When Ebony Vines was a little girl, she and her sister used to “Mystery Science Theater 3000” old black and white musicals, applying their own hilarious commentary to scenes from Rebecca or Sunset Boulevard that they found particularly uproarious. Despite her early days spent mocking plays, Ebony has been seriously hooked on theater since childhood. In fact, she’s stopped counting how many shows she’s seen. In her words, “once I got past 50 or 60, I was like I can’t, it was just too much to keep track of.” This summer, she launched her very own theater podcast with her friend, and fellow host Pamela. Theater Geeks Anonymous is a weekly podcast that discusses the theater industry’s biggest flops and scandals, and shares the stories behind major show disasters.
We met with Ebony recently to learn more about what it’s like to start a podcast, how to properly research a theater scandal and her other podcast obsessions.
360i: So, how exactly did Theater Geeks Anonymous get started? It seems like a very specific concept for a podcast.
Ebony Vines: “My friend Pamela and I were traveling to Dumbo one day, talking about shows we’d seen recently. Rebecca came up in conversation and I was totally shocked to learn from Pamela that Rebecca was at one point going to be a musical on Broadway. My sister and I loved watching the old black and white movie as kids, we mostly made fun of it, but I had no idea that it was ever supposed to make it to the stage. Pamela started rattling off all these terrible things that caused its production to stall. Later that day during lunch, she mentioned that she had always wanted to start a podcast but didn’t know what it would be about. Then it occurred to me, what if we talked about what we were just talking about, and do a podcast about theater shows that flopped and the scandals behind them. And that was pretty much it. It all started with Rebecca.”
360i: Have you always been into theater?
EV: “Yeah, my whole life. My late mother would ask me to turn to the TV Guide Channel and call out things that sounded good while she graded papers. More often than not we would end up on Turner Classic Movies. My mom loved the musicals and they were always my favorites too. One day I came across West Side Story and asked her what it was. I was 12 years old, and she was like, ‘Oh, that’s a good one, turn to that! Turn to that!’… Theater has always been very healing for me, it helps me get through everything. It’s like theater and God. If I have those two things, I’m good.”
360i: It’s a pretty expensive hobby, though right?
EV: “I will do whatever it takes to find the cheapest ticket. I saw Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime for $27. I don’t mess around. I just saw Dear Evan Hansen for $42, but I did have to get in line at 4am.”
360i: You launched the TGA podcast earlier last month, what challenges have come up during the process?
EV: “It’s like a learning curve. Podcasts are accessible and the internet helps you do whatever you want. You can see what flies and what doesn’t. Our first two episodes we did exclusively for our focus group. They would listen, give us notes, suggest changes, or point out audio problems we didn’t catch, things like that. The feedback was very helpful. I’d say one of the largest challenges has been getting clean audio. That and finding the right stories. The list of shows we want to do would take us through at least six or seven seasons of the podcast, but we’re really trying to decide which ones people want to hear about and make every episode as engaging and clean as we can. Right now we’re struggling with a distortion issue and I’m determined to figure it out.”
360i: Were there any other theater podcasts you looked to for guidance?
EV: “There are a lot of theater podcasts, but there isn’t one that’s doing what we’re doing, which was in large part why we decided to go with it. No one is focusing on shows that didn’t make it, but so often that’s the more interesting story. Like Rebecca for instance, the producer was essentially caught up in this Ponzi scheme because he brought on this investor who lied about having the money, but kept making up excuses, like he had someone interested, but needed money to take him on an African Safari. Then this mysterious investor got Malaria, then died of Malaria and so all the funds were caught up in his estate. It was all a lie that basically bankrupt the production. It’s a crazy story. We delve into where the breakdown was and what the litigation is behind it…. We called the podcast Theater Geeks Anonymous because it’s meant for people like me and Pamela who are theater geeks, but have no interest in ‘recovering’ from their theater obsession. Our tagline is, ‘Who sues, who fails, we tell their stories’… like the song from Hamilton.”
360i: What’s the production process like?
EV: “Every episode takes about 45 minutes to an hour to record. But with the recent audio issues it’s about two hours. We do a lot of research beforehand. We own historical theater books, and reference those a lot. That and just research we’ve done on the internet. We make notes for ourselves, but we riff off of each other during the recordings and improv. It’s pretty nice to have that work-life balance. If I wasn’t able to have that time after work, then I would be able to figure out the podcast’s audio problems or work on launching my own small writing business.”
360i: Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend?
You can listen to Theater Geeks Anonymous on iTunes every week.
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