INTERVIEW: THE WHITE VAULT
The popular radio dramas of days past have seen a resurgence in popularity in modern day podcast form. One such podcast is the sci-fi horror-drama THE WHITE VAULT. FEAR FOREVER spoke with this eerie and unsettling shows creator Kaitlin Statz prior to their live show in New York City on March 13th (you can find ticket info here!)
FEAR FOREVER (FF):Introduce yourselves and tell us a little about THE WHITE VAULT?
KAITLIN STATZ (KS): I’m Kaitlin Statz, and I’m the creator and writer of THE WHITE VAULT and other audio drama podcasts. I work with Travis Vengroff, my co-creator and producer extraordinaire. We are the key creators behind FOOL AND SCHOLAR PRODUCTIONS, where we strive to create audio drama podcasts as “Movies for your Headphones”.
FF: Kaitlin, where did the concept for THE WHITE VAULT come from?
KS: THE WHITE VAULT formed as the result of several influencing factors. I was constantly consuming horror media, as I do even now, and wrote short horror stories for a sci-fi anthology at that time. Also, I met some particularly interesting people, who were both positive influences on my writing and excellent character inspiration. But the final push was a trip to Iceland. While driving through the snowfields and ice-crowned mountains I realized how wonderfully dangerous something so beautiful could be. I wanted to try my hand at the false sense of security society feels; something waiting to be easily torn away by the terror of Mother Nature, or by something we cannot fathom. I came home from that trip ready to write.
FF: THE WHITE VAULT would fall into the “found footage” sub-genre of horror which is to my knowledge, quite a niche sub-genre in the podcast/audio show medium. What made you decide to write and create the show in that format?
KS: I cannot take credit for being the first found-footage audio drama, as there are certainly others out there. I chose to cast the story through found-footage to help build a sense of realism, and as a lens for the story.
We pull together the bits of hope, confusion, and despair that permeates THE WHITE VAULT through the skills of our actors but, to help with this, the found-footage format creates background conversations, candid emotional outbursts, and mistakenly divulged information characters would otherwise deem too personal in a conversational setting.
Interestingly, it also works in reverse. Writing horror for THE WHITE VAULT leans on the pacing of information release. Found-footage allows for information to be discovered only as the characters encounter it, letting listeners follow the unfurling mystery along with bewildered and frightened characters.
FF: Who did you base your characters on?
KS: So many people. When I was underway with my Graduate studies, I was in classes and labs filled with interesting, dedicated people from across the globe. These were intelligent students with an eagerness for knowledge and to progress their lives, ready to clear a path fitting their life view. I based many of the characters on how I envisioned my fellow graduate students in their futures; from the devastating divorces to the happy families, from excelling in their life-long dream to choosing a path otherwise unheard of. It was these people who helped craft my character choices for THE WHITE VAULT.
FF:What inspired you to set this in Arctic Circle?
KS: The awe of it. I’ve been to the Arctic Circle, though never to Svalbard itself, and while many people live there, it is a wonderland of white wastes, glowing lights, chilling cold, and the wild power of nature. This is to say it is a place of beauty, but also a place to fear and respect.
Svalbard was chosen due to several political and natural reasons. Bureaucratically, the VISA work regulations for Svalbard are rather lax, so getting an international team to the island for work on short notice seemed more plausible. More importantly, the setting of the long polar night and natural fear of an island populated with polar bears helps to solidify a true fear of the natural world.
FF: Kaitlin how does your job in cartography play into THE WHITE VAULT?
KS: I’m not sure my fantasy cartography illustrations play into my creation of THE WHITE VAULT in any physical capacity, but the feeling of creating a story and creating a world is very similar. I put time and thought into how to form a map as I would a story, focusing on the perfect structures of mountains and dialogue.
FF: Your show has gained a strong following VERY quickly. What is it about the show that you think resonates so strongly with people?
KS: First, there is a large population of horror podcast listeners who gave our show a shot. We work with friends of ours whom we met through THE NOSLEEP PODCAST, and they’ve lent their amazing talents to THE WHITE VAULT. Through their voices and support we were able to reach a superb and supportive horror audience rather quickly. From then on, we needed to maintain that listener trust and continue to strive for quality storytelling.
We also spent months leading up to the premiere creating visual and video ads for our audio drama, reaching out to fans on Twitter, and honestly interacting with key members of our niche community. We pour our blood, sweat, and tears into the show and we were dead-set on not letting it flop.
Additionally, we’ve had people reach out to us regarding our international voice cast. While still writing, I knew I wanted to showcase international voices, create a cast similarly diverse to the lecture halls of my graduate studies, and show the world that not every audio drama is American or British centric. While we’ve received one or two tweets and reviews from angry listeners who say they ‘can’t understand a word’, we receive more interactions beaming over our use of Spanish, Icelandic, German, and Russian, who love to hear diverse voices and accents, and who are relieved to hear that we value more than perfect American English.
FF: With that being said…do you have any advice for aspiring audio show creators or podcast writers in the making?
KS: The same advice that Travis gave me with everything I’ve worked on: Create it. You can’t fail or succeed until you do it. It’s okay if your first script is garbage. I’ve deleted so many pages of hard, horrible work. Write and delete. Rewrite and delete. Takes a break, re-read, groan, and delete. Then, start again.
