Welcome back to Pro-deux-er(s) of the Months! We’re highlighting the co-creators of Greater Boston, Alexander Danner and Jeff VanDreason. Since 2016, this dynamic duo having been building the Red Line into one of audio drama’s most beloved settings, based on the city they love.
When did you join Fable and Folly?
Jeff: We joined really early on, around April or May of 2020 I think we were one of the first shows Sean approached. We had a really good relationship with Sean and Eli, but we were very reluctant to join a network. We’d seen a lot of other networks fail and Sean’s pitch basically reinforced that this wasn’t about control or really anything aside from sharing resources and pushing us further into advertising revenue. Our show had grown a lot since we started and we were trying to figure out ways to keep it going, so this seemed like a natural fit. And we have absolutely no regrets – it’s helped us keep going in more ways than one, and the experience has been better than expected.
What part of making your show gets you the most excited?
Jeff: This might sound silly but I just love making something. The creative process. The writing and audio design, puzzling the pieces together, taking chances, figuring out what works. But I especially love making something that people seem to care about. When we were about ready to release season 1, I reflected on how much work it took. I was really proud of what we did, but I also wasn’t sure if anyone would care and if we did all of this only for some selective friends and family to listen, it would be hard to keep going. And you know, it’s a *ton* of work. I said to Alexander and my wife, if 100 strangers I don’t know listen to this, then I’ll be satisfied. The fact that we have fans, fan art, fan fiction – that blows me away, and I get really excited at the idea that people give a damn about anything I have a hand in making. There’s no better feeling, honestly.
Alex: I also love how collaborative the whole process is through the whole journey. From the writing, to seeing how the text changes once actors are performing it and putting their own spins on scenes…even the music! Sometimes we’ll have particular tune we want, but usually we just give the musicians prompts and see what they come up with. We just had a session with Dirk, Emily, and Adrienne, where we gave them rough ideas of the tones and moods we want to set in the coming season, and they recorded tunes to fit, making adjustments in conversation. But the work they’ve been doing since the start has become such a signature of the show!
What is your favorite thing about audio fiction as a medium?
Jeff: It’s like theater in that you’re tapping into a part of people’s imagination using whatever resources make the thing you’re making work. You can have a single narrator with little to no sound effects, and if that works for what you’re going for it can be compelling as hell. You can have a vivid soundscape that sweeps people into another world and that can be equally as compelling. The possibilities are endless, and while there isn’t a low barrier of entry as people say or suspect, it’s certainly less cost prohibitive than staging a theatrical run of a show. There’s so many great stories out there! We love being part of this burgeoning art scene. It reminds me a lot of the early independent film scene, but even more collaborative and kind.
Alex: I love how much I’m still learning about the medium and how to tell stories in it. Every time I try working in a new form, learning the tools and concepts unique to that form is always a joy. Before jumping into audio drama, I’d been focusing on comics for a number of years, and the jump from a purely visual medium to a purely audio medium was an incredible transition that really made me think about how to convey a story. I love that sort of challenge!
What’s a big, pipe-dream goal you have for your show?
Jeff: I’ve alway had this wild idea of staging a live version of our show inside a Red Line car as it’s running. We probably could never make it work, but man it would be a blast.
Alex: I mean, honestly, if you’d asked us this question 5 years ago, our answer might have described the show exactly as it is now– so much that we’d have thought were pipe dreams have already happened. But yeah, staging a live show actually on the Red Line would be a blast!
What do you hope listeners take away from your show?
Jeff: I think the biggest theme has to do with finding one’s place, both as an individual and as part of a community. Trying to improve yourself, trying to become your best self while also remembering that you’re a human being and you’re going to fail sometimes. That’s why you need to depend on other people. It can be really hard to embrace an idea of a community, but it’s so important. I mean we’re in a lot of trouble in the world, but there’s so much strength in individual people and groups of people who more or less think and feel the same way. That’s where real power lies. I can be really cynical at times, but I also believe that we can still accomplish great things and change the world for the better. If we don’t embrace the hope we have in each other, all we’re left with is despair. I refuse to give into that. And I hope our listeners feel the same way.
Alex: I’m also a big believer in the value of working out problems and feelings by actually talking them out with people who care. I like that that’s what our characters do, most of the time. There will always be genuine bad actors you really can’t do that with, but so much interpersonal conflict is really about bad communication, feeling like they can’t say what’s on their mind, or not realizing how differently two people can experience the same event, and so making bad assumptions about what’s going on in the other person’s head. Just talking things through can go such a long way to resolving issues. Or…and this is the scarier part for most people…speed the process of realizing an issue isn’t resolvable, and a relationship might not work. But even then, it’s still better to talk it out and know for sure, than to keep building on false assumptions.
In your opinion, what’s the most important part of a good in-universe ad?
Jeff: Whenever we’re writing one of these, we think about the characters who would actually use their products and care. It helps ground the characters and the product in the ads. You could pick a popular character but if they wouldn’t care about the product it’s going to be difficult to fit. If the character matches the product, everything else falls into place. I think that’s the most important thing, and it ends up making it a lot more fun.
Alex: Treat it like a part of the story. When I’m writing an ad, I always assume it’s in canon, and try to tap into something the characters are really thinking about. Sometimes it’s just something silly and fun, but when we were writing something like Dipsea ads, that was an opportunity to really check in on Charlotte and Gemma’s relationship, and how they were making things work while they’re apart.