Premiering this Wednesday on WBEZ, Erin Kahoa and Keith Ecker’s highly anticipated new radio drama PleasureTown explores the death of the American dream in a small, windswept Oklahoma settlement founded on hedonism. I was lucky enough to discuss this ambitious new series with the creators and discover just what went into the birth of this show.
Interview after the jump.
Tell our readers a little more about PleasureTown.
Keith: PleasureTown is a serial podcast drama that Erin and I are producing. It will be part of the WBEZ podcast network, which includes such shows as This American Life, Sound Opinions and Homemade Stories, a podcast developed by our friend and occasional collaborator, Shannon Cason. We originally produced it as a stage show, which was well received and attracted the attention of WBEZ. The podcast version has gone through quite a bit of alterations, which I think has only improved upon the original concept.
Erin: Emphasis on the drama. We’re shooting high by comparing ourselves with cable dramas like what you’ll find on AMC and HBO, but that’s exactly the amount of work we’re putting into our narrative. PleasureTown is a turn-of-the-century Oklahoma settlement based on the principles of Hedonism. The town founders, Cyrus and Claude, wanted to build a place where everyone could go after their own version of happiness. Of course, such an idealized idea is going to have pitfalls, and that’s exactly the areas our first season explores.
In your mind, what makes PleasureTown different from other radio programs?
Keith: One unique aspect of the show that I really hope connects with audiences is our narrative structure. We explore the entire life and death of the town in the first season, but we only see it from the perspectives of a handful of characters. In future seasons, we will explore the experiences, trials and triumphs of characters that might have been introduced in the first season but whom served in a more secondary role. So basically, we will continue to layer and layer interconnecting plotlines and arcs on top of one another to create this sprawling and detailed universe.
Erin: For me, it’s crowdsourcing. This first season we turned to the best of Chicago Live Lit because we felt the need to create a vivid and defined world, (In structure, there is freedom!) But moving forward we want to turn the narrative over to our audience. Basically, our writer’s room is anyone and everyone that wants to join in. Keith and I will serve as the curators, but the story will be in the listener’s hands.
Keith: Another thing that I think separates us from some other audio shows is that we’re not a comedy. We definitely have moments of levity, but overall, we are a drama, one that transcends genre by incorporating elements of magical realism, traditional Westerns, Greek philosophy, feminism and American history. And somehow it all works.
If you could invite anyone to read for PleasureTown, who would you choose and why?
Keith: Morgan Freeman. That voice is like a warm pad of butter.
Erin: This is an impossible choice, but Lorenzo Music. His vocal work was an instrumental part of my childhood.
Using six words, describe PleasureTown.
Keith: The death of the American dream.
Erin: Endless possibilities realized by collective imagination.
Keith, how has your work with Essay Fiesta and Guts & Glory informed you in the creation of PleasureTown?
Both Essay Fiesta and Guts & Glory helped me tap into an amazing community of writers, performers and, most importantly, writers who perform. That’s been a huge asset when it’s come to identifying writing and voice acting collaborators. Also, PleasureTown is kind of like a Rube-Goldburg machine in that there are so many moving parts. Learning how to juggle ongoing production duties with Essay Fiesta and Guts & Glory really helped prepare me for this labor of love.
Erin, what elements from The Moth do you hope to bring to PleasureTown?
There are two things The Moth does well: reduction and inclusion. Everyone has a great story, but reducing that story down to five minutes challenges the teller to find the soul of the narrative. Also regular Moth StorySlams are open to everyone. Whether you’re a seasoned performer or you’ve never stood up in front of a crowd, you have a chance to share your story. Both of these are essential to the success of PleasureTown.
How has collaborating with each other been?
Keith: Erin and I are like peanut butter and jelly, in that we completely compliment one another. He loves to do the production duties that I hate and vice versa.
Erin: Absolutely. It’s kind of frightening how much Keith is the yen to my not yen.
Keith: Also, we are remarkably democratic. All ideas are vetted and discussed before being implemented. We don’t always agree initially, but we do always compromise.
Erin: Yes. My writing is better because Keith is there to push and prune as necessary. We’ve become quite good at killing our darlings.
What do you hope to see happen with this series?
Erin: There have been several moments in our writing room where we stumble across the amazing narrative potential created by joining the work of our writers. My hope is that our audience will have those exact same moments, write their hearts out and share their brilliance with our world.
Keith: On the small scale, I hope we get a devoted audience. I really think this is a great story, one that is easy for a listener to get lost in. I’d love for our vision to really resonate with others. Beyond that, I’d love to see us continue with future seasons and find ways to expand the concept into other media.
WBEZ Podcast site: wbez.org/podcasts/
A little more about Erin Kahoa & Keith Ecker…
Erin Kahoa has a passion for the theatrical. At the age of 25 he served as the Director of Theatre for a private University. He’s trained under Jim Slowiak (student and protégé of Jerzy Grotowski.) Since moving to Chicago, Erin has utilized this passion in the art of live literature, garnering three Moth slam wins, two Write Club victories, and appearing as a feature performer in every major live lit show in Chicago.
Keith Ecker is the creator of Guts & Glory and Essay Fiesta, two of Chicago’s most popular live literary series. A former comedian and journalist, Keith has been performing his personal essays across Chicago since 2009. He is also a faculty member at StoryStudio Chicago, where he teaches creative and business writing. In addition, Keith serves as marketing manager of Story Club Magazine, the premier publication for literary performance. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.