casting the perfect voice actors? Join us as we unravel these fascinating aspects of audio drama with our guests Kevin Shea and Jill Harper, creators of the successful project, Feedback. They share with us not just their creative process and the challenges they face, but also their dislikes and likes about traditional radio dramas.
Have you ever wondered how the world of customer service operates or what causes customer rage? We’re diving into these topics too, unearthing the tactics deployed by call centers to hinder customer goals and sharing personal anecdotes about our own experiences. Plus, we’ll be talking about our audio drama project, from its inception in a humble basement to a full-fledged production. Our conversation with Kevin and Jill continues as they share their journey of creating the character Akbar and the nuances of casting for an audio drama.
Finally, we delve into our guests’ personal journeys and their love for theatre and filmmaking. Kevin and Jill share their childhood experiences that shaped their passion for storytelling and discuss the role of imagination in their work. They reflect on making audiences laugh and the joy that brings them. If you’ve ever been curious about the world of audio dramas or the joy of creating something that truly engages and entertains – this episode is for you. Tune in and take a peek behind the scenes of this exciting medium.
Kevin Shea wrote the fiction podcast “Feedback: a comedy of impeccable service,” the experimental play “Consumption Patterns,” and, with Wade Bogert-O’Brien and Scott Christian, the musicals “Hero & Leander,” “A Misfortune,” and “Teresa.” He is Editor-in-Chief of The Kevin, which publishes sporadic essays on arts and culture.
Read Kevin’s essay about writing Feedback: https://thekevin.substack.com/p/on-feedback
Jill Harper is an award-winning theatre director and dramaturg, and the co-founder of Cue6 Theatre. Selected directing credits: Cue6 Theatre’s “Dry Land” (Globe and Mail’s Top 10 Theatre shows of 2018); “pool (no water)” (Dora Awards for Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Performance – Ensemble); and “Byhalia, Mississippi” (as a part of a 7 city World Premiere Conversation); “Detroit” (Coal Mine Theatre) “White Heat” (English Theatre Berlin); “Consumption Patterns” (Next Stage Theatre Festival); “Meet Cute” (Roseneath Theatre) – Dora nomination for Outstanding Direction; “Hazardous Materials” (Equity Library Theatre Chicago); In fall 2023 Jill and Cue6 released the narrative podcast “Feedback” by Kevin Shea which reached #5 on Apple podcasts’ Fiction podcasts chart
Transcript auto generated.
0:00:04 – Phil Rickaby
I’m Phil Rickaby and I’ve been a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized that I don’t really know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada. So join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators you may have heard of and indie artists you really should know, as we find out just what it takes to be Stageworthy. If you value the work that I do on Stageworthy, please consider leaving a donation, either as a one-time thing or on a recurring monthly basis. Stageworthy is created entirely by me and I give it to you free of charge, with no advertising or other sponsored messages. Your continuing support helps me to cover the cost of producing and distributing the show. Just four people donating $5 a month would help me cover the cost of podcast hosting alone. Help me continue to bring you this podcast. You can find a link to donate in the show notes, which you can find in your podcast app or at the website at Stageworthy.ca.
Now onto the show. My guests this week are the writer and director of the fiction audio drama podcast Feedback a comedy of impeccable service, writer Kevin Shea and director Jill Harper. In this conversation, we talk about how this production came about, how audio drama can be a very visual medium, how Jill and Kevin came to be involved in theatre, and much more. Here’s our conversation. Before we jump into talking about feedback, I am curious about whether, like why, did you choose audio drama? I mean, I myself chose audio drama during the pandemic for a couple of projects, but was this project always conceived as audio drama? Was it? Were you drawn to it because theatres were closed? Tell me that story.
0:02:36 – Kevin Shea
Yeah, so I think I had the idea before. I had the idea initially as a potential play or something, and then, when the pandemic happened, it was like the perfect idea for audio and it’s something that I feel like works best as audio. So it wasn’t a thing that I was initially planning to do, just because it was not a thing I had any experience with and you know, I’m just, I’m a theatre animal. But when things did close down and when there was money floating around for you know, socially distanced digital projects, this was just like the perfect thing for it. So I hadn’t really written anything of it, written any of it before we decided to do it as an audio project, but I had had the idea kicking around for maybe a year or so.
0:03:32 – Phil Rickaby
When you’re on the Kevin, when you write about feedback, you did talk about how you were not a fan of radio drama. So what is it that you? We’ll go back and forth in this because I can tell you what I didn’t like about radio drama, which made me reluctant to venture into audio. But what is it that you yourself didn’t particularly like about radio drama?
