Ten Questions

  1. What is it?
    The Makers and Shakers Society is a radio drama series in six episodes meant be distributed as a free podcast. Even though it speculates about imaginary futures, we still call this work ‘documentary fiction’ because it is based on many years of research about present circumstances and near future possibilities. Much like Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi novels, everything in this radio drama has happened somewhere or likely will happen soon. It is the antithesis of ‘fantasy,’ although we would be remiss if we didn’t confess to a redemptive impulse. If this narrative were a novel, it would be what literary critics call a “bildungsroman,” a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonists from youth to adulthood in which character change is important.
  2. What is the central narrative question?
    What happens to four young friends who meet in grade twelve and live through the climate apocalypse of the twenty-first century? It’s 2075. We meet seventy-four year old Oliver (nicknamed The Professor) who is dying of cancer. After conjuring up his dead ancestors, he tells those of us living in our present (2022) the life stories of Grace, Seth, Leah and himself starting in the summer of 2018. We follow them through several decades as the climate crisis becomes increasingly severe. Each of the characters makes decisions based on their individual backgrounds and personalities. In their forties — while the world is collapsing around them — Seth, Grace and Oliver set up an alternative settler-Indigenous community on the east shore of Lake Superior and learn to live off the land. What happens there will be revealed in season two. Some of the themes explored include climate change, racism, settler-indigenous reconciliation, political activism, mental illness, and authoritarianism.
  3. Who are the characters and why should we care for them?
    All four characters live in Kingston, Ontario, but the similarities stop there. Three are members of the BIPOC community and experience racism, subtle and otherwise. None are prepared for societal collapse they will endure as the century unfolds.
    Oliver Adams, a white loner whose working class parents struggle to belong to the intellectual elite. Oliver is the narrator of The Makers and Shakers Society. A curious observer of others, Oliver has a gift for storytelling, language and song, but suffers from chronic anxiety and low self-esteem.
    Grace Dhaliwal: South Asian from Kingston’s suburbs. Small and fierce. Combines wise intelligence with quiet compassion. Becomes an important leader in her adult years.
    Seth Peterson: the only son of a black activist mother and classical violinist father, he is charismatic and driven. Born and raised to be a leader.
    Leah Zhang: A mature and independent young women born to Chinese immigrants. Leah takes a path different from the others, but her actions turn the narrative at key points.
  4. Why is this project important?
    Bengali writer Amitav Ghosh, in The Great Derangement, makes the astonishing observation that climate change, despite being the great existential crisis of our time, is conspicuously absent from most contemporary fictional works, including movies, television, novels and so forth. There is a small literary sub-genre called cli-fi (climate fiction) but otherwise climate change only shows up as a theme in occasional documentaries. The larger field of apocalyptic and post- apocalyptic fiction, such as the Mad Max movie franchise, nearly always avoids addressing climate change directly, instead blaming the fall of civilization on wars, pandemics, aliens, or zombies. The Makers and Shakers Society attempts to address this omission by imaginatively asking the question, how might the next generation of Canadians plausibly deal with the climate catastrophe in the next five decades?
    Unprecedented times call for unprecedented cultural practices. Popular cinema and streaming television are consumer spectacles. Literature and gallery art, on the other hand, circulate almost entirely within privileged settings. In this context, radio drama occupies a liminal space. Unable to provide the visual pleasures of cinema and art or the private contemplations of text, radio drama resembles something closer to the immediacy and intimacy of traditional oral culture.
    What is being proposed here is a marriage of oral storytelling, live theatre, certain aspects of long-form television and contemporary audio art. Radio drama originated in the early twentieth century, disappeared for decades, but is now in the process of being re-imagined in the present century using new tools and distribution techniques. We intend to enter into that process of re-imagining. Our antecedents include everything from This American Life, through the sound recording practices of Chris Watson and others, to the audio experiments of artists like Sarah Boothroyd and the Constellations podcast series.
  5. How will you deal with culturally sensitive issues, including diversity and inclusion?
    Clarke is an old, cis-male, white settler attempting, with humility, to take a hard and unsentimental look at what is in front of his nose. This necessarily includes BIPOC and queer characters. Tackling the thorny, complicated issue of climate change without confronting colonialism and settler-Indigenous reconciliation would be irresponsible. However, the potential for missteps, extractive storytelling and unintended appropriation is high. Clarke’s approach, as always, is to create a collaborative space with his young, Indigenous, black, Asian and queer friends and cast members and encourage their creative contributions during research, scripting, production and editing. In addition, he will work with Indigenous cultural advisors using the necessary protocols to avoid cultural appropriation. The narrator of the story in 2075 is an old, cis-male, white settler who has gone through a great deal of soul searching. That is the position he speaks from.
  6. What will it sound and feel like?
    What will the future sound like? What keynotes will disappear? How will language evolve? Naturalism is a key aesthetic for The Makers and Shakers Society. The subtle emotional possibilities
    of sound design – which include emphasis, exaggeration, metaphoric sound, distortion, worldizing, three-dimensional audio etc. will be explored to the fullest. Consequently, the series should be listened to using headphones for maximum immersion.
    While scripting and recording this radio drama, considerable attention will be paid to imagining how spoken English will likely evolve over the course of the next five or six decades. We are guided in this by the work of Sally Tagliamonte (Teen Talk) and other linguists, as well as by our own cast members and other cultural advisors.
  7. How will you make it?
    The Makers and Shakers Society will be rehearsed, recorded, and mixed over the fall and winter of 2021-22. Even though most adults (we hope) will be vaccinated by then, COVID protocols will still likely be in force. In a worse-case lock down scenario the entire series could be produced over Zoom. Examples of this abound over the last year. Let’s hope that doesn’t have to happen. In any event, all the cast and crew will be drawn from the local Kingston area. We are fortunate, for example, to have an excellent drama program at Queen’s University. We will likely be able to draw some of our younger performers from that pool, but we will make a wide call to the whole community, focusing especially BIPOC, queer and disabled performers.
  8. Who will make it?
    Radioland Media Collective is a small group of experienced theatre and media artists in Kingston who want to produce original work under pandemic and post-pandemic conditions. Kevin Bowers is a local musician and high school teacher at the Studio LC program. Lib Spry is an accomplished theatre artist with a background in creating devised community theatre projects. She has strong connections to the Indigenous theatre community. Matt Rogalsky is highly skilled audio artist, composer and sound engineer with years of experience. Clarke Mackey has been making films, interactive media and live performance for over 50 years. Clarke will be the lead artist for The Makers and Shakers Project. Partners we are hoping will be part of this project include CFRC Radio, The Dan School of Music and Drama, Queen’s Film and Media, the Kingston Film Office, Studio LC and KEYS.
  9. How much will it cost?
    We anticipate a budget of between $15,000 and $20,000 for season one — most of which will go to the actors and sound design.
  10. Who will listen to it?
    The primary audience for this podcast series is the Greta Thunberg generation. They are the people who will inherit the mess and have the most invested in it. This young audience is one of the reasons we’re suggesting the fictional podcast form. Older people can listen if they dare. The Professor is talking to you.