Two and half months ago, I was in North Carolina, leading costuming workshops for the Durham Library. I was angling for a new format for The Voice of Free Planet X, something that would be exciting and fresh through the writing, recording and editing processes. Since bringing back the show in March, I was struggling with my dissatisfaction of course I had laid out for myself. I had picked straight readings of short-stories because I thought they would be easy enough to do on a weekly basis. And while they were, that format was also boring to record and edit. And it meant that a great deal rested on the writing, and I was not able to give my work the necessary several drafts in order to be happy with it. Everything needed to change.
Way back in the infant days of VoFPX, I had envisioned the show as a sci-fi This American Life, but I didn’t have the audio editing skills, the writing chops or the stable of performers to make that happen. But sitting there on the porch of my sister’s house, I began to wonder, maybe I have all of those things now.
I decided to experiment. I wrote three scripts in less than a week and contacted some the best performers I knew in NC. Those three scripts, plus a completely improvised session, became the last four episodes of VoFPX: What They Left Behind, Living In V-Town, Dirty Spaceman, and One. Precious. Thing. I figured, I try out the format for 4 episodes, and see what happens. If it didn’t work, I’d try something else.
All of four of the episodes were done in a pseudo-NPR reporting style, using a combination of scripted dialogue and improv, in-character “interviews.” To give the whole thing a veneer of respectability, I said the new format was the result of my show being acquired by Galactic Public Radio, and created a GPR logo to visually identify the episodes on the show’s website, in case anyone was looking for these episodes or wanted to avoid them (you can also get it on a tote bag).
I was helped greatly in this endeavor by my friend Bradley George. Bradley actually works at NPR, and was able to steer me to not just making the episodes sound right, but also making them sound good.
And they do sound good! I was phenomenally happy with how they turned out. Every part of the production of these episodes was more fun than the show had ever been. The writing was easier; not only could I just say huge swaths of exposition instead of working it in more subtly, but I wrote faster imagining which friend would later say the words. Recording was a heck of a lot more fun with other people, and editing became less about hiding my mistakes and more about showing my friends in the best possible light. Plus, crafting the stories from scripted bits and improv meant that there was an unexpected element at every point in production. The experiment was a rousing success!
So much of a success that I’ve already written and recorded four more episodes in this style for September and October, and have episodes planned out until the end of the year. The GPR format looks like it’s here to stay. And I couldn’t be happier.