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Writing for Young Audiences with Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino of Timestorm

Adventures in Audio Fiction Episode #1

Podcast host Tamara Kissane discusses writing audio fiction for young audiences with Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino, the producers and creators of Timestorm. Timestorm is an audio fiction series for children in which the Ventura twins, Alexa and Benni, travel through time to preserve their culture’s true history. The twins visit three continents across the span of five centuries, meeting people who have left their mark on Puerto Rican heritage, all while managing twenty-first century life as middle schoolers in Newark, New Jersey.

Timestorm is produced by Cocotazo Media with support from PRX and the Google Podcasts creator program. Timestorm will be part of TRAX, a new podcast network that PRX is launching in 2020 with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The network will feature free on-demand audio content for ages nine through thirteen.

Music: Spring Idyll by Pennee Miles.

logo for timestorm

Tamara Kissane: Adventures in Audio Fiction is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. The HowlRound Podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and HowlRound.com.

Hey friends, welcome to Adventures in Audio Fiction. My name is Tamara Kissane. I'm a theatremaker and the host of the podcast, Artist Soapbox, based in Durham, North Carolina. Although theatre is my first and enduring love, over the last three years, my creative work has turned increasingly towards writing and producing scripted audio fiction. First by adapting versions of my stage plays into audio dramas, and more recently, by writing to audio directly as I develop two scripted audio fiction serials. This interview series for HowlRound is part of my quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium, some of whom have a background in theatre and some who don't. But either way, they are knocking it out of the park.

I have so many questions and you may have some too. As theatre artists, what can we learn from audio fiction creators? What skills can we leverage to create powerful audio work? What do we need to learn? Is scripted audio fiction an evolution of a theatrical form or is it its own distinct and discrete form altogether? In today's conversation, we dig into writing audio fiction for young audiences with Dania Ramos and Michael Aquino, the producers and creators of Timestorm. Timestorm is an audio fiction series for children, in which the Ventura twins, Alexa and Beni, travel through time to preserve their culture's true history. The twins visit three continents across the span of five centuries, meeting people who have left their mark on Puerto Rican heritage, all while managing twenty-first century life as middle schoolers in Newark, New Jersey.

Dania Ramos is the series creator and head writer for Timestorm and co-producer of the Cocotazo Audio Theatre Podcast, both produced by Cocotazo Media. Her stage plays have been produced or developed by Luna Stage, Writer's Theatre of New Jersey, Speranza Theatre Company, Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, and Teatro Vivo. She's also the author of the middle grade series, The 7th Grade Sleuths. Dania is a drama and creative writing teaching artist for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Michael Aquino is co-founder of Cocotazo Media. He is the audio engineer, sound designer and composer for Timestorm and the Cocotazo Audio Theatre Podcast. Michael has received three Audio Verse awards for composition and engineering. He's also a musician, actor and teaching artist. Enjoy the episode.


Tamara: Hi, Dania. Hi, Michael. Thanks so much for being here today.

Dania Ramos: Thank you.

Michael Aquino: Thanks.

Tamara: I want to talk about why podcasting specifically for Timestorm, but I'm wondering if it would make more sense for us to back up and talk about the formation of Cocotazo Media and Audio Theatre, because I think that that was your entree into the podcasting medium.

Michael: Back in about 2015, Dania had turned me on to a few shows, a few audio fiction shows, like the Black Tapes, and I was also listening to Welcome to Night Vale. I was just really becoming very interested and fascinated by the medium because it included theatre, which is what I really had a passion for, and audio, which I really had a passion for. And for Dania, she really felt the same, it was really theatrical is very interesting and it kind of aligned with what we were interested in. We just began listening to a lot of it. And in that next winter, we decided we were going to do something called February Album Writing Month where musicians typically write fourteen songs in twenty-eight days. But instead of writing fourteen songs, what we decided we were going to do was write fourteen really short audio fiction pieces that kind of tied together. So we did essentially two different stories over the course of February. And we had our actor friends coming in to record these lines. And it was just a really great way to kind of learn how to do it. It was like a boot camp almost. We just really kind of went for it and because of that, we were just like, this is so much fun. It's a new way of exploring the passions that we have, like I said, me for audio and Dania, with writing. We were both actors so we loved doing that too. So it was like this combination of all of these things and we were like, let's take this a little further and that's when we develop Cocotazo Audio Theatre as a podcast and we decided we were going to create it as an anthology series that allowed us to really explore more and to kind of refine what we were doing that February, and to really kind of hone in on our techniques and what we wanted to do. And we totally learned so much from that February, but launching Cocotazo Audio Theatre really helped us further that practice and to get tighter with what we were doing.

