Why Should You Go to PodTales?

On Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. A festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting.

“Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo;

small and cute, but happy and powerful.”

by Alex C. Telander

Something special is coming to Cambridge, Massachusetts: on Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. What makes PodTales special is that it’s the first of its kind: a festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting, and before you ask, yes, this does include RPG podcasts too.

PodTales is an arts festival, not a professional conference; it’s about the work itself and learning how people do it, whether you’re a fan or a creator (or both, as many of us are). PodTales’ goal is for you to walk out with a whole list of new shows to check out.

Now, why should someone attend the PodTales Festival, other than its free admission and it being the first convention tailored exclusively to audio drama? Well, I had a chance to ask a couple of the organizers behind PodTales all about the festival and what their hopes, fears, and dreams for it are: Alexander Danner is the festival director and Jeff Van Dreason handles exhibitor relations and the IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through July 14th. And yes, these are the guys behind the terrific audio drama, Greater Boston.

Where did PodTales come from and when was it conceived?

ALEXANDER: The Boston area is rich in active fiction podcasters, making it one of the geographic hubs of the form, so I’ve long thought it would make sense to have a major community event here. There was also a particular model of show I’ve been hoping to attend, but which doesn’t really exist—one more similar to an indie comics festival, where new and established artists intermingle, where the act of creating within the form is celebrated no matter the artists level of experience.

My biggest inspiration is MICE, The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, which was founded by my friends Shelli Paroline and Dan Mazur. There’s a palpable joy in celebrating the craft in how MICE is run, and no con anywhere that ever made me feel as valued as an exhibitor as MICE does. That’s what I want for exhibitors at PodTales.

And we wouldn’t be here without MICE for more practical reasons as well. I had mentioned to Shelli just in passing how I wished there was a local show for fiction podcasting like MICE. And she came right back with, “Actually, we’ve got a second space available every year that we don’t use. And we’re already looking for a partner show to put there. You want it?”

That was too clear an opportunity for me to resist! And with MICE and Lesley University providing the festival space, creating PodTales became much more financially viable. At the same time as PodTales is holding its first ever show, MICE will be holding their tenth anniversary show in the building immediately next door. It’s going to be an amazing weekend for celebrating storytelling!


Alexander Danner

Did you come up with the name early on?

ALEXANDER: No! I spent months trying to come up with a name I liked. I tried to create an acronym based name, something rodent themed that would parallel MICE, but I couldn’t find anything that worked well. And finding a “storytelling” title that wouldn’t work equally well for a festival of non-fiction podcasts was equally difficult. When I hit on using “Tales,” that actually captured a bit of both those goals in a way that sounds fun. I know a lot of people are kind of hoping the prefix “pod” will die, but for the time being, it still communicates what we’re about with clarity, which is more important to me.

What are you hoping to achieve with PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m hoping PodTales will become a community event for fiction podcasters, as well as a contact point with their audiences. My experiences at PodCon suggested to me that our community really wants something like that, an event that brings us all together to share our admiration for each others’ work, to make new connections and form new collaborations, and to just get to know each other in real life. I think the strong sense of community our form has historically shown has been vital to the growth of our art form, but with the rapid growth we’ve seen recently, it’s getting harder to maintain a connection with the fullness of that community. I think having a physical world community event will help with that.

JEFF: We want to celebrate the incredible talent of audio fiction creators, in addition to highlighting the awesome possibilities that come with independent audio fiction as a genre. It’s a growing genre that deserves more exposure. It doesn’t necessarily frustrate me that many people automatically associate podcasting with nonfiction shows, but it is unfortunate. PodTales is our small attempt at trying to change that, in addition to making audio fiction podcasts on our own, of course.

What were your first steps in putting it together?

JEFF: A lot of this came from conversations Alexander had with the directors of MICE, whom he’s been involved with for years. Alexander has connections with the independent comics world (especially web comics) and his comics friends involved with MICE have seen how much audio fiction podcasting has taken off lately. They all see a lot of similarity between genres and audiences, and we feel it just makes sense to build off an already existing showcase of independent artists. We’re hoping the audience for MICE might also be interested in learning about PodTales, and vice versa.