0:04:00 – Kevin Shea
I think I find them challenging sometimes because it feels like a thing that could also just be a TV show or a movie and it’s just a TV show or movie with the visuals taken away. And so for things that are written like that, I, when I listen to them, I just find myself wondering why, why not? Why aren’t I just watching television? I do actually like I don’t listen to them that often, but I do like like really old radio dramas, like pre-television radio dramas. I find those interesting to listen to because they’re very much written, written for people’s ears. But yeah, the main reason is just, you know, if it can be told visually and it’s just being told as a audio project, because there’s no money to make it a TV show, you know, because it’s like a cheaper form of production, then that’s the sort of thing that I’m not that interested in.
0:04:52 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I hear you there. For me it was always. It was the. The sound effects always sounded like they were too much Like. Why do I need all the sounds of the diner? Why can’t we just say we’re in a diner? I don’t need any of the other stuff because it’s distracting.
0:05:08 – Kevin Shea
I remember Jill talking about how much she just hates the sound of people eating and she was like, please, like, whatever you do, no sounds of people eating. And I do kind of feel that way. But yeah, I bet lots of Foley stuff. It just it’s like feel like a lot and it feels like it kind of overwhelm sometimes the story you’re telling.
0:05:29 – Jill Harper
And for some reason every audio Drama it just feels like it has to have a scene where they’re like, oh, I’m eating a sandwich and I’m like I don’t, I just I didn’t.
0:05:38 – Phil Rickaby
For me it was. You know, I don’t, I cannot deal with those mouth sounds. So as soon as somebody does that, I’m like out, Just forget it, you’re gone. But like, just like, I don’t need the sound of the coffee brewing, the sizzle of the thing. I don’t need all of those extra things. I can close. I could suspend my, my, my, my disbelief if you tell me that we are in a diner or in a library or in a car. That’s all I need. I don’t need all of the extras, and I think it’s because they go overboard. It’s too much, Don’t? You don’t need to set the scene so much so that it’s overpowering what’s actually happening 100%.
0:06:14 – Kevin Shea
I think there’s a lot of anxiety on people creating them of just you know, oh, we’ve got to make it, we have to do as much as we can and I think yeah, I think often the opposite is is a better way to go about it.
0:06:24 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, well, in that vein, like what, as far as like creating this, and you mentioned that you were having conversations about what it might sound like and what not to do that sort of thing. What were you, what were, what were your initial thoughts about how it might sound? Was it just like two people on a phone? Like what? What kind of audio thoughts were you having as you entered into it? For for both of you?
0:06:48 – Jill Harper
I mean Kevin, you know, when he came to me with this piece it was sort of conceived as primarily two people on the phone, but then he had also written this other really gorgeous element of these two narrators and we’ll sort of switch back and forth Of our two main characters has their own narrator which has its own vibe of it, but those also allow us to get so much more information and so many more details about each of these people and it lets us do that in a way that doesn’t feel false and that doesn’t feel overdone, in that way that I think often with audio drama, part of the reason you hear way too much of the diner is because audio is their only way to tell you about that, and so now they feel like they have to go overboard with all of these audio elements.
And because Kevin had written this really lovely narration, it lets us get so much of that detail. Instead of trying to show someone’s facial expression by them grunting in a way no one ever would, he can tell us. You know, one of these narrators can give us the little piece that’s going through that person’s mind and then we can move on from it and sort of stay in this more realistic, more honest way of world, and I think that was one of the things for me that convinced me that like this work in this way and that it needed to exist in this format as well.
0:08:22 – Phil Rickaby
Kevin, when you were writing it, what point did the narrators come in? What part of the? How did that part of the story come in?
0:08:31 – Kevin Shea
I was there from the beginning and it comes from loving movies that have narration, particularly a sort of detached literary narration. So movies like Barry Lyndon or Lyshten Out Philip are just movies that have this sort of detached literary narration to them. That can sometimes create a bit of irony in the storytelling and just provide sort of interesting, interesting color to it. So even when I had first thought of it I was like, oh, maybe I’ll do like a stage plan, there’ll be like a narrator like standing on stage. So that was there like right from the inception. And then, once I’d sort of decided on it as an audio project, I developed this idea of alternating perspectives. So we go back and forth.
Each episode is, from what you know, alternates between one of the two main characters perspectives, and I thought it would be really cool to have a totally different type of narration for each perspective. So for one of the characters, who’s sort of an older woman, more conservative woman, her narration sounds like an audiobook, it sounds like a beautifully written piece of literature. And then for the other main character, who’s a sort of guy in his 30s who lives in downtown Toronto and is a drag queen, I wanted that style of narration to sound more like a podcast, more like something that you might be listening to you on the streetcar on the way to your part time gig, nice.