Dania: I want to add for anybody who's thinking about maybe starting a podcast, when we did that, the February Album Writing Month, those we just put up on SoundCloud, so that was the way we kind of shared it with the world and when we moved on to Cocotazo Audio Theatre, that's when we did the research and found out we wanted to have a host. We host on Libsyn. So it was kind of also learning that side of it, what is it to actually publish a podcast. And I just want to give a shout out to Ernio Hernandez, who is a playwright, who took the plunge with us in those early days to kind of give us material. I wrote several of the scripts, but he also did several. So he was also instrumental in the early days as well.

Michael: Yeah, I said to him, I said, "Look, I have this crazy idea. Let's do fourteen really short things between you, me and Dania. Let's get this done in February." And he was like, Sure. It was really kind of cool to kind of have the three of us get our heads together with a bunch of our actor friends. We just got it done, it was so much fun.

Tamara: It's fun to have that sense of enthusiasm among artists and friends. I find that podcasting as a new medium for me has helped me get back in touch with some of that kind of passion and excitement that I felt for theatre and I still feel for it now, but sometimes not as much. It's just nice to have a new adventure with our creativity I think.

Dania: Absolutely.

Michael: Absolutely, yeah.

Tamara: So how did you go from Cocotazo Audio Theatre to let's do Timestorm, which is a scripted serial audio fiction piece for middle school aged children and their families?

Dania: It's a little long story, but I'm going to tell it because it actually really deals with theatre and a crossover. So for Timestorm, it started in the theatre. I had written a proposal in 2013 for, it was a contest for a theatre for young audiences production. It was supposed to deal with New Jersey history. That was in the guidelines. I had done this whole proposal. And the idea for the Timestorm came from creating this proposal because in my research, I had discovered that Emilio Carranza, who was a Mexican aviator, he was kind of known as the Charles Lindbergh of Mexico, actually died in the Pine Barrens, when his plane was struck by lightning and it crashed in the Pine Barrens and he died there. And when I was doing this bit of research that happened early on in the twentieth century, I was fascinated by that fact and I had created this kind of other world where Emilio Carranza existed in what I had created in my mind as a Timestorm. And I did not get that, I didn't win the contest, I put it away and several years later, I was taking a workshop in the city that was specifically for TYA. I personally in my writing, I often write about youth of color, centering stories where they're featured so I was very interested as taking this workshop. I brought out this idea to kind of bring it to the workshop and we were doing one of those writers will tend to say, Well, what if this, what if this. And the question came up from the instructor, Well, what if instead of this Mexican aviator and New Jersey history, since you no longer have to do that for, it's open that the sky's the limit, what if it was connected to their own culture, these Puerto Rican twins. When I started exploring that as an idea, I realized the story was so much larger than like a fifty minute or an hour long TYA stage piece. It wanted to be this really long form story, and an audio seems like the right place for it. So, that's kind of how it got from possibly being on stage and about a couple of stories of New Jersey history to being in audio, and really, really diving deep into the history and the heritage of Puerto Rico.

Tamara: It's like an epic, right? So you're working with these epic ideas over a long period of time and you can't really contain that in a forty-five minute assembly for a school.

Dania: Yeah, absolutely. And I'll say, both of us come from arts education, and doing that very kind of touring theatre, and we know how important it is and impactful it is. It's just that for this story, it wasn't the right fit. So yeah.

Tamara: You followed it into what it wanted to be rather than trying to make it into what you had already experienced as a theatre educator. Let's talk about this demographic, because Dania, I know that you have a mystery series for middle schoolers, so you have this TYA background. Can we talk about why podcasts are valuable or could be valuable for kids?

