Imagine a town based on the concept of hedonism: “A place to find your happy,” as PleasureTown’s fictional co-founder Cyrus might say. This is the foundation upon which PleasureTown, Oklahoma originated. This fictional utopia is the focus of the WBEZ podcast of the same name, created by live literature veterans Keith Ecker and Erin Kahoa. Kahoa took the time to sit down with the Addison Recorder to talk about the show and about why you should start listening now.
PleasureTown details the the history of a little-known, failed Oklahoma utopian society. Each episode is told by a different resident of the town and talks about what they came there looking for, and what they found waiting for them.
AR: How did PleasureTown (the show, not the town) get started?
EK: Keith Ecker and I got together based off of mutual admiration, which is kind of confusing for me — Keith is a stalwart in the live lit community. He’s been doing this forever and he had just started Guts & Glory when he asked me if I’d want to do a live lit one-off show. And I said, absolutely I would, you’re Keith Ecker.
AR: The first version of the show was a stage production. What was that like?
EK: We kind of pieced it together. We wanted it to be fiction because there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in live lit, but a lot of the shows were pure live lit [read: nonfiction, short form storytelling]. We wanted to kind of push the boundaries and see what could happen. And also we kind of had no expectations of the show: If it failed, great, if it was wonderful, great. We just wanted to do something and throw spaghetti against the wall. We got the best live lit has to offer — Shannon Cason, Ian Belknap, Dana Norris, Don Hall, Jen Bosworth, Scott Whitehair — and had them take their live lit experience and put it through the filter of a fictional town based on the concept of hedonism. We did character sketches and gave them to the storytellers and they brought back stories. It was fantastic. It was better than we thought it could have been.
AR: How did the one-off stage show become a podcast on a major NPR affiliate, and the original home of This American Life?
EK: Lightning struck. In November through January, Keith and I were meeting a lot and we thought we’d do two live shows. The idea of a podcast was a minor thought. We just wanted to get some people, some more character ideas, have a narrative arc, and dot the town with stories. It just so happened that one of the people who was at the live show helping with the audio worked with Joe DeCeault who works at WBEZ and I stumbled into a job at WBEZ. We were asked if we wanted to do a podcast and that’s just one of those things you don’t say no to. We didn’t change everything but we completely shifted our focus. Instead of just doing peppered stories, we put together a narrative arc for 12 episodes. We wanted to try to marry live lit with that arc, creating a standalone piece.
AR: The show is extremely collaborative in nature. Can you talk about how PleasureTown‘s structure is different in terms of crowd-sourcing material?
EK: That was one aspect of the concept before it [became a podcast]. Keith and I are big believers in [collaboration]. Live lit is awesome and there so many talented people in the city, but it’s not unique. We wanted to get really talented writers and allow them to take the story in ways Keith and I never could have imagined.
AR: Can listeners still submit?
EK: Season one has been a kind of relying on known talent, people we know. We were supposed to launch two months before we actually did, so we knew we needed to get this thing going. After that we hope to open it up to everybody. The only limitation is that Keith and I, sadly, only speak English. That is the one limitation to submitting to PleasureTown.
AR: What’s next after season one concludes?
EK: We will be doing in-between season stuff and posting it online in early to mid-2015 and doing a mini-arc and one-off stories and things like that. Things that are not necessarily connected to the arc that we’re doing, but the same characters and the same town and the same feel. There’s too much talent not to make use of it and find interesting ways to give a spotlight to someone who might not normally have it.
AR: Is your own background in fiction writing?
EK: My background is theater. Mainly fiction, but I’ve always had the desire and compulsive need to perform in front of an audience. Building a life in Chicago and doing theater were almost mutually exclusive. Theater demands a lot. I was still building my life back up after moving to Chicago and I started doing non-fiction.
AR: Where can people hear the first five episodes of PleasureTown before episode six airs tomorrow?
The next episode of PleasureTown, which will center around a mid-season cliffhanger, airs Wednesday, Sept. 17.