So after those initial conversations, our first steps were figuring out how to do it. We had some meetings via Skype to plan who was going to be responsible for what. The thing with this kind of event is even the strictest, carefullest planning gives way to unseen problems popping up, and there’s more work that goes into this type of thing than I think anyone can realize ahead of time. Hopefully it doesn’t seem like a lot of work to anyone who isn’t actually working on it, though.

Jeff Van Dreason

How did you go about putting a team together, who does your team consist of, and what are their respective roles?

ALEXANDER: My team is pretty much self-selected. Anyone who offered to help out, I wasn’t going to turn down the help! But those people have been fantastic. Jeff Van Dreason, of course, I have plenty of history working with, and always like to have him involved in anything I’m working on. He’s taken charge of the IndieGoGo, and is doing a fantastic job. Amanda McColgan is our social media manager, and is just blowing me away with her ability to keep people excited about the show, keeping so many people engaged with us months before the show even happens. And more behind the scenes, my key advisors have been Jordan Stillman and Alex Yun. Jordan has been working with MICE for years, and is organizing their tenth anniversary festival, but she’s also been a huge supporter of PodTales from day one, and has made herself constantly available to share resources and her experience in running a similar festival. And Alex is just brilliant. At one point, Jeff scolded me for waffling on one of Alex’s recommendations, saying, “Look, if Alex gives you advice, just take the advice.” And I’ve learned that lesson, because it’s true: Alex is always right.

Where did the logo come from?

JEFF: The voice of Leon Stamatis himself! Braden Lamb designed that cute little mouse. In addition to being an excellent voice actor, Braden is an incredibly talented artist, and he’s been a comics artist for years now. In fact, his partner Shelli Paroline, is the co-director of MICE, so there’s already a solid foundation of crossover talent extending from MICE to PodTales, and given that we’re spinning off from MICE, it makes sense to have our mascot be a fiction podcast rocking rodent, right?

How is PodTales different from Podcon or PodX?

ALEXANDER: I haven’t been to PodX, so I can’t compare as accurately. But PodTales is going to be a much smaller show than PodCon. Our entire physical area could probably fit inside PodCon’s exhibit hall three times over. So I think it’s important that people with experience at other shows know going in that we’re working at a much smaller scale. It’ll be a much more intimate sort of show.

But also, we’re really inverting the balance between programming and exhibition. The big draw at PodCon was clearly the programming, which was plentiful, and full of well-known podcasters. And that’s great—the programming at PodCon was wonderful, and it was terrific to have so many options to choose between!

By contrast, the exhibition hall will be the heart of PodTales. By numbers, PodCon 1 had 15 exhibitor booths total, five of which were podcasts. PodTales currently has more than 50 exhibits lined up, every one of them representing a podcast or podcast network. The tradeoff, of course, is that we won’t have nearly as much programming, probably only two or three tracks. Though, with fewer programming events, we are going to work hard to make sure those events are entertaining and substantive! Our programming will also be built around our exhibitors, primarily highlighting the same people who are giving the exhibit hall life.

What do you hope attendees get from attending PodTales?

ALEXANDER: First and foremost, I want attendees to leave PodTales with a long list of new podcasts they plan to check out! Discovery is at the heart of our mission—we want to facilitate creators and audiences finding each other. But also, I want attendees with ideas of their own to leave PodTales feeling empowered to pursue their creative ambitions, and supported by a creative community that will help them find their way there.

JEFF: Discovery. Especially independent artists. New and exciting ideas and stories. We want people who’ve never heard of audio fiction podcasting to fall in love with the genre. We want people who do love audio fiction podcasts to find their new favorite shows, meet and learn from creators they know and love, and new, up and coming people as well.

What has been the hardest part of putting PodTales together?