Dania: Yeah, absolutely. So, we're surrounded by technology, of course, and a lot of the way that children are getting their stories and entertainment are through screens, of course. There are other ways, there are books, and of course, live theatre as well, but a lot of it's coming through television and film and just other internet content, which is fine and great, but there is something about the form of audio that is amazing because it is screen free. And so we've had these great conversations with families and parents who've listened to the show, and they're telling us what they love about the show is that they can listen to it together in the car. Some have even said that they're eating dinner and listening together. How amazing is it to know that a family is experiencing the story together?

Michael: It allows us to kind of really reach a lot further than we can with a traditional Theatre for Young Audience piece. And I as well, we both have been involved with Theatre for Young Audiences for a very long time. We both did touring theatre, we've both been teaching artists. It's a thing that we have a lot of passion for and a lot of interest in. And like Dania said, we really love this demographic, this age of kids, the age that we're aiming for, it's really fascinating to us, we love them.

Dania: I think that in this age group that's really when you fall in love with stories and if find that genre or the type of story that you love, you're devouring it. This age range really wants to get as much as they can of that. So it's just really exciting to be able to write for this age group. And I will say that in particular with audio, what's exciting as well is that we are creating it with audio and the visuals are limitless; they are whatever the child wants it to be, or listener, any listener who's listener. The Timestorm can probably look like 50,000 different things to whoever's listening to it, as well as right now, we are not saying what the characters look like. They could be whatever they want to be.

Michael: Yeah, and you know, Dania brings up a good point. When kids watch a TV show or a movie, it's predetermined what this character looks like. I can ditto what Dania is saying. It's so amazing to be able to put on headphones and just imagine that this character can look like you and that's huge for some kids.

Tamara: This type of storytelling really empowers children and it asks a little bit more of them perhaps. Even just paying attention and listening closely, I think that's something that, this is totally my opinion, but it's kind of trained out of us as we go through life. We just stop listening because we're so busy looking. Not to mention the access that you mentioned, Michael. Not all kids have access to these live theatre events in their schools or in their communities and so, this is another access point for them to have an entry point into this kind of really intense and beautiful story experience.

Michael: Yeah, and access is really huge I think for both of us. We're really adamant about making this show accessible to as many kids as we can and we know not every kid has a smartphone, and that not every kid has the greatest access to the internet. We try to let kids know, you can go to your local library. There are other ways of listening to our show and listening to other shows like us. There are some really other wonderful shows aimed at this demographic.

Tamara: So, given all of that, how do you approach writing for this specific age range? What is sort of your perspective on what they need to hear at this time in their lives because it is, I don't know, it's kind of a tender spot. They're not really teenagers and they're not little kids. It's a big transitional time.

Dania: I mean, the biggest thing, like fun adventure. For sure, that's the main thing is that we want to tell a really engaging fun adventure story. But beyond that, the themes that we're picking are really important for this time in a child's life. So we're talking about independence, what it means to make these decisions and deal with the consequences of it. Certainly family and friendship relationships are huge in our first season. Both of these twins, so Beni and Alexa, those are the names of the main characters, they're dealing with having to keep a secret from their family and friends. And so, for them, it happens to be that they are time traveling, but there are a lot of children in this age range who might be dealing with something that they're not comfortable sharing, and what does it feel like to keep a secret from someone you're really close to, so things like that. And then obviously, identity we're dealing with very specifically in the show cultural identity. And Alexa and Beni, to be very specific about them, they're twelve years old, they're growing up in Newark, New Jersey. Their heritage is Puerto Rican. So both of their parents were born in Puerto Rico, but both of them were born here and grew up here and that plays into what they are doing. They are very interested about who came before them, what came before them in terms of their own, what led to their identity, their cultural identity. And that's something very specific that I think children, particularly Puerto Rican children, but any child who has parents who came from another location, parents who consider another location home, but they are very much kind of growing up here. There's a kind of duality of my parents have this different life and they connect to this other land in another way and I connect to it because maybe I've been there a couple of times or they talked to me about it or I eat the food from there or we sing the songs from there. But what it means for them to go back and experience it in this other way. So they get to take ownership of it for themselves and say, This is my relationship with this island that my parents once called home.

