November 9, 2016:Erie Canal Theatre has been producing audio shows for a year and is becoming a prominent name in the world of podcasts. The Detroit-based theatre ensemble launched in Fall, 2015 and is now preparing to unveil a new season of shows after taking a late-Summer break.
Erie Canal Theatre has recently completed their first podcast series, a science fiction show called Switchboard Infinity. Also known as an “audio cartoon,” the show spans eighteen episodes and has become an underground hit.
“It’s been a thrill to participate in the revival of audio theatre. The medium is often seen as a nostalgic throwback to early radio, but we work hard to approach it with a contemporary sensibility. Switchboard Infinity uses sound design and editing in a way that was impossible during the days of early radio plays,” executive producer Joe Krause remarked about the Erie Canal Theatre’s work.
“Switchboard Infinity” follows everyman Malcolm as he leaves Earth for his new job on Jupiter’s moon Callisto. He soon discovers that employer WizBit is using new technology to exploit their employees, leading to Malcolm’s mad race back to Earth to expose the plot.
“Switchboard” spans eighteen twenty-minute episodes. The show is completely free to stream or download off of iTunes, Google Play, and the official Erie Canal Theatre website.
Erie Canal Theatre got its start as a guest on WFMU, the iconic free-form radio station across the Hudson from Manhattan in Jersey City, New Jersey. The show premiered in 2015 on WFMU’s “Dance Wit Me, Stanley” program.
Despite its East-Coast premiere, the show is recorded in Detroit, Michigan and features the best of the city’s tight-knit improv scene. “We write the outline of the story, or ‘beats’, ahead of the recording day,” explained head writer Mike McGettigan, “and this provides a framework around which the actors can improvise.”
Modern editing techniques allow actors to explore their characters at length while preserving a fast-paced, snappy final product. “Each episode requires over 100 hours of editing and sound design to create the effect we seek,” said technical director Clark Eagling.
The strong sound design of the series is especially important as it takes listeners into a whole other world. Head sound designer Jeff Jimison creates most of the show’s sound effects from scratch in a process borrowed from the film industry known as foley. “We have a robot with suction-cup feet in the first episode, so I found myself yanking on my basement floor with a plunger. It created the perfect sound for the show but pulled up a number of floor tiles in the process.”
Now that Switchboard Infinity has concluded, Erie Canal Theatre is in production on several new shows for the coming year of podcasts, including a retro-80s comedy-drama, a vampire fantasy, and a musical.
Their most recent release was a new interpretation of the classic horror radio play “The Thing on the Fourble Board”.
Erie Canal Theatre also performs live improv sets and holds listening events in the Detroit area, and is working to develop the live show into a multimedia presentation more akin to the immersive nature of the podcast by next year.
Although the podcast is free and the live shows are either free or inexpensive, Erie Canal Theatre is counting on donations through their website or via their Patreon page to keep the production solvent. “Our Patreon supporters provide enough money to buy meals for everyone
working on the show, but we’re still operating at a deficit. I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to cover expenses by next year as people discover our work through the generosity of our fans,” Krause said.