ALEXANDER: Fundraising is always a challenge. Jeff has handled the IndieGoGo beautifully, while I’ve been working on cultivating partnerships with sponsor organizations. It’s a lot of searching for hard-to-find contact information, trying to pitch PodTales as an event various companies would benefit from advertising at, and negotiating mutually beneficial contracts. It can take a couple dozen attempts to cultivate one promising lead, and then weeks or months of discussions before an agreement is signed. Lesley University was with us from the start, which is great, and RadioPublic is a perfect partner for us. We’re close to signing a couple more sponsors, but this is an ongoing effort. But it’s also very important to meeting our aims for the show—we want to keep admission free and exhibitor fees low, but that means finding our funds from other sources. The more successful we are at working with sponsors, the more accessible we can keep the show for attendees and exhibitors.

JEFF: For me, the hardest part has been balancing how much to be involved. I love helping out, especially with something as exciting as this, and I’ve already committed to more than I thought I would originally, but I also need to step back from it soon. My personality sometimes pushes me to try to do too much, which I’ve been actively trying to change because it’s gotten me into a bit of trouble. I don’t have the time to co-run PodTales, unfortunately. But I set up and I’m running the Indiegogo campaign, and I’m helping with our exhibitor list and exhibitor relations, which I’m really excited about.

There’s also been a hard time just planning everything and getting the word out. Everything has to happen at once and it takes a lot of organization and coordination. There are only so many of us trying to do a huge thing, so things take longer than we’d like, but there’s not much we can do about that, unfortunately.

What has been the easiest?

ALEXANDER: Filling our exhibit hall! Starting a show like this, we’re taking a big gamble on whether there are enough people who see exhibiting at a festival as worth their time, especially since it’s not really an established facet of our process. But there was an abundance of interest, and we filled every seat we had available, then went back to our floor plan and rearranged to squeeze in a few more! And I’ve still got a few people on our wait list. This has really been one of the most encouraging outcomes we’ve had; it’s incredibly gratifying to know so many people are excited to show their work at PodTales!

JEFF: Working with exhibitors and our incredible featured guests. I’m really excited about everyone who is coming, and every single person has been a pleasure to work with.

Do you hope to make PodTales an annual podcasting event?

ALEXANDER: Yes! We’ve still got a long way to go before we’ll know if that’s feasible, but I’m definitely trying to build the show in a way that will make the process of doing the next one easier. If possible, I’d like to expand the show to two days as well. We’re keeping the scale small this year because this is our learning experience. But our hope is to grow from here.

What do you want to get out of PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m really hoping that this festival will contribute to spreading enthusiasm for fiction podcasting in general. Given our central location, free admission, and partnership with MICE, I’m hopeful that we will have a significant audience of people who are discovering fiction podcasts for the first time at PodTales. It’s really all about celebrating the art itself, and showing just how much we have to offer!

JEFF: I want it to be fun, diverse, informative, and safe. I want people to come and feel safe and celebrate our fabulous genre and have a great time. That’s it. I’d like it to grow and be sustainable too, but I would also like it to be sustainable in a way where I’m not as involved as much as I am now. I do a lot of the type of work that it takes to put on PodTales with my real job, and between my real job and this work, there’s not a lot of time left over for the type of creative work I cherish. So I’m really missing that right now, and we have two more seasons of Greater Boston to do, not to mention whatever comes after that. So I want PodTales to last forever, and I’ll always want to be a part of it. Maybe just not as much of an integral part as I am right now.

Five years from now, after this festival has exceeded goals every year, what does PodTales 5 look like for attendees?

ALEXANDER: Well, I’d certainly like PodTales to be a two-day show, and I’d hope to be able to move into a larger event space that can accommodate more exhibitors and larger audiences at our panels. (Probably the same space that MICE uses, once we’re ready to go out on our own.) But there’s a limit to how big I want it to get—I want to stay true to the missions of focusing on indie creators and keeping the show financially accessible to as many people as possible. This is an arts festival, not a large convention, and that’s how I want it to stay.