0:10:05 – Phil Rickaby
Nice. So which of you would like to give us the pitch, the elevator pitch for feedback?
0:10:15 – Kevin Shea
Let’s do it together.
0:10:16 – Jill Harper
I’m not a.
0:10:17 – Phil Rickaby
0:10:18 – Kevin Shea
Do it at the same time, do it at the same time, oh man so feedback is a story about the surprisingly strange and intimate relationship that develops between a guy named Akbar, who is a drag queen who works part time at a call centre for a telecommunications company, and one of his customers, Val, who is a woman who lives in Etobicoke, whose family is experiencing a crisis related to her son, who she is estranged from and, as you get further in, you realize, has been radicalized on the internet. So it’s about these two people from extremely different worlds, different bubbles, who, through this customer service interaction over an $18 overcharge on a phone bill, end up really getting to know each other. And part of that is because Val is extremely nosy and part of that is because Akbar wants to try and resolve the issue and he can’t resolve the issue according to the policies of his company. So he tries to get at the underlying emotional turmoil that Val is experiencing and ends up trying to dig into her life to find out what it is that’s made her so upset. So that’s the main through line for the story.
You also learn about Val’s husband and their history of right, from when they first met in high school all the way through their marriage. You learn about Akbar’s ex-boyfriend, who he’s recently slept with and was wondering whether that was a huge mistake, whether that relationship could continue. And then you learn about Valarie’s son and the various elements that brought him to a place of being radicalized. And it’s all told through a mix of narration and scenes featuring some truly phenomenal Canadian actors and a great score and wonderful sound design and great editing.
0:12:40 – Phil Rickaby
Jill, is there anything you’d like to add to that?
0:12:43 – Jill Harper
I mean that was pretty thorough. Yeah, I think that’s about it.
0:12:50 – Phil Rickaby
I’ve worked in customer service for 25 years in many call centres, so a lot of that resonates with me, except for the part where I gave a shit after I got off the phone with somebody who may have been really problematic. Not that I’m a terrible heartless person, but when somebody yells at you and I know, Kevin, you wrote about this on that very same blog about your time working in customer service how people would go from zero to 100 in a second, that’s not somebody that you often want to continue talking to. So this is something that can only exist in theatre and that sort of thing. I know that Kevin has that experience with customer service. Jill, what’s your customer service phone centre experience, whether as an employee or a caller?
0:13:47 – Jill Harper
I mean, I have both. I have probably been both people. I did work at a call centre for less than three months when I was probably 19, and it’s the only job that I ever quit by just not going back there. I was like nope, it’s not happening. At one point someone just put the phone down next to a speaker and played really loud music and of course you can’t hang up on people. So I just sat listening to Happy Metal for until this person was gone. So that was a little fun.
And then I’ve also had to call when I moved into my current place. They were supposed to show up on the day I moved in and install the internet and just no one ever came. And I called this internet company and ended up fully crying on the phone to this poor woman who answered because it sort of turned out that they couldn’t install the internet at all in my building and no one at any point had told me that in the lunchtime, called them to make this change and then until that day. And so, yeah, we got into our life stories on that call. So yeah, I do actually think there’s something very relatable even if it’s a little bit insane about the direction that this thing takes, just to sort of your earlier point, I mean the character.
0:15:15 – Kevin Shea
One of the things I wanted to explore was this imbalance between Akbar and Val, where Val wants to keep talking, akbar does not, but has to, he can’t end the call and he also talks to his boss to see if he can just give her what she wants and his boss says no. So he was sort of trapped in a situation and I wanted to explore the way in which there are these really lopsided dynamics that even though you can develop intimacy by talking to somebody who calls into your call centre or shows up at your store or whatever the relationship is, there is this sort of permanent power imbalance that can kind of be exploited at the same time, and so I was interested in having also the impact of their experience by the end of it, not to spoil anything, but you see that the effect that it had on Valerie and it’s much larger in a way than it is on Akbar, where Akbar doesn’t actually think that much about the call in the following weeks.
0:16:23 – Phil Rickaby
Well, one of the interesting things about the call centre society that we’ve built because every business has a call centre and everybody ends up calling the call centre at some point or another is we’ve built into it the idea that if you are not irate, I can’t help you. I can’t give you anything unless you are irate. My first call centre was at a bookseller online bookseller. I will have chapters and they. If somebody was irate, we could escalate them to an area where they would move heaven and hell. They would order from Amazon if they had to to get the book for that person, but unless they were irate, I could not move them there. So it was like we had a.
The whole culture is call up. You can be the nicest person in the world and I cannot help you until you are yelling and then I can do something for you, which is like one of the craziest things. Kevin, I know when you worked in a call centre you had some experiences like that. Which of those experiences, or what types of experiences, were you drawing on when you were writing feedback?