Dialogue is key to audio drama, and it can be difficult to hear and transcribe those voices. So, working at it is all you can do.
On the other side, I have more pressing advice. Travis and I give panel presentation at expos and conventions on how to make audio drama podcasts. We are happy so many people are interested, but we always end on the same note: If you spend time creating a podcast and then find down the line you no longer enjoy it, stop.
For most, podcasting is a hobby. It’s what they create in their free time to express themselves and stir some joy. So, if you create a podcast but no longer enjoy it, stop doing it. Perhaps you are better suited to write a novel, the production takes too much of your time, or you never feel satisfied with the end result. Making an audio drama should be enjoyable, and if you wake up dreading your writing/production, it’s time to find something that brings you more joy, be it as simple as writing a different format, or as divergent as building a wooden boat.
FF: The cast of characters is comprised of people from all over the world. How did you find your cast?
KS: Finding our cast came through our amazing friends and podcasting community. Peter Lewis, who plays Graham Casner, worked with us previously on our sci-fi horror audio drama LIBERTY: TALES FROM THE TOWER, and he is a personal friend of ours.
David Ault, who plays Walter Heath, was a voice we had heard on THE NOSLEEP PODCAST and who we finally met at a NOSLEEP live show in the Pacific Northwest. He turned out to be a fan of LIBERTY, and such a wonderful guy, sp we jumped at the chance to work with him.
Lani Minella, who voices Dr. Rosa De La Torre, is a talent voice actress who has been in the industry for years. She’s such a kind and wonderful woman who happens to be a personal friend and fellow animal lover.
Hem Cleveland, Eyþór Viðarsson, and Kessi Reliniki (the voices of the Documentarian, Jónas Þórirsson, and Dr. Karina Schumacher-Weiß respectively) found us through auditions we posted online over the years. Hem and Eythor worked with us on Liberty, and Kessi joined us specifically for THE WHITE VAULT.
FF: Can you tell us a little about your cast members and what was it about each of them that made you cast them for these roles?
KS: Every member of our cast was selected because we believe in their talent and their dedication to being a team player. Our actors and actresses are friendly people I am happy to work with and who help our story reach its potential. I am happy to call them my friends and would not choose to work with people I did not fully believe in.
FF: Lets talk a little about your lead Hem Cleveland who plays multiple characters in the live show. How does she feel about her first live performance being in front of such a large audience?
KS: Hem is flying to New York for the live show from England and she is a talented voice and Dungeons and Dragon’s DM who knows how to get into character. She’ll be playing not only her in-podcast role as the Documentarian, but also voicing the role of a new character specifically made for our live show script.
She has been on stage before so it is not her first live performance, but it is certainly her largest audience yet. As we all record remotely for THE WHITE VAULT, so this will be our first time meeting each other. We look forward to meeting and getting to hang out, which helps us not think about the nervous reality of a large New York City show!
FF: You will be doing a live performance of THE WHITE VAULT on March 13th in NYC along with the wildly popular NO SLEEP PODCAST. How did you get hooked up with them and how did this show come to fruition?
KS: Travis and I have been fans of NOSLEEP for over five years now. When we began our first podcast, LIBERTY:CRITICAL RESEARCH, we were so new to the world of podcasting we felt lost, but David Cummings and Peter Lewis responded to our questions and even lent their voices to our budding show. It was the final nail in the coffin, forever trapping our NOSLEEP love within our hearts.
More specifically, in 2017, Travis was talking to the folks of NOSLEEP about looking forward to seeing their upcoming performance in NYC. They asked if we’d be interested in opening for them, as they were looking for talents to open for their shows. It was unthinkable for us, being such a new show, that their offer was genuine, but we had flight confirmations and a script outline within a week!
FF: How will your audio show translate to the stage?
KS: Live shows for podcasts are not about modifying an audio script into a play; instead we focus on the experience of seeing the voice actors and living the production first-hand. We don’t add stage directions or props, and we focus on the audio above all else, as we do when recording a podcast episode. The live show allows attendees to seeing the emotion, meet the cast, and make honest connections with indie creators like us.
FF: What does the future hold for THE WHITE VAULT?
KS: More seasons, voices, fans, spin-offs, one-offs, and (hopefully) live shows.
Honestly, three years ago I never would have thought I would be writing audio drama, speaking on panels, presenting live shows, attending conventions as a guest, or living and breathing podcasts, but here we are. I’ve reached this far with little speculation and a hell of a lot of hard work, so that’s the way I’ll keep running it!
FF: Is there anything else you want readers to know about?
KS: There are amazing audio drama stories out there waiting to be consumed. Podcasts are a FREE form of education and entertainment, and some talented writers and producers find their outlet and voice in audio drama creation. If you’re reading this, horror is in your blood, so go out there and listen to THE WHITE VAULT, listen to THE NOSLEEP PODCAST, and find other horror podcasts that make you shiver. There’s sci-fi, too. A mix of both. Comedy. Drama. Anthologies. Romances. And more. Give audio drama the opportunity to entertain you.
Also, we release THE WHITE VAULT for free, but podcasting is my livelihood. Fans support our shows on Patreon and through the purchase of merchandise. If you listen and enjoy our work so far, consider supporting us in these ways or by leaving us a rating and review so others can find our show. Indie creators thrive and die by the interactivity of their fans.