JEFF: I’ve gone to MICE for years and it’s absolutely grown, to an extent, and only gotten better every year. But it’s also been surprisingly consistent in its nice, niche, small, independent qualities too. I’m interested in seeing PodTales grow in terms of sustainability, kind of what I was speaking about before. And I always want more and more people to discover audio fiction podcasting, But I’d be lying if I said I wanted record breaking attendee numbers out of this thing year after year. I want people to come and be excited about this genre, and I’m involved because I love audio fiction podcasts and I want more people to discover them. But I also love how MICE is a small little show celebrating a unique type of independent art, and I’d never want PodTales to become this huge thing that feels like it exists solely for networking and business. That’s not to say that industry conversations aren’t important, they are, but I also don’t want to lose that independent spirit. So no matter what happens in five years, ten years, or fifty, I hope we just remain consistent. And I believe we will.

Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo; small and cute, but happy and powerful.


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The Parsec Awards

So the winners have been announced…

And then there was talk of an award being rescinded, due to “an uncomfortably high amount of emails” regarding one of the recipients and their behavior within the audio drama community.

A letter from the editor:

So the winners have been announced!

And then there was talk of an award being rescinded, due to “an uncomfortably high amount of emails” regarding one of the recipients and their behavior within the audio drama community.

Then of course the Parsec committee decided the award would stand as their task is to judge only the work presented.

This of course led to many in the community to sound out their grievances on social media.

A post from the admin of the Audio Drama Production Podcast Facebook community page explained that they had cause to remove this person from the group in the summer due to his “vitriolic” conduct towards other members of the group.

The person at the sharp end of all this commotion is Edward Champion (The Grey Area), and this is not the first time these charges have been issued.

First in the literary community some years ago, and now here in the audio drama community, many have come forward to give accounts of their dealings with him.

I have personally been witness to quite a lot of his vitriol: I have seen unsolicited emails telling the recipient they should go and seek professional help, as clearly their attitude doesn’t conform with societal norms; I have been sent screenshots of  Facebook and Twitter posts (that have then been rescinded) that use phrases even Donald Trump would blush at; I have heard threats of physical violence at podcast conferences, stalking and intimidation of creators AND their families, and some seriously heinous name calling just because a post wasn’t retweeted! All of this mounting up over the last twelve to eighteen months.

Not only are the community finally calling time on his behavior, but many are also looking to the arguable failings of the Parsec Awards. In their defense, it is made up of volunteers, but there are a number of basic checks and balances that need to be addressed here.

The following is an op-ed from a member of the audio drama community that felt compelled to step up and tell his story, as well as others that came forward in his support. They do so with a calmness that belies the gravity of the issue, something I would not afford it.


#NotMyChampion

If you closely follow the Audio Drama industry, this week has had some surprises. On December 16 The Parsec Awards Committee sent out an email listing their 2018 winners, a little more than 24 hours later they sent a second email stating that they’re deliberating on rescinding an award from a creator, and on December 19 the committee sent a third email stating that they will honor the original recipients and no award will be rescinded.

In the third email, the Award Committee stated:

It is the goal of The Parsecs to judge solely on the merit of the content and not on gender, heritage, religious belief, sexual orientation, politics, or other factors not in the podcast as presented to the audience.”

It didn’t take long for members of the audio drama industry to take to Twitter voicing their concern, and opposition for Parsec’s choice.

In defense of the award committee, they stated quite openly that they’ve never had to handle a situation like this before, and while many will be quick to anger, this seems like an opportune time to educate the audio drama industry as a whole to the repeated actions of a toxic creator. The purpose of this essay isn’t to shame the Parsec Committee, but rather to inform them of the scope of one individual’s harmful actions, and ensure that this creator isn’t able to abuse or harass others in the future.

Before I continue, I’d like to be upfront about a few things. First, this essay is to inform other creators and members of the Audio Drama Industry of the events that have transpired over the course of the last years, and the potential danger of letting these actions go unchecked. Second, I’ve been attacked by the individual in question in the past (I go in detail about this further into the essay). Lastly, I’ve included the accounts of other creators who interacted with the person, some of these accounts will have names tied to them, others will be anonymous as per their wishes.