0:17:36 – Kevin Shea
Well, definitely that feeling of feeling trapped by someone and also recognizing that fighting is, in a way, futile, because if someone is not going to give up, they will win almost always. Now there were instances where we would draw the line or where my boss is boss, is boss is boss would be like no, absolutely not. And what I found interesting about those situations is when people were fully stymied and it was sort of clear that they were not going to get what they want. They would kind of break down like people just could not handle that experience, and I found the intensity of those reactions very interesting and it made me think a lot about what else is going on in people’s lives that would make them make them behave that way.
And that is very much sort of the germ of this whole thing is like what are people going through that causes them to lash out at these poor people that work in customer service? What is that? What’s going on? Why are so people so upset? I mean, I think about this just generally in our society at large, right, why are people so angry? So many people are so angry, particularly regarding anything to do with politics, and so, trying to get to the root of that, the various causes, because I think there’s always a mix of things that lead to that. So if it’s ingrained personality, some of it is your social context, some of it is how your life has gone and your various disappointments around that, and so really digging in and trying to give this sort of kaleidoscopic view of like what is behind the rage was sort of a big part of what led me to write the show.
0:19:20 – Phil Rickaby
Yeah, I remember one of the call centres I worked at. They basically had and they forced a situation where people would wait on hold for two hours. So they only had like a queue that had a certain number that would allow a certain number of calls through and they could see how many people were in the queue and how many people were being rejected, and so you could say we’ll be like, yeah, I’ve waited for two hours and I found out that was entirely by design, because they wanted people to get frustrated and hang up, so they didn’t have to. They didn’t actually reach a person. That kind of stuff is, of course, why people finally get through and they are already angry, right. But that’s again. The call centre exists to keep the customer from achieving their goal, right, and so the first step is to not let them call in. So it’s all like, it’s all fraught and such a massive like how angry can we make these people? It’s just such a ridiculous thing that we’ve created for our quote unquote customer service.
0:20:21 – Jill Harper
I mean, there’s a back and forth in the show where, literally, she’s on hold and she says to her husband I think they do this on purpose and he’s like no, no way, that’s, don’t be paranoid. No, no, they do.
0:20:36 – Phil Rickaby
They do. They absolutely do, absolutely, because I remember the books I mentioned, it was chapters. At the time it was like no in to go involved at that time. But we had a system that they didn’t introduce where, like they introduced, they were like, hey, new system, it’s easier, it’s better, it’s all this stuff. And they introduced this thing where somebody would order a book and they wanted to cancel. So they would call us up to cancel but it wasn’t actually physically possible for us to cancel. It would tell us, this book is too far along in the delivery process to be able to cancel, even though the book wasn’t even in stock. So it was like, yeah, no, it was like anything that they could do to not allow people to cancel that book. That was actually our job, not to serve the customer but to get in their way of canceling their order. Such a oh, everything about you know so much about customer service is insane About the creation of this particular show, this audio drama.
You were conceiving it and sort of like coming at it during the height of the pandemic, when it was being put together. You know you sort of went for audio drama and it makes sense. But was there ever an opportunity, a time when you were like yeah, maybe we’ll do this over Zoom or anything like that, or was it 100%? You were like this is audio. Drama is where this lives.
0:21:54 – Kevin Shea
Oh, I think it had to definitely be a podcast, yeah.
0:21:58 – Jill Harper
It was going to be a podcast, I do think we had. What we did have were different iterations of what this scope and scale of that was going to be for sure. Like, there were times where, you know, when we first started, we were like this is probably something we can all do in our basements and you know, just send a microphone around and have everybody record themselves, kind of thing. And then, you know, the Canada Council gave us some money to do it, which we’re super grateful to have got. But it is incredible how much just getting some money slows you down.
So it went from something that was like we’re just going to throw it together and not throw it together. We would obviously have done our best with it, but, like you know, we’re going to make it in our basements to see what we could do. And then it was like, okay, now that we have this, you know, going through all the proper channels, being able to, you know, go into a proper recording studio, was fantastic, being able to get music composed and those types of things that really elevate the feed. But they also just changed the process and ended up taking two years to do it instead of.
You know our original plan. Let’s make something right now.
0:23:13 – Phil Rickaby
The downside to getting money is like, because I did, when I did my first, my first audio drum was completely just me and it was just a solo thing and I did do it like just in my bedroom because I could. It was just me and I think you know I started recording and not in July and I had it out, I’m ready to go in November. It was like Christmas thing. So it was like hooray, this is easy. But I could definitely see how, as soon as you get the money now you have to go through the, you know, certain channels to get certain actors and this sort of thing. And was there ever a time and you know it’s just us here Was there ever a time when you thought, you know, maybe it would have been easier if we didn’t get all that money?