Michael: I can kind of add to what Dania's saying. We've done a lot of feedback with kids in this age range. And the one thing we've taken away is that not only do Puerto Rican kids find this so interesting, but kids from all other backgrounds really kind of find the story interesting, and it makes them start to think about what kind of histories can I find out about my culture. And we hear that a lot, I wish there's a show for my culture and my heritage that I can find out more about historical figures and people that impacted my family's heritage and where I come from. That's been so fascinating to hear as well.

Dania: Obviously, the twins know that the island of Puerto Rico where their parents are from is part of the United States, but there is a different cultural relationship to the island itself if you grew up stateside.

Tamara: I have an eleven year old daughter, this age range is alive and active in my home.

Michael: Nice, awesome!

Dania: Go eleven year-old!

Tamara: It's a wonderful time of life and I'm really enjoying her and her friends. And so, it was wonderful for me to hear that voice reflected in Beni and Alexa. And something that I especially appreciated was this tug between personal problems and a greater understanding of the bigger world and some of the problems that are more sweeping and more painful and problematic for our extended family and for people that we don't even know and just the struggle that this age range has trying to sort of figure out how to navigate that. I love the way that you manage the struggle of that for these kids in Timestorm.

Dania: Well, thank you.

Michael: Thanks, yeah.

Dania: We're glad that that landed for you because that was something that we were really trying to find a balance and really craft it in a real honest way for that age group.

Tamara: So, I'm wondering about the expectations that you had. Before you launched Timestorm, what did you expect or did you have any expectation about how this would be received? And I mean, we've got a podcast for this younger demographic, centering the stories of Puerto Rican children and families. How did you think this would be received by listeners? Did it meet your expectations or exceed your expectations?

Michael: What we expected going into this was that we were going to create a story that is very close to our hearts and we thought that we wanted to make sure we can have it ring true to heart of a twelve year old or eleven year old or ten year old. I think that was the expectation we had. I don't think we had necessarily high expectations. Of course, we wanted people to listen to it, but we knew what we were going to put out there had heart and we hoped that it would connect with the hearts of those kids. And I think it's been really amazing to see how far the reach has gone with Timestorm. It's being listened to all over the world and we get feedback from kids across from everywhere. And it's really kind of amazing to hear, and I think that in itself is meeting our expectations. I don't know if you want to add anything to that, Dania. For me, that was my expectation just to really kind of put out a story with heart that can have a large reach.

Dania: What's interesting is because we had created the anthology initially, that was very different. There's a very, like if you're creating an audio drama anthology, it's a very specific audience and kind of a small one too.

Michael: And it was adults.

Dania: And it was adults. Yeah. I feel like when we were going to do this, I wasn't really sure what to expect. We actually had a kind of interesting launch. We initially launched the first five episodes in November of 2018, and we had applied to this really great program called the Google Podcasts Creator Program and we were accepted as one of six teams, podcasting teams for the initial cohort. So, when we were fortunate enough to have this amazing opportunity through Google and PRX, we realized that we wanted to kind of, we had all this training that we were getting, we wanted to kind of relaunch with all the new skills we had and so, we relaunched in August. So I feel like once we relaunched in August of 2019 and we were putting out the entire season, that's when I felt like Oh okay, the show is going to have a nice reach, and it has been doing that and we hope that it will continue to grow. But that initial, when we first, first put it out, I didn't know what to expect.

Michael: I totally agree with that. We had no idea what to expect, especially because it was so new to us. We know what to expect when we open a theatre show, a play or a Theatre for Young Audience show. We know we have 100-seat theatre, hopefully we fill the 100 seats. But with this, it's like going into without having any kind of clue as to what your reach is going to be, and just waiting to see who's going to listen and where they're listening. And once it once it starts coming in, it's just so amazing to see, kids listening in Norway, in Australia, in Spain. It just begins to like, you're like, Oh my god, they're listening in this place I've never been to, and listening to stories about two Puerto Rican twins traveling back in time to reclaim part of their lost history. It begins to blow your mind a little bit.