Finally, before I dive in, I’ve been grappling with how to open this story, or how to begin, and even if I should attach my name to this piece or write under a pseudonym. I might receive flack for this piece, it could be deemed unprofessional and slanderous, it could really come back and hurt me and my loved ones. The person I’m writing about has attacked me in the past, and come after many of my friends and fellow creators. I was on the fence, but after discovering how many people have been attacked, and seeing Parsec’s decision, I’ve decided this story is necessary. I’ve decided the best approach is to speak honestly, and publicly.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Pacific Obadiah. I’m a college student and in my free time, I make audio dramas. I’ve been creating audio dramas for almost three years now, with friends I met on my university campus, and fellow creators I met in the audio drama community.

A close friend of mine was excited to see the new Parsec Awards Winners, but when they saw Ed Champion’s name on the list, they knew they had to write to Parsec and inform the committee of the unprofessional manner Champion had interacted with them. My friend then reached out to another person who he knew had negative interactions with Champion, it wasn’t long until several people, myself included, had emailed Parsec expressing their concern over Champion’s award.

Shortly thereafter, a discussion was sparked in a forum for audio drama creators. It was here that I found a surprisingly high number of creators had very negative encounters with Champion.

I first talked with Travis Vengroff about his experience with the award winner. Full disclaimer, Vengroff was nominated in the same category as Champion. Vengroff first met Champion when he put out an all-call for the second season of his show Liberty: Critical Research. Vengroff remarked that

“There was one actor in particular who was a perfect fit for a couple of parts. His name was Ed Champion, and he had a chicken in his recording studio, which I thought was pretty funny ‘cause in some of the outtakes with him he tells his chicken to shut up, which was really ridiculous and funny.”

While things started off well, this didn’t last.

A while after Vengroff and Champion met, Champion launched his own podcast, around the same time Vengroff’s wife, Kaitlin Statz, launched a social media campaign, #ADPodBingo. The purpose of #ADPodBingo was to promote audio drama shows within similar genres, such as Sci-Fi, Horror, or Fantasy. The first few boards became pretty popular, and creators began reaching out to Statz requesting to be on the next board. Champion’s was one of the many requests.

Champion first requested to be apart of the ADPodBingo before his show had launched, having only released the first trailer. Statz decided to focus on shows with released episodes and didn’t include Champion on the next board. A month later the couple released a Sci-Fi themed board, and received a letter from Champion expressing his resentment about not being included on the Sci-Fi board, even though the couple believed Champion’s show (now with only the first episode released) didn’t fall into the Sci-Fi category.

The next board followed another genre, and Champion’s show wasn’t included because his show didn’t fit that genre either. As Travis put it

“Every [board] we did, his show did not meet the genre, and he was upset he was not in it, and eventually he blew up into this Twitter rant about how horrible Kaitlin was, which was upsetting to me, because she’s my wife, and she’s literally done nothing to the guy. [Champion] blew up further and sent [Kaitlin] a really mean-spirited message on Facebook.”

Vengroff messaged Champion and explained to him why he wasn’t included on any of the ADPodBingo boards so far, and despite Champion’s decorum, and attack on Statz, Vengroff tried to clear the air. Everything seemed to be okay until a few weeks later: Champion sent Vengroff a Facebook message, upset that he wasn’t included on another ADPodBingo; This caused Vengroff to block Champion, and later, pushed Vengroff to scrap recordings Champion had created, and recast multiple roles he’d already edited into a then-unreleased podcast.

Similarly, another creator, Lauren Nelson, had a negative interaction with Champion. Nelson first worked with Champion on a side project that later fell to the wayside. Though her interactions with Champion left a bad taste in her mouth, Nelson remarked

“Initially, I wrote off [his] strange behavior as a given when you’re working with creatives. But he was overly familiar, and I should have known better. Knowing more about his history now, I cringe at the memory of sharing personal details with him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he used them against me eventually.”

Nelson likely would have moved on from the whole situation, until the recent series of emails she received from Parsec, and seeing other creators discuss Champion’s actions. Nelson felt moved to take action. As she put it

“I take great pride in crafting a strong female character, and there’s no world in which Addison [The protagonist of Nelson’s show] would approve of me giving someone like Ed a broader platform. I cut ties and made a public apology for not better researching my cast.”

Nelson posted on Facebook, talking about the choice she made to not work with someone who has abused people in the past, and it wasn’t long until Champion messaged her.  

