Today I’m with Sean Howard and Eli McIlveen and we’re in IQ Food Co. It’s deadly hot outside. Let’s do this!
Tell me about your podcasts.
Eli: Alba Salix, Royal Physician is our first show. It’s a comedy fantasy sort of along the lines of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. But ours is a hospital sitcom.
Sean: I like to say it’s like Shrek meets House. But with a witch.
Eli: We’ve done a couple of spin-offs from the original Alba Salix. One spin-off is called The Axe & Crown, set in a bar in the same world. And the newest show is a role-playing improv podcast called The End of Time and Other Bothers. Sean leads it as the game master and we have 3 players who play different characters, also set in the same world.
Can you tell me a bit more about the world of Alba Salix?
Eli: Alba Salix is the name of the main character. She’s a witch who works as her world’s equivalent of a general practitioner as well as tending to the royal family. She’s always running around treating her patients for random, weird ailments.
Sean: It’s a fantasy world, but Eli likes to use it for social commentary. So there’s a lot of—let’s say liberal—social commentary around gentrification or health care, but it’s all done in a comedy, fantasy, bizarre way.
Eli: Yeah, a lot of gentrification-themed stuff snuck in to The Axe & Crown because it’s set in a bar. It’s a bar on the crappy side of town and eventually, I thought, “well, what if it’s starting to change?” It was around the time when the housing market [in Toronto] was getting insane.
Sean: That’s when we sold our house.
Eli: And got the heck out!
You moved to Hamilton. But you still record here in Toronto.
Sean: Yeah, we still record in Toronto. And our cast mostly live in Toronto.
Eli, do you write the shows?
Eli: Sean has been writing some episodes now, but I wrote the first season of Alba Salix and most of the first 12 episodes of The Axe & Crown.
Sean: He builds the world, I destroy it.
Do you both act in the shows?
Eli: We have, but just some small parts.
Sean: Yeah. We wanted to work with actors that we know and love. We also record it in a studio, which, I think, is rare for an unfunded audio drama.
Yeah, the quality of the show is sharp. The sound design is great. It flows really well.
Sean: That’s all Eli.
Eli: That’s me, yup. We do co-direct. We have found this nice rhythm where we’re both listening for different aspects of the performance. And, yeah, I do the dialogue, editing, sound design and music.
How long have you been doing the show?
Eli: We launched the show in 2014 but it was many years in the making before that. I think our first read-through was in 2011. It took us a long time to get everyone assembled.
Sean: Yeah, we recorded the first episode in our living room. That’s insane. Having a cast of 8 people in the room while you’re recording and trying to get them to be quiet. But, we had a friend who had access to a studio and we thought, that seems saner. So, then we put it out in 2014 and we kind of forgot about it. Back in 2014, podcasts were not as popular.
Eli: Especially audio drama podcasts. Those have exploded in the last 2 or 3 years.
Sean: Yeah, so we finished Alba, put it out there, moved on with our lives. And then, one day, I walked past Eli’s computer and I saw this chart with a line that just skyrocketed. I was like “What is that?” and he said, “That’s Alba.” We hadn’t even touched it but people were starting to find it. So, that’s when we started going into production for season 2 of Alba and the new show, End of Time.
Why did you decide to do an improv-based show for The End of Time and Other Bothers?
Sean: I wanted to destroy Eli’s world [laughs]. We made the rather insane decision to set it inside the existing world where we had the other two shows. It was a rather hard challenge to see if we could launch a third show. And if we did, could we do it in improv fashion? Also, the live role-playing thing is exploding right now. One of the key moments I had was when I realized we could combine improv techniques with role-playing games. And it’s been more fun than I ever thought it would be.
Do you get any younger listeners?
Eli: I think so. The audience for audio drama has really changed. It used to be old-time radio enthusiasts. Like 50-year-olds with a bunch of cassette tapes of The Shadow and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar from the 50’s. But, since Welcome to Night Vale hit, it changed overnight. These days, it’s more likely to be a 20-something Night Vale fan.
Sean: Yeah, we see a lot of different age groups. Which is fun! It makes us feel less old.
What are some of your favourite podcasts?
Sean: Girl in Space. You’d like that one.
Eli: It’s a woman living on her own in a space station, doing science.
Sean: Eatin’ cheese.
Eli: And then her world gets turned upside down when people arrive and start messing things up.
Sean: Greater Boston. That one is amazing. It’s one of the shows that said to us that you can do something bigger with audio drama.
Eli: Yeah, it’s more like a novel with an ensemble cast. A lot of it is narrated like a novel. It’s got this great cast of very strange people.
Sean: For comedy, I’d say EOS 10. That’s a beautiful show.
Eli: It’s a medical show set on a space station. Very funny as well.
Sean: And I love Mission to Zyxx.
Eli: Yeah, science fiction improv.
You guys love science fiction!
Eli: Yeah, we’re pretty sizable nerds.
Alright! On that note, let’s move on to questions that have nothing to do with any of this.
What’s the most important part of the sandwich?
Sean: The butter.
Eli: The mayo.
If I say close your eyes and go to your happy place, where do you go?
Sean: As far from the city as possible. Camping on that lake that Inco steel mill killed. The dead lake.
Eli: Inco is not a steel mill.
Sean: Wait, then who killed my lake?
Eli: What are you talking about?
Sean: Remember the lake we went up to and everything’s dead?!
Eli: Oh, that was probably Inco. But they don’t make steel.
Sean: See! It was Inco! But they don’t make steel. Alright. The lake that Inco killed.
Eli: Mine is just a magical island where everyone is nice to each other.
Sounds like a happy place!
Okay. If you had an evil twin, how could I tell you apart? If you were both in front of me and I had to kill one, how would I know which one to kill?
Sean: I think mine would be tough. I think they’d both be devious.
Eli: And loud.
Sean: Yeah, they’d both be loud. But, I think only one of them would have empathy.
Eli: Yeah. You could see which one is mean to a dog or something.
Sean: The one that kicks a dog, shoot him.
If you could wade through a pool of something that is not water, what would you choose?
Sean: Sland! [Laughs] I just read your interview with Griffin and Steve.
“Sland” is really going to catch on!
Sean: It is. I really think it is. Umm, if I could wade through something… kittens.
Eli: Yeah, I’d go for that.
Sean: But, a whole pool of them? That would be really bad for the ones at the bottom.
Eli: It would have to be very shallow.
Sean: Okay, spectral kittens. That way they’re not harmed. Because if I just say I’d walk through a pool of real kittens, then you’d have to shoot me because I’m clearly the evil twin.
Eli, do you have a different answer or are you happy with spectral kittens?
Sean: For him, it would probably be tea. Maybe not scalding. Canadian tea. Not English tea. You know when you’re up north here and you order tea and it just comes lukewarm? Like a bag in some warm water. That’s Eli’s kind of tea.
Eli: I’m a heathen. I drink my coffee cold.
Sean: There you go. A pool of cold coffee.
If you had one question for me, what would it be?
Sean: When are you launching your podcast?
Sean: Okay. When are you launching your NOT podcast?
[Laughs]. One project at a time.
Well, I guess that’s it! Thank you so much for chatting with me! Anything you want to plug?
Eli: You can find all our shows at albasalix.com.
Sean: Yeah, check out the new show, The End of Time and Other Bothers. Oh! I would love to plug a different show that I just found. It’s a geeky improv-based live role-playing show. It’s called Spout Lore. It’s out of B.C. That’s just a show I’m really enjoying.