Tamara: It's a different kind of a community formation than I think I'm used to as a theatremaker. How do you create community around Timestorm given that people are listening in Norway and Australia?

Dania: For us, because we're in an audio drama series, but we're also for kids, we're kind of like in a few different communities online, which is really amazing. So, one of the communities that has been really amazing to be part of— So Kids Listen is this grassroots organization that is really advocating for quality audio content for children from preschool age up to about twelve, where we're creating for. And so, they have amazing, they have a website, they have really great things, and then a really active Slack channel. We're trading resources, getting tips, having workshops on various aspects of audio. So it's been great to be part of that community, a lot of parents on that community with children in the various age groups as well. Then of course, online, there's an audio drama community that is just amazing, especially on Twitter that's like live and active, and just amazing people on there too to be part of.

Michael: One of our missions going forward with Timestorm is to really kind of create an in-person community as well. We've committed ourselves to really developing what we're calling listening parties, where we're going to either libraries, community centers, schools, playing episodes of Timestorm, like one or two episodes of Timestorm, usually like the first two, and then starting a community discussion about the themes in it and how it relates to the kids listening and things in the stories that they can relate to and all that to kind of create a sense of an in-person community as well, because one of the phrases we constantly hear is that podcasting can be so lonely. Creating a podcast is very solitary. We feel like it's really important to be able to get out and to be able to create an in-person community as well. While that won't be as far reaching as the podcast itself, it still I think really provides this otherness to the podcast, it creates another community.

Tamara: And it's another access point too for kids who might not have stumbled across podcasts, but they might be in the library. You can connect with them that way. I'd like to talk a little bit about theatre versus audio. My experience has been that it's, they're sort of, like they're both fruit, but they're like apples and oranges, so it's not exactly the same. Could you talk about the skills you've leveraged as theatre artists to make audio fiction and some of the challenges related to that?

Dania: I'll just say a little bit from the writing side of things. So I'm also a playwright and an author as you mentioned before, but in terms of the playwriting thing, what's funny is that a few years before, I even was like, Oh yeah, we want to try this audio drama thing. I just naturally in my plays started really using sound. Like it just happened. I didn't know what it was about, I wasn't judging it, I just kind of went with it. To the point where I was literally get the stage directions, like The stage is dark and we hear x, y, & z. I'm like, wow, I'm really relying on that element heavy. And maybe it was just already in there and it seems like when I started doing audio, there was like this natural sense of like, Oh yeah, I do want to use and lean heavily, (you have to when you're doing audio dram), lean heavily on the sound, music, sounds to tell the story and to convey the action and mood. And so, that became really exciting for me because I'd already started doing it in stages. So that was fun.

Michael: I think for me, I have an acting background and I have a music background. So, specifically with theatre, I feel like, because I deal with the audio engineering and sound design and composition of the show, I think being an actor really kind of allowed me to understand pace, when putting the show together. It's funny, I think, obviously, like a sound designer, but I also think like an actor, and I think about pace, and I think about, and now pace is a little different in audio fiction. We tell this to the actors all the time. I'm like, We usually act it like 100 percent. Dial back your speed to about 85 percent, and I say that because there's this challenge with audio fiction where you don't have the visual to be able to allow your brain to process what's being said. And if someone's too quick or someone's too fast, and we learned this from having beta listeners that kids really need a little, and adults too, just need you to slow down just a little bit, just a little bit, but to keep the same intensity and to keep the same intention, but just dial back the pace a little bit. And this allows me, my training as an actor really has allowed me to understand pace and understand how the layout of the show, how things can flow. As a musician, obviously, engineering, audio engineering, and composition, it was just a natural transition to be able to use that in audio fiction because I was already doing it for music.