“The reaction was swift. Though I had already planned to write [Champion] out of the show, he sent a threatening email about using his voice. The threats were baseless, but intimidation was the point. I also received a string of text messages, one of which said I was “pure evil.” No idea what will come next.”

Nelson hopes that by speaking out, she’ll save others from Champion’s, and other toxic creators harmful messages.

“I’m hoping that breaking the silence helps others make more informed decisions, and helps keep a community that matters greatly to me a lot safer.”

My own experience with Champion is quite similar to the two aforementioned incidents. Not long ago I was a member of an independent audio drama network, FateCrafters. We were a small and tight-knit group of creators who promoted one another and often collaborated. From time to time, we would open our network to prospective shows looking to join, and during one of our open application seasons, Champion applied to our network.

While my NDA restricts me from talking too much about our process of approving or denying shows, Champion’s show was voted on, and rejected. Shortly after being notified of his rejection, Champion took to Facebook and on both his personal and a group page (both posts are now deleted), he spoke negatively about our network. While I had never had more than brief, and wholly positive interactions with Champion up until this point, after seeing his posts putting down our network, I made the decision to personally stop retweeting Champion’s posts.

Champion reached out to me, asking if I was “… carrying out a FateCrafters omerta against me.” I responded honestly, informing Champion that I did decide to be less vocal in my support of his show after his negative posts, to which Champion responded with a tirade comparing me to a Klansman. For those interested, I’ve included screenshots of our short interaction.

Ed’s first message
Ed’s second message

While my interaction was quite mild (and trust me, this is comparatively mild), not everyone was so lucky.

What perturbed me most was the scrutiny Champion put on our social media interactions. #AudioDramaSunday is a popular hashtag that many fans and creators use on a weekly basis to discover new shows, and it was over the course of a few short weeks that Champion paid close attention to if and how I was interacting with his every post before deciding to confront me, and as I learned, many other creators.

Jeff Van Dreason and Alexander Danner told me of their experience with Champion. They said Champion had messaged them, stating that he noticed they usually liked any post that mentioned their show, but not the posts Champion made. Then Danner said it was like Champion was…

“… counting our Twitter likes to track whether we were paying attention to him or not. I think that was the thing that set him off–we never liked his tweets.”

One day, Van Dreason was commenting on a post in a public forum, and Champion lashed out, claiming Van Dreason never heard his side of the story- It’s worth noting, the original discussion had nothing to do with Champion. Van Dreason decided not to engage. A while later Champion sent a long letter to the creators, Danner said:

“It was like the sort of thing you might send to a former friend who you’d had a bad falling out with if you wanted to salvage the relationship without actually admitting you did anything wrong.”

Van Dreason felt similarly, stating:

His demeanor was as if we were super close friends who had suddenly ghosted him, which of course wasn’t the case. I’m not sure I’d even call him an acquaintance. We spoke very little before all of this, which made the way he was acting out even stranger to us.

Some of these interactions do reach past the screen: one creator told me they opted not to attend a live community event that he had bought plane tickets for after he learned that Champion was going to be in attendance.

I’ve only provided the accounts of a handful of people, but there are many more that Champion has gone after and harassed for matters big and small, or perhaps just because he felt like it. I hope that by publishing this essay, more will stand up and allow their voices to be heard, to hold Champion accountable for his actions. It’s not too late to improve, Ed, but there’s no way you can continue down this road.

It seems Champion feels entitled to the audio drama community as if he deserves the likes, the promotion, and the work. Yet those creators Champion has worked with haven’t been given the respect or professionalism, they deserve. I worry that Champion’s recent laurels will open more opportunities for him, which will lead to his continued harassing of those in this growing industry.

I urge the Parsec Award Committee to put a policy in place to prevent abusers from receiving their award in the future.

Pacific S. Obadiah


Since editing this article, dozens from the audio drama community have taken to social media to publicly announce their stories of harassment, and their regret at not coming forward sooner, including one of the voluntary judges for the Parsec Awards.

This community is a bastion for inclusion, and a powerhouse for social justice. One can only hope that this boil, in it’s relatively young existence doesn’t need lancing again.