WASHINGTON – While most young professionals in the Washington, D.C., area are rushing for the train, hailing a taxi, powering down their computers and heading home to relax for the evening, one young millennial is setting up a video chat session for a conference meeting.
Once Peter Forbes, 26, logs into the online conference room, he hears the chatter of another young designer discussing this week’s story concept with the head writer and creative director for their project, an audio drama called “Iliad House.”
Three or four more 20-somethings join the conversation shortly after, and a 23-year old in a skinny tie and turtle-shell glasses offers some thoughts about character development in episode three.
Wait a minute. Audio drama?
That’s right. These millennials are taking their project old school – albeit with several millennial twists.
The “Iliad House” project is ambitious: a professionally written and produced audio drama series in the style of “Adventures in Odyssey” meets “Lost,” produced by young artists to inspire children in the next generation to dream big and to accomplish great things. Forbes is one of the show’s writers and will do occasional voices for the show.
“I’ve been involved in film and storytelling for a few years now, but ‘Iliad House’ is an audio drama, that’s new for me,” Forbes said. “There’s something magical about storytelling that relies upon the imagination of the listener to bring it to life. Stories that would be impossible to tell in film become a reality in audio drama.”
Each week for the past six-plus months, these young storytellers have gathered with one of their childhood heroes, Phil Lollar, co-creator of Focus on the Family’s Christian radio drama “Adventures in Odyssey,” to realize their dream of creating a positive audio drama for the next generation of young listeners, dreamers and storytellers.
On Aug. 1, they began public fundraising through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter for their first program, “Iliad House.” Their goal is to raise $100,000 in 30 days for a pilot mini-series and a full 12-episode season.
Many of the team were homeschooled and grew up fans of Lollar’s “Adventures in Odyssey.”
“I can still remember the first time I listened to an episode of ‘Adventures in Odyssey’ and experienced a story coming to life in my mind,” said Ian Reid, the 23-year-old in the skinny tie who is co-producing “Iliad House” and writing for the series. “A story can either build up a child’s moral imagination, or tear it down, so it is thrilling to share in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with a legend like Phil to tell captivating stories to inspire the next generation.”
“Iliad House” tells the story of 14-year-old Jesse Davidson, an orphan who lives with his eccentric uncle on an island on the East Coast of the United States.
Listen to an introduction to the show:
"Jesse discovers that the old train he and his friends use as a hangout can actually move through time. He and his friends get drawn into a series of adventures fraught with temporal distortions, political intrigue, hidden identities, and even supernatural battles," said Joel Grewe, one of the voice actors and business coordinators. "Of course, these problems complicate the normal challenges of being a teenager."
Lollar, video conferencing in from Los Angeles, presides over the group from a large flat-screen monitor. Depending on the meeting, the conference will include members from California, Florida and Virginia. After taking a few minutes to catch up on each other's weeks, they jump into talking about the layout of the island, how to handle time paradoxes and whether or not Jesse's uncle sports a cape.
"I'm delighted that some of the actors from 'Adventures in Odyssey' and the other programs I've worked on in the past will be joining us in our cast," Lollar said. "It's going to be a very fun ride."
Lollar has been in children’s entertainment for about three decades. In addition to "Adventures in Odyssey," he's had a hand in the radio drama "Jungle Jam and Friends!" and TV shows like "Little Dogs on the Prairie," "3-2-1 Penguins!," "The Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi Show," and "The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss." Lately he finished a project for Roma Downey, creator of the History Channel's "The Bible" miniseries, called "Little Angels."
Downey recently endorsed Phil's work with Iliad House.
"He tells exciting adventure stories, filled with wonder and awe, that are fun and funny and that present biblical values in a way that our older kids can enjoy," Downey said.
Campaigns on Kickstarter are all-or-nothing and will only charge donors (or "backers") if a project's funding goal is reached. Statistically, an average Kickstarter donation is $50, which means that the "Iliad House" team needs to find 2,000 donors to reach their goal.
"Getting 2,000 backers might seem pretty daunting," Reid said. "But we've had a great response rate so far, everyone we talk to seems genuinely excited about the project, and we are trusting that as the word gets out, more and more supporters will join us in this wonderful endeavor."
If fully funded, the "Iliad House" team also plans to open up research and writing internship opportunities for students to get experience on a working show.
"I want to pass on the tradition of audio drama," Lollar said. "I think it's the best storytelling format available. It actively engages the mind in a way that a film can't. I think it's a perfect way to develop a child’s imagination."
As the Wednesday meeting wraps up with research assignments, technical production materials, and the decision to have the train numbered "612," Peter, Phil and some of the team move to the recording studio to work on audio tracks for the pilot.
"Alright, let's take this from the top, and we are rolling!"