Tamara: So I'm a playwright and an actor and I initially adapted two pieces for the stage into audio form. So those were my first two projects and my current projects are writing straight to audio. I'm not using this stage as kind of an intermediary step because I realized that the translation was not, was a little more complicated than I thought, and I think it brings me back to something that we were talking about at the very beginning having to do with the arc of the piece. There's something very different in the structure of a seventy to ninety minute stage piece than a series that's ten episodes long, and they're each fifteen minutes or so. The structure of those stories and the narrative, it's very different, and it's not a direct translation. So you've got that thing going on overall, but then you have all the little things like how you introduce characters and their names and help them be distinctive so that people don't get confused when they're listening, that I didn't really have to deal with in quite the same way as a playwright because you can see them so you know they're different people.

Dania: Yeah.

Michael: Right.

Dania: Yeah, absolutely. That's come up with us in terms of like casting actors. We want to make sure that the voices are distinct. It's really important for that. And so, there have been times where we really love an actor and we say, hopefully, we can't necessarily use this actor for this series or a main character in this series because they sound too much like another character, but we want to work with them in the future. So, that's definitely an issue when you're working with audio.

Michael: Like I said, we beta tested this with kids after we released the first five episodes, and before we released the series, we made sure we had kids listen and say, Do any of these voices sound too similar? Because if they do, then we had to make a choice and luckily, everyone was saying the same thing like these voices are distinct enough where we're not getting confused. So that was a relief to us, but yeah, it's a major consideration.

Dania: So, you were speaking to the notion of writing kind of serialized, something serialized and how different it is than kind of that ninety to 120 minutes on stage. So the difference from Cocotazo Audio Theatre and the standalone shorter pieces and when we went to Timestorm, I literally did research and started learning about television production. That was very helpful for me because there was, literally, I had to think of structure in a new way. And I think like for playwrights, a lot of times, the form of different plays can, the play will tell you what the form needs to be for that play. I had to go in, I realized that I had to give up and kind of say, You're going to be very structured about this series and the story you're telling, and it has to be down to the the number of pages. If I'm getting past a certain number of pages, we know it won't fit into the target length of the episode that we want to do. And the other reason it really needs to be that structured, and I'm writing outlines for every episode is because we actually have another writer working with us. Andrew, who joined, he lives in Boston right now, who joined us, we work remotely with him, and he works with us and he is writing from an outline. And so, we have meetings and we work together, but we need to really be specific on how we're going to bring the story to life. So that's been very helpful working with kind of that television structure.

Tamara: Could you talk a little bit about your decision to bring another writer in and how that process works a little bit more?

Dania: Yeah, sure. So, as I mentioned before, we were fortunate enough to be part of this program, this Google Podcast Creator Program and with that came some funding that we were able to hire another writer. We actually met him at the Latinx Theatre Commons. It was a TYA, they weren't calling it a conference—

Michael: It was a convening.

Dania: Convening, that's what they called it, in Austin. And so, that was this amazing, I think it was a two or three day convening. And we met a lot of great people and we had something called cafecitos which were just like little breakouts and we proposed one, on telling you a story through audio and Andrew came up to us and we just started geeking out about audio. So we found out that he actually, one of his main things that he does is he writes a lot of TYA. So we met him, we kept his information, we kept going back and forth. He's like, I want to jump into this with my own stories. And we're like, Great, it was great to meet you. And then when we had the opportunity to bring on another writer, we remembered Andrew and so, he submitted something that he had, a piece that he had adapted of his own piece into audio as a sample. We were really excited to kind of bring him on. He's originally from El Paso. His strength is in telling border stories. It was just a really great match. The way we work with him is, so we've had a few, he's in Boston, so if we have meetings, it's via video chat. And we've been able to work, get him a very detailed outline. He'll write a draft, we'll do a reading of it. We bring in actors, sometimes it's cast members, sometimes it's other actors. We sit around the table, we read it, we'll record it for Andrew and so, we will send him a recording of that as well as notes, feedback that came up during that reading from there. He'll do a revision and then I'll read it again and give any final revision notes and then we can kind of consider it like ready for recording. We'll go back and forth until it's ready. And then if he is available, he will video in and watch our process with the actors which is a lot of fun, which is helpful in case anybody has a question specifically for him and the script, and he's able to answer it right on the spot.

