Stage productions are another item added to the list of events canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The UW-Eau Claire Theater program has had to make several changes to its operation over the past year.
But students like Emily Szymanski, a third-year drama student, and KC Bray, a fourth-year musical theater student, are finding ways around pandemic regulations.
Szymanski and Bray are both part of a new podcast produced by the UW-Eau Claire Theater department called “Get Lost: A Walking Podcast of Eau Claire”.
“Instead of doing a traditional stage show, we came up with the idea of a site-specific podcast,” Szymanski said.
Each episode takes the listener to a part of Eau Claire, said Syzmanski.
“The episodes consist of different segments that are not necessarily related to each other beyond physical proximity to where they are being told,” Szymanski said.
A map for each episode, showing where specific segments are meant to be listened to, can be found on the website.
There are currently four episodes released: Downtown, Carson Park, Ella the Elephant and Banbury Place, according to the website. The first episode, Downtown, begins at the confluence and slowly descends Barstow Street to end at the Ancient Emporium.
Bray said the theater department has tried different multimedia projects due to the pandemic. In the past, they’ve worked on film projects but wanted to try something different this semester.
“We wanted to help people get out and into the community,” Bray said. “We were hoping to have a fun and interactive experience.”
Part of the audience engagement included incorporating a variety of content into each episode, Bray said.
There is a wide variety of segments presented everywhere. A single episode can contain skits, interviews, documentary style, historical lessons and more, Syzmanski said. Each is separated by music videos from local students and artists.
Because the topics are so dynamic, Szymanski said the podcast doesn’t focus on a specific theme beyond Eau Claire.
“We made it our business to have a new genre in every episode,” Bray said.
Due to the nature of the podcast, it was sometimes difficult to make a cohesive story – but, it’s meant to be everywhere, she said. They like to see it as a testament to the diversity of Eau Claire.
“It also shows how different all minds working on this project were,” Szymanski said. “The contrast of the different segments shows the expansive creativity of the team.”
The project participants split into small groups, where they were tasked with writing and recording three episodes. There were no guidelines or limits, Szymanski said. They had complete freedom of creation.
Each member of the group was responsible for coming up with ideas and helping with the writing process. From there, they chose actors from the group to record the segments. Bray said he couldn’t wait to try the voiceover – he said it was a perfect opportunity.
Szymanski, more broadly, was eager to create and perform again alongside his friends.
“Over the past year, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do any of these things,” Szymanski said. “The podcast was a relief to me in that it gave me the chance to work and collaborate with others again.”
Szymanski’s favorite part of the creative process was the writing. She said it was fun and fascinating to watch all of the creative minds in her group come together and create these stories.
The three episodes Szymanski worked on all took on different styles, she said. One of them required a lot of research, while another was entirely fictional.
Bray also enjoyed the writing process, something he didn’t have much experience with. He said he was able to improve by experimenting and receiving encouragement, and sometimes criticism, from members of his group.
“It was a very different collaborative experience than I’m used to,” said Bray. “There was no argument over which idea was the best – we had to come together and find a way to incorporate everyone’s ideas. “
They established, Bray said, that there was no right or wrong – nothing to prove. Their goal was to make sure that every idea, every story, shone through the episodes.
As a result, Bray and Szymanski got to know aspects of Eau Claire that they didn’t previously have. For Bray, he said he didn’t realize how many historical aspects were right outside his door.
While working on the podcast, Bray realized how little he knew about Eau Claire, despite living there for four years.
“After being locked inside forever because of the pandemic,” Bray said, “it’s important to get out there and know where you live. We’ve done a lot of research on the history of Eau Claire, and everything lives in the little scenes we wrote.
– KC Bray
Even though listeners can’t wander around Eau Claire while listening to the podcast, it’s still worth listening to, Bray said. There is a lot to entertain, a lot to hear, a lot to learn.
Szymanski hopes the university – and the community too – will enjoy this refreshing taste of the arts program. She said the podcast proves that even in tough times, they can always find new, exciting ways to make art.
“We hope to provide new information and different perspectives that the community can reflect on, recognize and remember afterwards,” Szymanski said.
Bray and Szymanski would like to thank all of the creative minds who were involved in producing the podcast, from those who work behind the scenes on the production team to the musicians.
They especially thank their director, Arthur Grothe, for granting them this creative freedom.
The podcast “Get Lost: A Walking Podcast of Eau Claire” can be found on their website or listened to directly on Spotify.
Schutte can be contacted at [email protected].