'The Best Artist You Can Be Right Now': Moving From Stage To Podcasting

Aug 25, 2020

Like most theater artists in 2020, the folks at Thinkery & Verse have had to rethink how they create and share content with their audience. “The best artist you can be right now is the artist that doesn’t demand that people be with you in the same room,” co-artistic director John Meyer says. “And that you fly your spit at them while you say some lines.”

With that in mind, Meyer and his wife/co-artistic director Karen Alvarado have temporarily moved from the stage to the digital world, creating the new podcast Decameron 2020: Stories For Survival. It’s based on The Decameron, the Plague-era collection of stories by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio. “I became interested in The Decameron from reading some of the stories and knowing that it had this big influence on a lot of the work that we did, like when we do Shakespeare plays, we knew that a lot of the source material came from… The Decameron.” Meyer says. “And I knew the framing device as well.”

The framing device of The Decameron feels particularly relevant in 2020 – a group of young people flee the city of Florence during the Black Plague and pass the time by telling each other stories. Decameron 2020 uses actors to recreate the stories and also includes discussion episodes that explore the stories’ relevance to today’s world and our current pandemic. “When we were putting the project together and getting the actors together, we knew it would be equally important to get good recordings of each one of the stories, but also to have an important discussion… about what the stories meant and how they reflect on our own lives and our own pandemic experiences,” Alvarado says. “And one thing that I found that was really interesting is that as much as the setting of Boccaccio’s Decameron is during plague time, so many of the stories aren’t about the plague. They’re not about death and dying, they’re about life and ways of living better.”

“My part in this was to sort of be the speaker, the Boccaccio-type figure who gives the introduction and sets out the context,” says actor Bob Jones. “It’s talking about plague and death and all of those things and it felt eerie reading it in my bedroom out loud. And how – you know, this is in the 1300s – and how people seemed to respond the same way, a lot of times, to what was going on. Some people sort of flaunted the rules and some people enclosed themselves in houses and didn’t talk to one another at all.”

Jones says it was an adjustment to go from stage acting to acting alone in his home into a microphone, but that the unique nature of the material and his role made the transition fairly smooth. “In a way, that kind of isolation allowed me to get into it, I think, even more. Because there was nothing else to focus on – it was just me and a blank wall in my room.”

Actor Diana Guizado has worked with Thinkery & Verse before and says she was happy to have an opportunity to participate in a new artistic endeavor with them. “Especially during this time, [when] I feel that I need art and I need to be creative and I need to be doing, so that I don’t lose myself in my thoughts and all the worries,” she says. 

Though she wasn’t familiar with The Decameron before starting the project, she’s been taken with how universal the stories felt. “All of the stories do speak to us,” she says. “It’s crazy to think that this happened… centuries ago and we can still relate to that.”

The overarching podcast project is ambitious; they’re planning to cover all 100 stories included in Boccaccio’s Decameron. “The conceit is ten stories a day for a total of ten days,” Alvarado says. “Right now we’ve only done day one, and we’re actively looking for grants to fund additional days.”

“Part of the cool thing is doing all of it,” Meyer says with a laugh. “If you can figure it out. That’s the trick.”

'Decameron 2020: Stories For Survival' is available wherever you normally find your podcasts.