Michael: Yeah, and I can say that Dania, she puts a lot of a lot of work into the show, not only as a writer, but she's also the showrunner for the show. So she's doing a lot of the coordination and it has been so helpful to have another writer to be able to help ease that off of Dania a little bit and to be able to really kind of focus more on the overall scope of the series, which has been wonderful.

Dania: And he's like a serious gamer. If somebody is not familiar with the series, there are a lot of scenes that take place in a comic book and game store, and Beni is like, and Gianelli, these two friends are really into comic books and gaming. And so, it's been a lot of fun kind of also—

Michael: Having him the because both of us love gaming, but we're not really comic book geek. So having him has been really helpful to be able to kind of provide that perspective.

Tamara: Yeah, there's so much to do, and so, having somebody to, as you say, kind of take a little bit of that pressure off, to generate content, I'm so glad that you're able to do that.

Dania: Yeah, we are. He's really great.

Michael: We're so happy to have Andrew on board.

Tamara: Michael, you mentioned the beta testing and my imagination is just going wild with what this look like with kids in the room to do beta testing. Could you talk a little bit about why you did that, how you did that, some more of the questions that you asked?

Michael: Part of the program actually required us to, it was a great requirement, to really kind of take what we have already and beta test it. So, we didn't necessarily have, no, actually, we did one group out of middle school where we got about ten middle schoolers together. We played the first episode, and then we had questions for them, specific questions that we wanted to know that were either coming up in feedback from people, from adults that we wanted to ask the kids. How is the pace? How are the characters voices? Can you easily follow the stories, anything confusing? What do you think of the music? So we have very specific questions to ask them that we wanted to know to make sure that what we're doing is working. So we did that with a group, but then we also just had a bunch of solo beta listeners, so kids, parents that are friends of ours that have kids in the demographic or that age group, we just said, Would your kid be willing to listen to it and just give us some feedback? So then they would listen to it and then we'd have like a short FaceTime kind of conversation with the parent and the kid talking about the show. We also talked to parents too, which was very important because we understand that while the kids are listening, the parents are also the ones that are the gatekeepers to them listening. They're the ones that have the phones. They're the ones that control what they listen to. We had very specifically direct questions to the parents like, Is this material that is okay for you to have your kid listen to? Nothing was weird but we just wanted to make sure that parents seemed interested in putting this in front of their kids as well as, just other questions to make sure that we were on target with the parents as well. So we had those two kind of factions that we had to make sure that we were really hitting. So, this allowed us, we took all of this information, we put it in a spreadsheet and we were able to really analyze the data and really kind of go through what was working, what wasn't, what we wanted to change going forward so that when we re-released this past August, we were taking all of this feedback into consideration to make it a better show. We're not doing this just so we can listen to it. We're doing this because we want our kid listeners and our parents as well who have to listen sometimes because of proxy, make sure they're enjoying it too.

Dania: And one thing that came out of that too, we now, for regular episodes, we end at, we have something called listener share outs and that's where the listeners send in something. We have four potential prompts that you could do, you could say like Where you would want to time travel to or you could share some aspect of your own family's cultural heritage? So there's like sixty seconds, it's a listener audio piece memo that's at the end, and that's really a lot of fun and that came out of understanding that they were interested in literally hearing themselves on the podcast. That was something that was interesting and exciting to them. And then of course, that speaks back to the community that we were talking about before.

Michael: And them wanting to hear their voice. They want to know that they're, not only physically hear their voice, they want to hear kids like them on it as well. While we have some actors that are younger and are close to that age demographic, they want to hear themselves telling stories as well. So that's part of that share out, and that's why it's so important for us to have it because we really love for them to hear themselves as much as they can. They don't want to hear us.

Tamara: They already have a lot of adults in their lives, right?

Michael: They have a lot of adults in their lives. They want to hear more kids like them. One thing that we're very excited for is the network tracks that's being started by PRX. And it's launching this 2020, this year and it's going to be a network of podcasts for nine to twelve year olds, or eight to twelve, nine to thirteen depending on where it's going to land, but it's going to be that age demographic. We're really excited to be a part of that launch where we're one of four teams that are launching the network and we're grateful and so excited to be a part of that.

Dania: Yeah, and that's coming from PRX. So we're really excited to be able to continue kind of being part of the PRX family in a new way, so we're really excited about what that's going to look like. And genuinely like, the fact that a network of audio is being specifically targeted for this nine to thirteen age group is really exciting. All the content, and you know, a lot of times, there are some other things that are out there that kind of span a broader range, and that's amazing and great, but this is really focusing on that kind of middle grade age range, so it's really going to be exciting to see what's coming out of there and it's going to be nonfiction, fiction, all types of different shows.

Tamara: I guess this means at least a second season for Timestorm. Maybe more seasons. How far are you planning out right now?

Dania: So the plan right now is definitely three seasons. Yes, so we have, two we are currently in production. We just have finished a nice chunk of recording for season two, so that will be launching later in the spring. And then we do have a season three all mapped out ready to go. And so, when we say seasons, we have ten regular episodes, those kind of about twenty-minute episodes that follow a single storyline and then we have mini-sodes that we kind of add in there and this season, we're going to be throwing in some interviews with cast which should be fun.

Michael: As well as music episode because rhythm is going to play a big part of this season, season two, and we're going to hopefully do music episode as well, talking with some of the musicians that are going to be playing in the season.

Dania: So, season two will be picking up about six months after season one left off, so we're going to be in 2018 with the twins. I don't want to say too much about what's coming, I don't want to spoil anything, but I think we had spoken a little bit before, Tamara, about, there's so much going on in Puerto Rico right now in the recent, even the past year, and will that be reflected. And there are plans for some things that happened little closer to our time to be reflected, but I won't spoil how that will happen.

Tamara: Right, right. How do you sort of dial in time in this audio medium when you're dealing with the not too distant past, and things are still happening to listeners in real time and kind of how you toggle back and forth? And then you also of course have things that happened in the very distant past as part of the narrative as well. So, that seems complicated and I'll be really excited to listen to how you manage that.

Dania: Yes, thank you. It is complicated. I just want to add actually about this, that you bring it up because we are talking about contemporary events. That another big key thing is the characters are dealing with, on the States side, they're dealing with what happened after Hurricane Maria happened in 2017. So a hurricane hit Puerto Rico, in case any listeners aren't aware of what happened. So it was very devastating for the island. And what we experienced here in New Jersey and in New York with the artistic community and just the Puerto Rican community in general, and the broader community in general was a real rallying, coming together to help the residents of the island. And of course, island residents themselves were also doing a lot to help each other in that time. And so, even since then, there's been a lot that has happened on the island and we are really committed to sharing that what is actually happening on the island. We have a page on our main website, our Cocotazo Media website that is dedicated just to Puerto Rico. We have links to some audio that explains the situation that happened with the hurricane, that's happened with all these other events since then.

Michael: With the earthquakes.

Dania: With the earthquakes. Places where if you want to learn more or if you want to help in any way, that you can access that information and help out as well. So that's there too. We want to make sure that we are able to spread the information as it happens, so we're constantly updating that page, and that's very important to us as well.

Michael: If you're just interested in checking that out or checking out what else we have going, we have the Cocotazo Media website, we have two different websites. The cocotazomedia.com, which has all of that information Dania just mentioned, as well as if you wanted to hear any of Cocotazo Audio Theatre, we have two seasons out of that. And we also have the timestormseries.com website which has Timestorm on it and all of season one.

Tamara: Thank you both so much, not only for the work that you do, but for the conversation today. I really appreciate it.

Dania: Thank you, Tamara.

Michael: Thanks, Tamara.

Dania: This has been great.

Michael: Yeah.

Tamara: If you would like to continue today's conversation, please visit howlround.com and follow HowlRound and Artist Soapbox on Twitter and Facebook. A big thank you to the staff at HowlRound who make this show possible. Our music is Spring Idyll by Pennee Miles. Check out the show notes for links and for more information. Thank you.

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Thoughts from the curator

In this podcast series, Durham-based theatremaker Tamara Kissane chats with artists about their work, their plans, and their manifestos. This interview series is part of Tamara’s quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium.

Adventures in Audio Fiction Podcast


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