The Urban Odyssey of Audio Drama Greater Boston

0 Comments 27 September 2016

greater boston podcast

Authors and playwrights Alexander Danner & Jeff Van Dreason discuss the execution behind their serialized audio drama Greater Boston.

By Daniel Barron


It begins when Leon Stamatis, a man known for his clockwork-precise management of life, dies on a roller coaster, seemingly willing himself to death under the weight of his situation’s uncertainty. This sudden tragedy will send ripples throughout Leon’s friends, relatives, and community over the course of Greater Boston, whimsical, almost magic realist audio drama that debuted online this past March. Greater Boston is the brainchild of writer/producer/narrator Alexander Danner & writer/producer/voice actor Jeff Van Dreason and plays out as a series of short stories over ten installments, each lasting around thirty minutes. These vignettes blend the historical and the fantastical (as well as some actual street interview audio) and can involve a man on a submarine seeking out Atlantis, a woman who fashions herself into a psychic, or the offbeat community that forms on a subway train. However outlandish the scenario, Danner and Van Dreason ground their phantom citizens in a recognizable humanity for those who love the tragi-comic and traditional storytelling shows like This American Life.

Having completed the first season in July, Danner and Van Dreason are already in development on a sophomore return. Below, they discuss the recording process of Greater Boston and tell how a serial narrative can take on a vivid life of its own. They also recommend the short story collections and audio dramas that you should seek out next.




What is the elevator pitch for Greater Boston? How was it conceived?

Alexander Danner: Greater Boston is an ensemble audio drama blending the real with the unreal, the historical with the fantastical, where the streets of North End are still sticky from the Great Molasses Flood, ghosts continue to obsess over efficient scheduling, and subway Red Line is agitating for secession and reincorporation as an independent city.
I think it’s worth stressing for readers who don’t know Boston that “great molasses flood” is an actual historical disaster in real-life Boston. That alone really tells you a lot about the Boston of our story.


Are the roles recorded collectively, as per tradition, or are the performances edited together?

Alexander: A bit of both. Through much of the first season, we were interested in how a story could be created through a series of monologues, so there are a lot of individual performances. Gradually, additional voices started seeping in, more as memories of things said than as true back and forth dialogue. So these bits were recorded separately, then edited together.
Later in the season, as more characters started to encounter and interact with each other, we started bringing actors together to record their scenes with their dialogue partners. Occasionally, it isn’t possible–one of our actors, James Oliva, lives in LA, so we have to be a bit more creative about how we work him into scenes with other actors. Although, when he visits our area, we do take that opportunity to get him into a recording space with other actors, as we did for his big confrontation scene at the end of season 1.


How do you go about the process of mapping out a season of something like this? Does it develop intuitively or is it all laid out first?

Jeff Van Dreason: Also a bit of both! The first season was written over a long period of time. Alexander originally intended the various pieces to be more like stand alone short stories that were very loosely connected, looser than they are now. Some of the characters that became regularly occurring characters were originally intended never to be seen again. Others were going to have smaller roles than they ended up having.
A solid draft of the first half of season 1 was already written by the time I joined Alexander working on Greater Boston. I looked for ways to throw more of the characters together and suggested specific plot points to develop for the second half of the story. Alexander’s strength is writing strong characters and I get jazzed about plot and story. I think our styles really balanced out season 1 nicely in the end, if I do say so myself.
For season 2, we did much more planning ahead of time but things still come up on the fly. In the last two episodes I’ve written for season 2, I added plot points and character beats we didn’t originally plan on. You need that flexibility. The structure is crucial when plotting out something like this, but if you don’t allow yourself to get inspired in the moment, the whole thing starts to feel like a chore.
Alexander: I’d say Jeff took a bit more of the lead on season 2, which lead to a much more intricate and eventful plot that season 1. Which is very exciting! I like that the show is evolving structurally as we continue to work on it, as we each bring our own interests and inclinations to different pieces of the process.



Lydia Anderson in the booth.


What themes or ideas were you most interested in exploring this season?