0:23:58 – Jill Harper
I mean this is so much worse and the thing to say no, it was the thought was actually we needed twice as much money. It’s one of those things where you get the money and you’re like it’s actually easier in some ways to do something for free than it is to do something for just not quite in the right.
Because the other thing that happens is like, okay, we can pay you, but we also can’t pay you enough to take it to make this your first priority necessary, and you have to sort of spread out with other staff and all of this. And so it was kind of like when people are doing you a favor for free, that’s one thing, but when it’s kind of like yeah, it was just, it was crazy because on the one hand, it was like the most money we’ve ever gotten as company to do anything, and then on the other hand, you’re like, oh, it’s immediately not enough.
0:24:52 – Phil Rickaby
How did this collaboration between the two of you, Kevin and Jill, come about?
0:24:57 – Kevin Shea
Well, we had worked together the last thing, the last play that either of us did before the pandemic we did together. It was a next stage show called Consumption Patterns. That was about the end, it was about the world collapsing. So we worked on this play that was about the world collapsing and then, like a month later, the world kind of collapsed for a little while. So we already had this working relationship from that and I knew Jill, in addition to being a great theatre director, also knows how to edit video and she has all these other skills, and so that, combined with her ability to work with actors and offer insights into writing, I felt like she’d be like the perfect collaborator for an audio project. And I knew that because the world was shut down, she was free.
0:26:02 – Phil Rickaby
Jill, how were you approached for this and how did you decide? What was your in? What made you want to work on this?
0:26:10 – Jill Harper
Yeah, I mean, I have a very distinct memory of sitting in a tiny little park in the annex with Kevin at freezing cold and talking about this idea that he had, and at the time I was like I have no idea what this is or if it will work, but send it to me, you know, like. But I was just really getting back to work on, working on something that we do, and then I read it and I was like these are characters and absolutely see where you know where you’re headed with this and it was a pretty good craft. It was so much there to mine and I think Kevin’s been an incredible job of mining it.
Ultimately, just something that was absolutely worth doing.
0:27:04 – Phil Rickaby
Nice, Kevin. You wrote this show, the character of Akbar for somebody that you’d worked with in a call centre previously, who was also a performer. When you’re writing for a particular actor, what does that look like for you? How are you writing a role for that person?
0:27:28 – Kevin Shea
Well, yeah, so I’d known Qasim the actor who plays Akbar for I don’t know 15 years, some very long amount of time. We did work together. I did hear him answering the phones, so I knew that he had an understanding of the situation. But I wanted to also write about a type of person that is very different than me. So what I did is I asked Qasim if I told him about the show and then I asked him if I could interview him about his life, his experiences, that we had answering phones and just all kinds of things that I wanted to learn about.
It was a great opportunity to be kind of nosy.
So I interviewed him and took copious notes and used that, along with just knowing him socially, knowing him as a friend, to sort of help construct this character.
And then I would sort of send him drafts or we would do a reading of it and he would sort of give me feedback and it was really wonderful working so closely with someone and he ended up being a really great defender of the character. When we would do readings I remember some people would be like oh, I feel like this character is more likely to do this or that and Qasim because the character was based on him and he had helped in the creation of it could be like no, I really don’t think he would. He would do that. I think that what he does is right. So, yeah, it was really really wonderful working with writing for an actor who I knew was a great actor and also who I knew would really understand the character. And then it was also really fun seeing him perform with these other actors who I didn’t know when I wrote the characters were going to be in it and who also were wonderful. So it was really cool to sort of have both experiences happening at the same time.
0:29:27 – Phil Rickaby
Jill, once you’ve got like the character of act bar cast, you’ve got to cast that. That actor is locked in. You have to cast the rest of the show. You have the. You know, you’ve got the woman and the people around her, you got the narrators, that sort of thing. How do you go about putting this team together? What? How did you assemble this, this, this cast of voice actors?
0:29:52 – Jill Harper
Yeah, I mean Kevin had some chats about kind of who the dream team would be Rosarita and for is someone that I have worked with a ton throughout my career. I reached out to her for the first time when I was probably 24 years old, like, hey, I’m directing a play by a playwright you’ve never heard of and you’ve never heard of me, and we’re just starting a company and we’re young kids and it’s going to be cool. Do you want to be in? Her answer Should have been no. She said yes to us for some reason and has been sort of the biggest supporter of me and my career and Q six since that time.
