If I may, I'd like to take you back to a time long ago, a time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel. This was a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe consisted entirely of Iron Man, Nick Fury, and the Edward Norton Hulk. Bow ties were not cool. Sherlock Holmes was strictly 19th century. No one knew about Game of Thrones (except for you, because we get it, you were sooooo cool). Some nerdy ass voice actors had not yet played their first D&D session. There were no Black Tapes, no We're Alive, no Night Vale. The Thrilling Adventure Hour was something you had to be in L.A. to enjoy.
I had never even heard of "podcasts."
It was 2009: a different time, a different age. An age of Gargoyles.
I had been in Chicago less than a year. I still said "oofta" from my time in Minnesota and did not yet slur the "rs" on words like "doors" and "bears." I was an actor first and writer a diiiiiiiistant second. I was right in the middle of my Second City Conservatory classes, the reason I had moved to the city in the first place. (My parents kept trying to talk me into going back to school and getting my masters, because "DePaul is right there," but I wasn't interested. Second City would be my graduate school.) I knew exactly four people, all of whom had moved down from Minneapolis at the same time I had. Of those four, I hung out with exactly one of them: the one I lived with. I didn't have a Twitter. I wasn't on Facebook. I didn't even text. My phone still flipped. Also I had hair, lots of it.
At the time, I was barely employed, my only gig being a temporary position as a professional wizard at a science museum. I will reiterate...I was paid by a SCIENCE MUSEUM to talk about MAGIC. While waiting in the Hogwarts Express closet for the next group, I would jot down a word or two in a notebook about a silly vampire story. I had written maybe forty pages over the course of two years. I had not yet lost that notebook.
My manager at the museum, Clayton, had an idea for a show about a frozen post-apocalypse run by an insurance company. He gathered a couple of the professional wizards and a few others to work on it with him. The plan was to put a bunch of scenes together and do staged readings at a bar or something. We could do like a full two hour episode once a month or every other month. We were going to ask another wizard, Tara Jenkins, to read all the stage directions, so that people knew what was happening. To be a Narrator of sorts. Tara was engaged to someone named Ryan Schile. I didn't know this. Again, I am shy and don't talk to people.
The first episode was going to start with a scene of a guy hauling dead bodies out onto the tundra. He would muse to some apprentice about the dangers of all the corpses that were exposed on the barren tundra rising from the dead to inflict terrible revenge for this treatment. After that there was a scene in which our main character, a young, good guy named Nathan Rourke, yelled at his guidance counselor about his identity variance scores.
Ansel had written a piece about a poop cowboy, the Sharp Chuter, Neal Henderson, who was trying to convince his superiors that the storms out in the fields were getting worse. Neal was out of air for his protective bubble, he'd used it to save his own life the night four of his coworkers drowned. Frank had created an organ harvesting cult run by a man named Lazarus who took parts of his followers to keep himself alive. Those followers who survived became saints, like Saint Jimmy, Saint Sarah the Sightless, and poor old near Saint Nick (a near saint because he'd died). I really liked the idea and wanted to create a skinless assassin who truly believed in Lazarus's messianic message. Also, the doctor who did the organ transplants was a corporate spy named Caligari. We had asked an older guy who was a wizard with us to read the role.
I had two scenes in this first episode. One was a little sketch in which molepeople argued about whether antpeople existed. The other CONFIRMED that antpeople existed as they attacked the underground train with Nathan aboard. As it was going to be a reading, I put lots of jokes into the stage directions including ones where they seemed to be directly addressing or thwarting the character. It was funny and definitely wouldn't work if the episode had sound effects. No, it definitely should have...that is to say, WOULD have to be rewritten if sound effects were involved.
There was also some talk about introducing the character of Herbert West. West was from those H. P. Lovecraft stories I had started reading a year or two before. The second episode would likely be about him, but we might introduce him at the end of the first. He would walk into Al's Bar, set a head on the counter, and say, "A big one for me and a small one for my friend here."
We threw the scenes together into a kind of narrative structure that we liked. At some point, the museum guy and the Skype guy disappeared. The next step was Jeffrey and Clayton finding a venue to do the readings. We went off to our lives and waited for them to call.
Months passed. Nothing happened. Like so many other "Hey, let's get people we know together and do a thing" projects, it had fallen through. I was disappointed. I had liked working on something that different, where we could be as weird as we wanted to and not have to worry about budget or believability or other b words. Also, I rarely get asked to do things. But that was that. It would never see the light of day. Our Fair City was dead on arrival.
This Saturday, August the 12th, 2017, Our Fair City will be launching its eighth and final season. Well over a hundred people have worked on it in some fashion--whether they were actors for a live show, sound designers, sound effects (babies and dogs count), board members, set designers, party designers, DJs, food creators, artists for comics, artists for episodes, or any number of other things that were not in my purview. We have had over a million downloads. We have won awards. (Though not yet for sound design…hint, hint.)
We have told a story.
I have written, in whole or in part, forty-three episodes of Our Fair City. This does include the non-canonical Herbert West v. The Martians and a riff on A Christmas Carol, but does not include a few scripts that were cut or otherwise went unused. Perhaps more importantly, I’m seven for seven on “seasons with a vomit gag” soon to be eight for eight. Trust me, it’s suuuper important. I wrote pieces for each of the comic anthologies and served as story editor for the last three, working with Dann Tincher and all the writers to make sure scripts were (relatively) on time, made canonical sense, and didn't use the wrong they're. Of the seven launch parties, I probably spent just over an hour attending them. Combined. Mostly so I could win “The Shards of Betsey” in a silent auction. My apologies for anyone who tried to talk to me while I wallflowered.
I am technically an actor on the show too, but that has never been as important to me as being acknowledged for the writing. I am a writer first and actor not at all. I have, in fact, mastered the art of writing. At least, that’s what DePaul University said when they gave me a piece of paper and a silly hat. (My parents were proud, almost like they planned it.)
These days, I mostly write radio plays and audio drama scripts. Three have been chosen by the Midnight Audio Theatre to be produced. One appeared at the Whiskey Radio Hour. I still haven't gotten into Deathscribe, but I keep trying. There are a lot just sitting on my desktop waiting to be made. (That's a hint radio people reading this. Take it.)
I also write novels. One has been published. If you're reading this you've probably heard of it. It's a silly story about a vampire. It is also on audible so you can listen to it on your phone or iPod while you're stuck in traffic. I'm working on another that I started during grad school. It's not silly, but does have monsters. I really should be writing that instead of this.
I have not yet started to miss Our Fair City: the crazy world of HartLife with its molepeople, mad science, and corporate jargon. It hasn’t yet sunk in. Maybe I’m distracted by looking forward to everyone’s reactions. Maybe it’s because I’m too busy with and nervous about working with the team on the post Our Fair City show. The "Next Big Thing" people call it. I hate that name. It seems presumptuous. I'm afraid it will jinx us. I prefer To Be Determined. We've brainstormed. We've reached out to writers. We've pieced together part of an overarching story. We've even set up a small time table for when we'll start working on season one. It is not nearly soon enough for me.
I don't really know how to end this. I mean, I could get all sentimental "without Our Fair City, I wouldn't be the person I am today." True, but ugh! Barf! Not my style at all. I suppose the only thing to do is to press save, send this off, and get back to work writing.