This month, I’m featuring stories about dreams: the tale of a woman who dreams of a bigger apartment, the consequences of a jail system that puts dreams on hold, and a mother-daughter team helping each other to fulfill lifelong ambitions.
A young woman lives in a New York City apartment so cramped there’s no room for a couch. She doesn’t even need to get out of bed to open the door. So, why wouldn’t she participate in a bizarre science experiment to “biggerize” her digs? After all, as the story’s protagonist exclaims, “there’s nothing on the lease about ‘biggerization!’”
This is the situation in “Quadraturin,” a captivating piece of audio fiction from producer Jon Earle and actress Emma Wiseman, based on a short story by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. The piece won Best New Artist at the 2016 Sarah Awards.
Earle and Wiseman use scenes and natural sounds to great effect, turning the sonic apartment into an imaginary stage on which the story unfolds. In the booming audio fiction genre, it’s especially nice to hear a story that relies on smart staging and careful dialogue instead of the ‘found recording’ crutch, often used in other pieces, to drive narrative. To understand this crutch in the visual world, imagine a sudden plethora of TV shows with plots hinging on faux-archival videos.
The Los Angeles jail system is the largest in the country, with 17,000 people incarcerated at any given given time. The consequences are explored in “Off The Block,” a six-part series from KCRW. Bail, mental health, and jailhouse weddings are some of the topics covered in the series, which explains that even a short stint in the system can have numerous lasting impacts.
The episodes are short—most well under 10 minutes—and not an exhaustive investigation into the issues presented. But the series does a good job finding characters whose experiences and perspectives provide an access point for listeners who aren’t directly impacted by the jail system themselves.
When I listened to this piece I felt like I’d emerged from diving underwater, when the world looks slightly different than it did before the plunge. It’s the mark of a good story, one that shifts your life experience by just a few degrees so everything feels a bit shinier and more surreal.
There are two main stories nestled into one here. First, producer Jessica Ripka tells the story of her mother, Penelope DeWitt, whose creative dreams fell dormant for decades due to fear and insecurity. A car crash renews her interest in pursuing those dreams. Ripka then uses her mother’s story to reflect her own life, how she quit her desk job to pursue a dream career in radio storytelling. This piece represents an important first step towards that dream.
It’s a joy to follow the mother and daughter pair along on their overlapping journey to fulfill lifelong ambitions. Ripka’s piece is funny, surprising, and, perhaps unsurprising given the relationship between producer and subject, very tenderly told.
This piece was produced at the Fall 2016 Transom Story Workshop.
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Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org