And so when Kevin wrote this part, I was it froze, it should be wrote. And sure enough, she was absolutely on board and in fact she was, you know, filming Chucky while we were doing this. But she was, you know, I’m doing it, let’s do it. And that was someone as well, like once she was on board, she became, you know, a real defender of her character as well and and helped to sort of shape the final, the final phases of Valoran and really just like. And then, once we had the two of them, it’s kind of building it out from a whole bunch back we know and like and some that we don’t. And Tom Kamos is someone I respect so much and he was just sort of on our, our wish list and Roseberry was like I’ll put you in touch with them and you know he jumped on board.
You know, John Tann is someone that we know and have worked with forever.
Nadine Baba is also someone that worked with those in the two narrators and then we went to, you know, my co-producer, Christine had been producing it in city and so when we needed some of these, like you know, actors to play a little bit parts on the TV and the boss and all these other things, she really helped us find some of those folks as well, which was great. But yeah, a lot of it’s casting for me. Casting for me is way more often about who I already know, their work. I would just much rather make an offer to someone like amazing, then go through beers, vodka, shit. Luckily, for the most part on this show, when we made offers to people they were like yeah, all right, I meant, let’s do it Now?
0:32:24 – Phil Rickaby
how does casting and audio drama differ, or does it differ from casting a play or a film?
0:32:37 – Jill Harper
Great question. For me, it doesn’t differ hugely. I’m so good performance being able to connect to a character is the thing that makes something worth watching, and a good performance is the reason I’m ultimately going to connect to a character.
Casting is, I think, my number one cast to show. Really well. In a lot of ways, I didn’t think of it too differently. I suppose the one thing that potentially is different is that you don’t necessarily have to think about how someone looks in the same way. In my head, all these characters do essentially look the way that these actors look, just because that’s the visual I have to. We were able to reuse people in a way that I for example, my time, I think, are the things that I think are magical about audio.
0:34:21 – Phil Rickaby
One of the things that I think is magical about audio is the fact that you, to you, these characters look like the people who played them, but you have no control over what the person listening imagines. That is a fascinating prospect for a project that the experience of the person listening can be different than what you actually intended. You have to let go in a way that you don’t or can’t in film or theatre.
0:34:55 – Jill Harper
Totally. My partner had listened to it before a lot of people, for obvious reasons he had listened to the book. Then he’s a photographer and we asked him to take promotional photos for it. He’d never met Cosm. Cosm showed up and he was like that was not what I would have guessed based on he had. He didn’t be a full other day. And then I’m going to say, for what he had pictured, just like a completely different person actually, for what he had pictured for that character. That really showed me exactly what you’re talking about. People are going to picture. I think we have created a poster image that has those two at Reese’s Cosm Rosemary on it. That might shape that for people ultimately. But every single other person, yeah, there’s no images of them anywhere.
Or anywhere associated.
0:35:51 – Phil Rickaby
No, absolutely, kevin. What is you? What’s your feeling about that fact? The fact that the people listening picture. This audio has been described to. I’ve heard people describe it as the most visual medium because it happens in the person’s mind. You were not at control of what happens. How do you feel about that prospect?
0:36:15 – Kevin Shea
I think that’s very interesting. I actually, honestly, I’ve not thought that much about it, but it is so true. I think that that’s just a very cool thing, I mean I do. One thing I love about listening about reading or listening to audiobooks is the fact that it all takes place in your imagination. I think that was a thing that was very exciting. In writing feedback, knowing that that was going to be a part of it. I mean the first episode. There is narration that traces this couple that have been together since they met in high school, traces their entire lives. You get to hear basically their life story from when they were 18 or 19 up until 65. Knowing that that because it’s audio, that that story would just live in people’s imaginations, was super exciting to get to do. Then having people picture their own version of Val, their own version of Akbar, is also really cool.
I will say watch, because I was actually watching the recording of it. So I was watching these people in a recording studio acting together. My experience of it was visual and it was amazing. They were doing full visual performances in front of microphones. I think it translates incredibly well to audio. The way that I think about it is because my experience of it was visual, as a visual performance that, because it was so fully inhabited, is able to be when you listen to it it really feels so real. It’s kind of untanny how real the actors sound. You really think you’re you dropping on a phone call?
0:37:58 – Phil Rickaby
That’s. I mean. I think that’s one of the things that makes a podcast unique in terms of storytelling, because it is a very intimate thing. Most people are listening to it with things directly into their ears. When you are talking or telling a story to them, you are talking directly into their ears. It’s not a speaker across the room A lot of times it is directly in the ears and that is something that is very intimate.
0:38:27 – Kevin Shea
as far as storytelling tool, something like you’re dropping on a phone call is kind of perfect for that, yeah definitely it goes back to when you’re a little kid and your parent is telling you a story in bed or whatever. It had that sort of immediacy and that intimacy that is just. It’s so great, Such a pleasure to experience.
