Posts Tagged: In the Beginning

Origin Stories

Jeffrey Gardner: Co-Creator/Director

Inspired by Jim’s story of how he got involved with the project, I’ve been thinking of sharing my own.

Similarly employed by A Major Chicago Institution for the Teaching of Scientific Thought and Industrious Behavior, in the somewhat ill-fitting English Boy Wizard exhibit, I gradually grew to know Ansel, Clayton, Jim, and Frank…quite possibly in that order.  Other early adopters in our merry bunch were actors Tara Schile (ne Jenkins) and Ryan Schile, artist Eric Ervine, and actor Abby Doud.  We haphazardly recorded a scene between Simon the mortuary truck driver and his new assistant Erin, full of paranoid rantings and a bit of witty banter.  You’ll notice it doesn’t appear anywhere in Season One: after a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided to rework it and use it as the launching point for Season Two (albeit with slightly different characters).

Back to the story: at the point I joined this motley gang, Our Fair City had a completely different format: 45 minute episodes, to be performed live in a theatre or bar, with visual art projected (like a narrated comic book) during the show.  We also had plans on recording it (either in a studio or live), and had very little in the way of a cohesive plotline or story arc.  I also seem to remember a character named “The Poopsmith.”

I was brought in originally as a producer, to help find spaces to perform, actors to play the characters, etc.  At that point, I was working part time for the Boy Wizard, part time as the Marketing Coordinator to an awesome theatre company (, not to mention directing and dramaturging a couple of productions in Chicago.  However, the more meetings I went to, the more I listened in on the plans, the more I wanted an artistic stake.  I’d just finished Season 5 of Joss Whedon’s Angel, rewatched “Stargate,” and been looking at the early production photos for HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”  I wasn’t frustrated with live theatre per-se, but was definitely into the idea of getting back to some of my Epic Science Fiction roots- mix a little Vernor Vinge and HP Lovecraft in with my Sophocles and McDonagh.  I gently inquired “Well, possibly, maybe directing an episode?   Every now and then?”

Fast forward to “The Cove,” an amazing Hyde Park watering hole frequented by a number of Scientific and Industrious employees.  It’s either Late or Early, depending on which direction you’re coming from–plus, the Cove has a strange way of warping time.  Clayton and I have been simmering on “Our Fair City” for a while, not really sure where it is going.  It’s been months since we’ve had any really progress.  I’m not sure who brought it up first, but the conclusion of the conversation went something like this:

CLAYTON: Hey, Jeff…do you want to actually do this?

JEFFREY: You mean, like, do it for real?


JEFFREY: Really make a run at it, huh?


JEFFREY: Yeah.  Let’s do this.

At which point,I’m fairly sure we both put on sunglasses, got on our motorcycles, and pulled a heist.  Again, the Cove has a weird way of warping time.  The important thing is, we decided to “really made a run” at Our Fair City.  80 donors, 42 participating artists (and counting), and a whole lot of time invested later, Our Fair City is what it is today: short, episodic radio plays, released entirely on the internet, free and available for public consumption.  We’ve learned a lot during the process of Season One: I can’t wait to see what happens with Season Two.

In The Beginning Part 2: The Patch Job

Jim McDoniel: Writer

Upon adding me to the ranks, Clayton began to fill me in on what they were up to: a post apocalyptic radio play called Our Fair City. The world was frozen, people lived underground, and a handful of characters had already been tossed around from Lucky Strike, the lightning rigger to Neal Henderson the…er… “word I don’t say that means manure” cowboy [EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Episode 4: S.O.L. for a few more choice euphemisms on the subject]. Then, it came time to go out on the floor. Clayton said he’d fill me in later and I went off to work ushering people into the world of English Boy Wizard.