Alexander: We each bring our own thematic concerns, which fortunately dovetail well in the show, my focus being a bit on the micro view, while Jeff is more focussed on the macro. I started out thinking about how people define their own paths, how they examine their sense of self worth based on the work they do, or the merit of their ambitions. Characters change jobs a *lot* in our show, which is largely a reflection of my interest in how people use those kinds of changes to shape self image.
Jeff: I feel like a big part of it is about community and how a community functions. In the first half of season 1, a lot of the characters are being narrated, they’re writing letters, they’re giving monologues, they’re much more in their own heads. As the season progresses they start talking to each other more. So for me, a big part of the show is about how that works and what people get out of it, why that connection is such a necessary part of society. People depend on each other for so much, but when you’re living in the city there’s this tremendous pressure to pretend like you’re doing it all yourself. So for me, in many ways Greater Boston is about finding yourself through other people, other citizens and the place you’ve chosen as your home.


The Greater Boston Twitter account is very generous in promoting the #AudioDramaSunday hashtag. Is the serialized radio drama format making a modern resurgence? What are some of your favorites that you could recommend?

Jeff: Serialized radio drama never went anywhere, it’s just that more people are paying attention now thanks to big podcast success stories like Welcome to Night Vale and Limetown. So I guess that means the audience is making a resurgence, which is an amazing thing to behold. There were plenty of audio dramas around before Night Vale, but for a long time I think podcasts were considered primarily as a non-fiction kind of media in the minds of the general podcast audience. I’m really happy that’s changing because there are so many amazing shows out there, more coming out each week, and I have to really give credit to Archive 81/The Deep Vault co-creator Marc Sollinger for starting the #AudioDramaSunday hashtag.
As for favorites, it’s really hard to choose just a few. I’d go with The Bright Sessions, ars Paradoxica, Wooden Overcoats, Our Fair City, Wolf 359, Small Town Horror — I could do this all day. There are lots of new shows I’m excited about too. The Bridge has been wonderful so far, as has Ryan Estrada’s Big Data (which we’re also featured in).
Alexander: We were also really honored to be invited by the creators of ars Paradoxica to script a completely ridiculous mini-episode for them. We admire their show so much, it was such a delight to contribute to. Let’s see, what else to add to the list? Radiation World. Anthologies shows like Uncanny County, The Truth, Serendipity. Oh, and anyone looking to discover more shows, or learn more about the shows they’re listening to should absolutely check out Radio Drama Revival. It’s an a fantastic resource, touring the current audio scene with sample episodes from various shows, paired with creator interviews.



Fan art of the Stamatis siblings.


Are there any particular short story collections that readers should seek out?

Alexander: Kelly Link is probably my favorite living short story writer–either Magic for Beginners or Get in Trouble are fantastic collections to pick up. She writes the most beautifully lonely slipstream fantasy. Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life and Others is brilliant science fiction with a solid emotional core. The title story, “The Story of Your Life” is one of the most heartbreaking pieces of short fiction I’ve ever read. There’s a movie coming out based on it soon, The Arrival, which I’m a little suspicious of–the story is so much about the power of language, which isn’t typically a film motif. But we’ll see. What else? I loved Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbance. Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Strange Pilgrims has another of my favorite stories in it, “How Light is Like Water.”
Jeff: I’ll echo a lot of Alexander’s recommendations, especially Kelly Link and Lydia Davis. I’ll add my favorite short story collection, which is Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates is a classic collection and also one of my favorites. For more recent collections, I really enjoyed Bobcat by Rebecca Lee, The Un-Americans by Molly Antopol and Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade.


When can listeners expect a second season?

Alexander: January 2017! We’re just about three quarters of the way through scripting the second season, and hope to begin recording by the end of October. However, even while we’re officially on hiatus, we’re continuing to release mini-episodes every three weeks, with a 5 — 10 minute piece checking in on various characters from the story. These aren’t filler either–they are continuing to advance the characters and plot.


Presenting the first episode of Greater Boston, season 1


Keep Greater Boston running by contributing to the Patreon campaign HERE.

Subscribe/review Greater Boston on iTunes HERE.

Catch up on the entire run of Greater Boston on the official website.

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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