0:38:50 – Phil Rickaby
Absolutely. One of the things I often like to do on this podcast is I love to talk to creators, artists, theatre people about their origin story, the thing that made them want to do this, or how they got from there to here. I’ll start with Jill Jill. What is your origin story? What made you first interested in theatre, the performing arts, the whole thing? How did you get into this crazy business?
0:39:20 – Jill Harper
Yeah, probably a couple of origin stories. If we’re honest, I would make plays my poor parents Anytime we had friends or cousins or anyone else over, we would be making plays in the basement. Then all of the adults who were having a lovely time drinking wine upstairs would be forced to come down and watch the plays, which were well. My mom bought me a book of plays for kids. At one point she was like these have beginnings and middles and ends. You’ll notice. You should try that with the plays you do. I’ve been doing it since I was a nine-year-old. I ended up going to film school because there is no underground for theatre directing that you can take.
I knew I didn’t want to be an actor and I didn’t want to be a stage manager and the other things that you kind of could go get an undergrad in in Canada. I went to film school. In my fourth year of film school my friend Sarah and Elliot Thomas made his playwright. I started QCC. She had written a play, she was going to rise in theatre school. She had written a play and she asked if I would direct it with her friends at her theatre school. I learned more in the sort of four weeks of directing this play with these directors about directing actors. I had learned four years of film school, I think.
In film school someone said to me use verbs didn’t clarify. Someone else told me that actors were just basically really expensive children. Your whole job is to not let them wander into traffic. I was like great, that feels like a specific type of advice for a specific type of director, but it’s not the director that I want to be. So I went out and started asking theatre directors if I could assist them, because I knew, even going back into film, that I wanted to be a director, get the best out of actors and knew how to create that approach to strengthen the work. That way I just stayed. I just kind of essentially have been making theatre all this time. Making this was great because it reminded me that I can direct in other mediums too, and I would love to do more of that.
0:41:50 – Phil Rickaby
Kevin, what is your theatre origin story?
0:41:53 – Kevin Shea
I think it goes right back to just being a child and playing.
I think that over the course of your life you get other more sophisticated reasons for wanting to tell stories, but the root of it is just like I love playing. I was an only child so I was often playing alone with my imaginary friends or I had toys that I was using to make stories with, and then I ended up doing as a kid all types of performance, dance and theatre. Then at a certain point you’re like maybe I can become rich and famous through my writing, or maybe I will get a girlfriend through my writing or whatever. Any other sort of reasons start to come in and then it also can become a way of working through emotional issues or exploring ideas. All those other things sort of start to pile up and then I think at the most sophisticated levels you’re thinking it’s like a quasi-spiritual activity in which you’re interacting with like the gods or whatever. But yeah, ultimately I think it just goes back to like me, loving play and loving imagination, and that’s just sort of been consistent since I was, since I can remember being alive.
0:43:28 – Phil Rickaby
Now a lot of us start, you know, for various reasons, whether it’s we, you know we did plays with all the cousins downstairs and or we, we are. Games were sort of theatrical, that sort of thing, all that sense of play. That happens to a lot of people, but not everybody decides to make that their career. For each of you was there a moment that you can remember where you were like this this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, or was it just a given?
0:43:54 – Kevin Shea
For me, the first time I really made an audience laugh was felt so wonderful. And making an audience laugh First, first figuring the jokes out with my friend, you know, like writing something and having my friend who was acting in the show and and working with my friend and then other people that had gotten involved, and that whole process that very social process was was so thrilling and so fun. And then the end result of like getting a big laugh was just it felt so good and having both, both ends of that, from the creation of it, which was so fun, to the final result, which was hearing people laugh, that’s just such an addictive feeling and I can’t couldn’t really think of anything else that I wanted to devote huge amounts of time and energy to that. I would like as much Jill. How about you?
0:44:47 – Jill Harper
Yeah, I mean for me. I honestly can’t think of a time when I didn’t know that my life in the arts in some way. I was lucky enough, in a way, to have my dad worked in film. My dad was a cameraman, you know, he had a good friend who was an actor. So there were, there were models in my life growing up to prove that it was a job.
I think there’s lots of people who grow up just not believing it can be a job and these are, you know, and the people that I saw and that grew up with were not. They were just living lives on an income that they were cobbling together making art, and so I’m grateful that I, that I was able to see that and see that possible, and so I always knew I thought I wanted to be an actor and at some point, when I was probably like 11 or 12, my mom was like, don’t think that would make you happy, you want more control over things than men. She stopped wrong, but and then I started making films and making plays. I had always been directing the plays in the base or being honest, but I think I sort of realized that that’s what I was doing at a certain point, instead of just making a vehicle for me to act in, and then I shifted my focus and really just try to figure out how to do it better and better.
