Original release date December 3, 2016
At Earbud Theater we have no rules when it comes to content. And the best thing about having no rules is having no rules. That kind of freedom is rare in the creative community and we’ve seen it reap rewards up the wazoo here in the Earbud Lair. Case in point Nicholas Thurkettle’s episode “Monday for the Sweepers.” From the moment we read the first draft of the script we knew this was a special one and so we had to invite him (knock him out with chloroform) to the Earbud Lair and ask him some specific questions about this episode. If you haven’t heard it yet, make sure you do that now and then come back and check out the interview. (SPOILERS THROUGHOUT)
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How in the world did this idea come to you?
It started with the idea of a black box. That struck me as having a great deal of dramatic potential, especially in an audio medium – but it shows you how my mind works that nothing the black box recorded ever ends up being part of the story. It ended up playing into this idea of all these phases of life being present in this compact experience – this little reminder of death hovering around in there.
Once I got to the thought of a black box on a time ship, I started to think about the gap between this miracle of time travel and the people whose job it would be to go retrieve the box. And that struck me as very funny and provocative; because the thing no doubt has a highly-technical beacon that you locate with a highly-technical doodad, but you don’t need to understand any of that to wield the doodad. And so, people being what they are, that would probably turn into a very low-wage job; and so I started to imagine the attitude you’d need to clock into a job like that, then clock out, forget the exposure you had to all these incredible, perspective shattering experiences, and go have a beer. People constantly talk about Elon Musk and how he’s going to take us to Mars, but he’s got people working for him who go to work all day and just punch buttons; and that’s what they’re doing to take us to Mars. You’re talking to a guy who has forever wanted to see a Star Trek episode set in some Klingon office bureaucracy where honor duels break out over the guy who always brings napkins to the potluck. Because you can’t have a fleshed-out civilization without the unglamorous folks. That’s why my short story collection has a tale about the space adventures of an insurance adjuster.
So the story became about Raff and Knaack and the mental attitude required to wake up and come back to this crap job every day; and setting these mundane work conversations against this fantastical idea.
Clearly Monday for the Sweepers is layered and complex, it’s a puzzle-box. When writing what comes first for you, story or structure? Or is it not that simple and reductive?
The shape of it is kind of one leg of the stool. Once I have the idea, the feeling, and the shape, that’s usually when I start actually drafting, and they can come in any order depending on the project; although in some cases I’ll gamble on a premise and a feeling and just see what I discover along the way. Some things will rest more on structure; if you look at Boney McGee, despite this sort of disgusting material that incites the plot about serial killers and a re-animated corpse, the structure of it is classic family sitcom – right down to the act breaks, the “A” and “B” story, and the big family hug at the end. Because again, the distance between those two ideas had a tension that counts as funny in my weird brain.
With Sweepers, there’s a lot of mystery to tease out, so there was this sort of delicate process of deciding when you come clean about what they’re doing, and when you confirm for the audience things they may be suspecting already about Travis, about how these time jumps are working, and all that. I never assume that I’m surprising 100% of people at the moment of a reveal because audiences, particularly genre audiences, are incredibly clever and well-versed in story. So you can’t rely on a reveal to do the work for you; you need to prioritize making it functional over just the most severe swerve imaginable. I had to timeline the story from Travis’s perspective as well as Raff and Knaack’s perspective, so each one is emotionally responding from a place that’s true to their experience at the moment of each encounter. I find arguments where both sides are essentially right to be far more dramatically compelling, and when Travis unloads about the impact they’ve had on his life, everything he’s saying is true, from his point of view, even though Raff and Knaack haven’t done it yet, from their point of view. Once I started seeing potential like that in the story, I knew I had something I was excited about.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now and/or what’s next for you?
This is always a complex question to answer – I feel like I need to walk around with a little laminated card to hand people when they ask, ha! I’m performing on-stage at a wonderful company in Anaheim called The Chance Theater, in the musical version of Little Women – an outstanding family show for the holidays. I’m playing Professor Bhaer, which means singing in a light German accent. I also just finished a couple of days’ work as a dubbing artist, helping make English language versions of foreign films. These were two Russian features – one a serious drama about a real-life earthquake, the other this crazy-as-hell vampire movie. I dubbed multiple characters in each as well as providing fight vocals for action scenes – as someone who watched more than a few dubbed kung fu movies growing up, it’s a tiny bucket list item. I have a short film I’ve been taking to festivals – it stars Barney Crow from Sweepers – and only after it was done did I realize that it’s another story where he’s wandering in the woods looking for something! He must just project that quality. I’m also working on a new book that I have about 60% of a first draft of – I published my short story collection last year and have co-authored two sci-fi thrillers, but this would be my first solo authored, standalone book. It’s a very funny piece; at least to me, which means there’s a lot of death involved.
But the big thing on my radar right now is next year’s Earbud Live shows. Just this week we held auditions – first time we’ve done auditions for one of our live events; in the past we just patched it together from people we knew who were crazy enough to do it. But the team for these shows has expanded significantly, and we’re in our grandest venue yet, the Long Beach Playhouse, so we’re really taking the opportunity to make the live show a more well-rounded experience. Up until now we’ve just sort of brought everyone out and said “Well, here are two stories, enjoy!” This time around I had to spend a lot of time figuring out what the world of Earbud is that could contain all these bizarre events, and try to create a context to flesh things out for the audience. It’s a bit inspired by Mystery Science Theater 3000, where you have these little segments wrapped around the main content that tell their own story. I also can’t not mention Welcome to Night Vale, since they’re just obscenely brilliant at what they do, and I’ve seen the way they’ve translated their experience into a live stage show and it’s absolutely superb and inspiring. What we do will be different, since their show organically springs from what they are and we’ve got to do the same for ourselves, but I really like what we’ve developed, not to mention the new script we’ll be debuting there, The Mektalos Caper. All through auditions I got to hear different peoples’ takes on various robot voices doing some very non-robot things. I couldn’t stop laughing; and if we can deliver that experience to people, I’ll be a very happy human.
written and directed by Nicholas Thurkettle
Original Release Date: December 3, 2016
Raff and Knaack have a job. They clock in, gripe about their bosses, work their shift, then knock off for a beer. Pretty lucky for them in an economy of haves and have-nots. Their job takes them all sorts of places – today it’s got them wandering around in the woods, looking for something. But thanks to some equipment the bosses haven’t kept functioning properly, what they’re going to find is far more profound and strange than you expect when you’re paid by the hour. Listen in as Barney Crow, Lise Hart, Marisa Costa, and the one and onlyMacLeod Andrews discover that the arc of a life can be all in a day’s work, in Nicholas Thurkettle’s Monday for the Sweepers.
Sound Effects Editing and Mixing by Craig Good
Music by Chris Zabriskie (Used under a Creative Commons License)
Artwork by Ashley F. Miller, PhD
Some sound effects used via Creative Commons License from the following creators: