Until the end of the month, listeners to the “Greater Boston” podcast can contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to help creators Alexander Danner and Jeff Van Dreason better compensate actors and pay for studio time for their penultimate season.
The pair have long since surpassed their original $15,000 goal and entered stretch territory by offering perks like stickers, posters, stress balls – a reference to a plot point of episode – and spoilers for future episodes. Even experiences are up for grabs, like the ability for a listener to play a cameo role in an episode. A fan claimed an option to purchase each perk offered for $1,000 from the start of the campaign.
“It’s the kind of thing you put out there like, ‘Nobody’s going to do that,’ and somebody did,” Van Dreason said. “It was an exciting moment where we were like, ‘Oh my God, people really care about this. “”
The show, which debuted in 2016, is a sprawling audio drama set in a world where the Red Line has seceded to form its own government – a joke by residents of Alewife Danner and Van Dreason about commute time and the the MBTA line’s notoriously slow feeling at times as if they were living on the train. While there is humor, the show’s storylines also deal with addiction and grief and explore social and historical issues such as gentrification, displacement, and the race-based real estate tactic of redlining.
“The intersection of public transit and social issues is huge, and one thing we’ve really focused on is how public transit is a right. By putting a city in a transit line, it helped us magnify those issues – the fact that Boston’s transit system isn’t great and real estate prices keep going up, people are being moved and kicked out of neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods that are historically Black, Latinx [and other] people of color,” Van Dreason said. “At the same time, you hear people in the neighborhoods saying things like ‘Oh, these restaurants are closing’ or ‘It’s not the same feeling anymore, there are all these chains.’ The culture of neighborhoods comes from the people who live there, and if you make it too expensive for people to live there, of course that will change.
Connection with listeners
The podcast has developed a following. It saw around 1 million downloads last year, its creators said. This helped at crowdfunding time, and by the end of the month the campaign attracted $16,385 from 292 backers.
Sean Howard, a veteran of the podcasting industry – his Fable & Folly fictional podcast network was founded in 2011 – said he was impressed with the show, its longevity and its growing audience. “‘Greater Boston’ just has an amazing fanbase that’s so strong,” Howard said.
“The show we create is so aware of community and people learning to be better for each other that they find it a very comforting show to listen to and can relate to our characters in a very emotional,” Danner said.
Bloomington, Indiana resident Bridget Geene, who once visited Boston, said she bought the $1,000 package because the podcast feels like home. “Around 2018, I started down a pretty dark path, and ‘Greater Boston’ helped me out. It just means a lot to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it,” Geene said “I was going to get their top tier no matter what, because I appreciate Jeff and Alexander.”
A DIY start
Danner and Van Dreason met while attending Emerson College’s MFA program and have a background in creative writing, largely solitary passions they turned into collaborations through their podcast. It was initially only an occasional project shared between friends.
“It’s been DIY all along, until very recently,” Danner said. They put blankets around a basement to deaden the sound while recording, and had to take a break when planes or large trucks passed by. “We literally sat in my living room at a computer and opened up GarageBand and were like, ‘Okay, let’s learn how to design sound!'”
Now the show is taped at Bridge Sound and Stage in North Cambridge and is taking more and more steps to professionalize for the past few seasons, including paying actors by the hour. “Season 4, we went into it like, okay, now we’re doing casting calls. For the first time, we have the budget where we can promise people an upfront payment,” Danner said. season, we did a little better.”
Bringing more diversity to the show also became a priority after casting their friends in the early days of the podcast sparked a moment of realization. “We had to ask ourselves this very difficult question: why don’t we have more friends who are people of color?” said Van Dreason. “We obviously wanted the show to be diverse, because it’s about Boston as a city. We kind of pushed ourselves to address some of these issues in season 2 and say, look, the show is about Red Line, social issues, it’s set in Boston – we have to take this head-on and get past our zone of comfort and address it.
It was easier to initially write characters without specifying their race or other aspects of their larger identity, but the creators found that creating a diverse show was done intentionally.
“Writing the characters knowing that ‘it’s going to be a black character, it’s going to be a trans character,’ that goes right into the casting,” Danner said. “It makes it clear to people that they are welcome.”
The plan is to end the show with five seasons, ending on a “strong, polished note” that sets them up for any projects that follow, Danner said. They also shelved plans for PodTales, a fictional audio drama and podcasting conference hosted in person in 2019 and online in 2020.
Season 4 will be released this fall; the first episode was released early as a teaser and as an incentive for the crowdfunding campaign and is available on the Greater Boston website.