Jarnsaxa takes Agent Bachman and Dr. Aspinall to her homeland, at the time when she knew only love and pride. But the burgeoning war between Asgard and Jotunheim threatens chaos. A bargain is struck, but treachery makes ancient grudges erupt.
Dr. Aspinall: John T. Zeiler
Agent Bachman: Katherine Kupiecki
Jarnsaxa: MaryLynn Mennicke
Loki: Ethan Bjelland
Vala: Delta Giordano
Balder: Shannon Troy Jones
Thor: Derek Meyer
Featuring The Jotunheim Chorus
Written by Lindsay Harris Friel
Directed by Carin Bratlie Wethern
Sound design, engineering and music by Vincent Friel
Dramaturgy by Kit Gordon
This episode of Jarnsaxa Rising was sponsored by Sam Landman.
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As Robin Williams once said about Jim Henson, “you can’t come up with this stuff on just plain air.” He meant something else in particular. My point is that no writer ever creates their work in a complete vacuum. When we set out to create Jarnsaxa Rising, not only did I do a lot of research, but a lot of inspirations appeared that fueled this story. Some of these, such as witch bottles, Viking party beverages, language and dialect, and aural inspirations, I’ll go into greater detail about later. For now, here are the story’s major sources.
When Carin gave me the first prompt that would become Jarnsaxa Rising, and I started writing notes, an outline and the first draft, the influence of Doctor Who hung over me. Both Carin and I are fans of Doctor Who, and this story’s blending of ancient wisdom with contemporary and future sensibilities inspired me. Unfortunately, it made me lazy as a writer. Audiences have decades of assumptions about The Doctor, so when he comes into a conflict, the writers have less work to do. As a nearly-thousand-year-old Time Lord who can regenerate, his stakes weren’t appropriate to our story. It did, however, provide the sense that the team must save each other, (as the Doctor tries to do for his companions) and unearth the deeper conflict which threatens a whole world.
Reading The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda helped me with the stakes and conflicts of Old Norse mythology. Jarnsaxa isn’t mentioned much. I suppose that the Christianization of Europe made Sif a more popular female character. She’s mentioned in Godchecker, The Mythology Wiki, and captured imagination on Deviant Art and in An Archive Of Our Own.
On Coursera, a course about Old Norse culture, Sagas and Space, proved to be the most helpful. This University of Zurich course teaches how the Vikings thought about their land, their spiritual and social space, and how these elements tie together to create a cultural mind set. The course includes lectures by various experts from Europe and North America, and each gave me another point of entry to find new information.
In particular. Dr. Terry Gunnell’s work was the most inspiring. His area of expertise includes Old Norse folk beliefs, ritual, legends, and Scandinavian theatre, both medieval and modern. Toward the end of his video lecture in the Sagas and Space course, he describes the experience of being in a Viking hall, surrounded by smoke, rich odors, and masked revellers, hearing a story told in a heightened way, and how the listener is elevated to transcend reality. His articles helped me find the notion of the draugr, and the power of disguise traditions. Gunnell’s work is intoxicating and exciting.
Jarnsaxa Rising’s revenge tragedy structure came from my Dramatic Lit seminar class at Temple, and reading and re-reading The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. A really enjoyable part of immersing myself in revenge tragedy was the movie Revengers Tragedy, directed by Alex Cox, and starring Christopher Eccleston, Derek Jacobi, and Eddie Izzard. It’s a classic revenge tragedy, set in a sexy contemporary world, and I highly recommend it.
And so we come full circle; I started with Doctor Who on my mind, and ended with Christopher Eccleston in a Thomas Middleton drama.
But, of course, I had to push all these sources to the background, and just tell a good story. Hopefully, what you’ll get out of this is an exciting, deep, relevant tale. Which you should get to start listening to, in eight days.
You haven’t heard from us for a long time. We’re sincerely sorry for the silence. However, it is for a Really Good Reason. We’re deep in the editing phase, and it is slow going.
During our weekend in Minneapolis, we recorded a little bit over ten hours of data in two days. Now, Lindsay is sorting through the files in Garage Band, editing out the mistakes and hiccups. Once an episode’s file is clean, she passes it on to Vince.
Vince is using Logic to mix the episodes, adding the sound effects and making magic. This also is slow going.
“How slow is it?” I’ve been using The Pomodoro Technique to stay on task and productive, because otherwise my spine whines, my eyeballs complain, and I start gnashing my teeth and screaming at myself when I make mistakes. Episode 10, alone, took 20 Pomodoros. I’ll let you do the math.
One of the things we’ve learned is that there are very good reasons to record actors separately, in their own sound booths. It makes things much easier to edit and mix afterwards. However, if it comes down to a choice between carefully picking apart a sound wave to separate where one performer talked over another, or having the actors separated in performance, I’ll gladly pick the former. Good actors can always imagine environment, stakes, other characters. It’s why Bob Hoskins was engaging in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, or why Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug is more than just an animated lizard. But, in our case we had a choice, and that choice was to have the performers able to look each other in the eye.
Almost all of the dialogue editing is complete. This isn’t really important right now. What is important is…
I promised that letters would go out late in the summer. They will. I’m going to send out a backer survey very soon to those who picked the letter option, and soon you’ll receive your one-of-a-kind tangible personal art object from the Jarnsaxa Rising character of your choice.
In the meantime, stay tuned, there’s more to come.
Vince and I are now back in Philadelphia. We have to get the house back in order and deprogram our pets, who seem to have been convinced we would never return. Soon I’ll post some more about the recording process and what we learned. Suffice it to say, the experience was amazing. The people who worked on this are the most positive, productive people I’ve ever met. But right now, I need to shut my eyes and meditate on this for a bit. We have our editing work cut out for us.
Jarnsaxa Rising’s Indiegogo campaign is complete. As I write this, we are in Minneapolis*. Tonight, we have our first table reading with the cast and director. As I’m writing this, Vince is taking a well-earned nap, for putting up with an over-excited playwright. I’m watching raindrops on maple leaves outside the window, and getting all my notes and administrative stuff in order.
Thank you to everyone who contributed, who passed along links to the campaign, who clicked “like” and “share” buttons, and who patted me on the back when I said, “crowdfunding is scary.” Thank you to everyone who made me explain my ideas so I could focus and clarify them, including my thirteen year old friend Archer, who, at one point, said, “Is this a comedy?”
Speaking of since fiction and comedy, we also have to thank the creative team behind The Hadron Gospel Hour. I started listening to their podcast a few months ago, and enjoyed it enough that Jarnsaxa has been taunting their characters on Twitter. They were kind enough to promote our Indiegogo campaign, and I didn’t even had to ask them. Like our characters, The Hadron Gospel Hour’s Dr. Oppenheimer and Mike travel through space and time trying to make things right. However, they’re less vengeful, and funnier.
There is no playbook for, “let’s travel halfway across the country to record a science fiction revenge tragedy audio drama serial,” and the risk has been nerve wracking at times. Having people say, “Of course this is a good idea,” gives us strength and courage.
Thank you again for helping us take risks and bring an unusual story to life.
*If you’re saying to yourself, “Self, doesn’t that mean that their house is unguarded?” then you can guess again. If you’re casing out our house, you have probably already met our police-trained and extremely dangerous house-sitter. He waters plants, cuddles cats, and strikes without warning. Good luck with that.