0:46:13 – Phil Rickaby
Now, when you were doing those shows you know those those shows in the basement did anybody fight you on the directing thing or did everybody just like? Because sometimes some people come in and they have that authority there’s always some kid who’s like this is how we’re going to do it, and everybody’s like this person knows what they’re talking about. Was that? Was that you? Yeah, I. It depends on who we’re talking about there was.
0:46:29 – Jill Harper
I certainly had a couple friends who would maybe try to fight me on some of it, and when it was family if we’re talking about cousins it was more like we want to go play hockey now. And I was like no, you’re doing a musical with me. So I cut Jen Williams, who I love to death, who was like five or six years younger than me, and I was just like you’re no, you’re in a play, you’re tiny Tim or whatever it was, and with this is what we’re doing. But they were good sports. You know they would do it with me for whatever reason, at least some of the times.
0:47:08 – Phil Rickaby
All right now, as we draw to a close the question that I have about you know this, this whole experience, the show, feedback and creating this, is there anything that surprised you about the process, about creating an audio drama, about putting out a podcast, that sort of thing? What? What is something that surprised each of you? I’ll start with with Kevin on this one.
0:47:37 – Kevin Shea
I was surprised that it worked out. Honestly, I really, because it was a new form. I had no idea if it would hang together. I know the end because it’s somewhat novel, like I can’t think of any podcasts that blend sort of literary fiction and drama in the precise way that that we are trying. I was just I thought, I thought it was good, but I didn’t know if it would work and I was very surprised and pleased that it that it did that when people have listened to it, they’ve they’ve had no issues with the form, they’ve been able to get involved in the story, they’ve found it funny and moving and interesting and thought provoking. So that’s just like a huge shelf compliment. But I am like, but yeah, just the fact that it worked for me is, you know, the thing that I didn’t know was necessarily going to happen. It was such a lovely surprise.
0:48:39 – Jill Harper
This sounds crazy, but I was surprised how much work it was I had. I thought I had a sense of it. I thought I had a decent sense of how long it would take me and everything took me, especially in post-production, especially editing. Everything took me three times as long as I thought it was going to. You know, it seems pretty straightforward. You’re not dealing with picture, you’re just dealing with audio. But when you have a whole bunch of incredible takes from a whole bunch of actors and then you’re just trying to get pacing right and the pauses right, because now you have the opportunity unlike in theatre, you have the opportunity to have people cut each other off when they didn’t and create gaps and create pace and space and all that which is so much fun. But yeah, everything, everything just took forever and I’m really pleased with how it all turned out. But I will know Next time I will know.
0:49:37 – Phil Rickaby
Audio is deceptively again. You think that it’s just, it’s just a voice recording. How hard is it going to be? And then you really find out, especially when it’s like an interview is really easy, because I don’t have to do anything with that, but fiction and putting together something like that. There’s a lot more to do. There’s a lot more to do. So, yeah, now people go looking for feedback. They find it in all the places where you find podcasts. They can read about it on q6.ca, and is there anything anywhere else that they should go, anything else they should look for when they go looking for feedback?
0:50:22 – Kevin Shea
It helps to put the sort of cert title in, just because sometimes, depending on what after you’re using there’s you know there’s like 2 million guests out there. So feedback a comedy of impeccable customer service is the full title as it’s listed in the directories so you can type in. Usually feedback a comedy will get, you will get you there, but there is that full title and if anyone wants to read the essay I wrote about the creation of it, that is also available on thekevin.substack.com.
0:51:06 – Phil Rickaby
I will link to that in the show notes for you. Thank you Well, kevin Jill, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate you giving me the time this evening and I haven’t listened to it yet, but now I can’t wait to listen to the show.
0:51:20 – Kevin Shea
Thanks so much, so this is really fun yeah it was Thank you.
0:51:28 – Phil Rickaby
This has been an episode of Stageworthy. Stageworthy is produced, hosted and edited by Phil Rickaby that’s me. If you enjoyed this podcast and you listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, you can leave a five star rating, and if you listen on Apple Podcasts, you can also leave a review. Those reviews and ratings help new people find the show. If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Stage Worthy and my other projects, you can subscribe to my newsletter by going to philrickaby.com/subscribe. And remember, if you want to leave a tip, you’ll find a link to the virtual tip jar in the show notes or on the website. You can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram at StageWorthyPod, and you can find the website with the complete archive of all episodes at Stageworthy.ca. If you want to find me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at PhilRickaby and, as I mentioned, my website is philrickaby.com. See you next week for another episode of Stageworthy. Thank you.