Essentially, I wanted to put my own stamp on the world. I was fortunate in that, at this point, we really didn’t have anything resembling a plot [EDITOR’S NOTE: This remained true for a alarmingly long period of time]. So unfettered by the limitations brought about by cohesive storytelling, my brain went to work filling in the gaps of world.
My mind quickly took hold of the city’s undergrounded-ness. We had people powering above and people doing jobs within, but we had no one digging. “So how does the city grow?” I asked myself. This being sci-fi, there was only one answer: molepeople.
To be fair, molepeople didn’t just pop out of thin air and appear fully formed in my head while on a train. I am not the author of English Boy Wizard. For years, I had been writing pieces for my own amusement under a mad scientist alter ego and it just so happens I had finished an essay in which I used molepeople to solve a current political conundrum. One could say, I had molepeople on the brain. So when it came to digging the tunnels of Our Fair City, who else could do it, but molepeople.
Well, antpeople.
Molepeople or antpeople. Antpeople or molepeople. I went back and forth on which I liked better. I mean the molepeople were molepeople, but antpeople were antpeople. I decided to put off deciding for a bit. The point was I had my in, because who else could dig the tunnels of Our Fair City except mole(ant)people.
Well, people actually.
You see, as Clayton went more in depth about the world a few hours later, he explained that tunnels were dug by people in great big steam-punky machines. Think the powerloaders from Aliens or a Gundam Wing, if you know what that is. Yeah, things like that. I believe they all had Mohawks and dyed hair to delineate themselves as diggers and their machines were fixed by wrenches, or mechanics, which was what one main character wanted to be.
I was…crushed. This is what happens when I plot too early. I believe my exact thoughts were “Shashum frashum…not as good as my idea…mumble grumble.” Sure, I had a few other ideas, but none were as cool or iconic as molepeople or antpeople. And none inspired me near as much. I couldn’t just abandon it.
I decided to plow ahead with the idea I had started with. To give myself some space, I decided that if it came up, the moles/ants would be dealing with problems too menial for the diggers. Not building tunnels per se, but doing small things: filling potholes and fixing wall holes. Patch jobs, if you will [EDITOR’S NOTE: This clearly wasn’t a problem: you’ll notice that the Molepeople have become a cornerstone of the Our Fair City world].
Having decided only molepeople could be made to do the tedious, little things, I reluctantly said goodbye to the antpeople. I didn’t wanna though. I liked the idea. I liked the image. I really, really wanted them both. “Well, why the hell not?” I asked myself, “This isn’t real life.”
But how to fit them in?
“What if the molepeople don’t believe in the antpeople?” chimed in the part of my brain that deals in irony.
“And what if the two molepeople are in love?” suggested the part of me that’s a great big Gilmore Girl loving softie.
“And what if the antpeople aren’t actually seen, but we have a detective character make a bunch of ant jokes to make it clear they exist?” added the part of me that loves Sherlock Holmes.
“Only if I can partially name him after my dad,” said a part of me that loves naming characters after my dad.
In a few days, I took all of these parts of me, sat down at a computer, played some World of Warcraft until I got bored and then wrote a script [EDITOR’S NOTE: You may be unsuprised to learn that much of Our Fair City has been dreamed up in between games of the Battlestar Gallactica Board game, Arkham Horror, Citadels, Star Trek Online, and various other pastimes.  We also play a particularly mixed game of Ultimate Frisbee].
I showed this script to Clayton. He mumbled something that I think went like this “Shashum frashum…the diggers…mumble grumble…but this is good too I guess.” Thus, “The Patch Job” was born.


In The Beginning, Part 1: Being Chosen

By Jim McDoniel

(In which Season One Writer Jim McDoniel discusses the origins of Our Fair City and how he became involved in the project)

In the beginning, there was “The Word.” Billions, nay, thousands of years later, Our Fair City was created. Coincidence or intelligent design?

This whole thing started with Clayton. Clayton and his roommate, whose name I’d say escapes me, except that I never could remember it in the first place, came up with the premise for Our Fair City in college. That’s all I know. I wasn’t there. Though from all the winking and nudging and nose-tapping that goes on when he tells that story, I think it safe to assume there was also a discussion of which chip flavor the universe most smells like.

Anyway, like I said, my perspective comes in later when we were all employed at a museum that I will not name for an exhibit that I will not name. Let’s just say we were quite “industrious” though not very “scientific” while we all worked on the “English Boy Wizard” Exhibition.

I was in the break room, reading a book as usual when in walks Clayton with an entourage that included Frank, another guy whose name I think is Mark, and possibly Ansel. They were talking about a project they were working on. I had been eavesdropping for days now and the only two things I had determined was that it was properly nerdy and involved writing. And that I wanted to join. So, three things, then.
Being me, I had devised an ingenious plan for getting involved: sitting quietly and waiting to be asked. It is a strategy that, in the past has served me well in not being a part of various sketch shows and improv troupes. And now, I employed it fully expecting the same result.

Anyway, Clayton and the gang were talking proper nerdy when a question came up. I forget what it was. I forget most things, or don’t pay attention to them in the first place. Conversations, directions, safety instructions, it all goes away nearly instantaneously. Unless you tell me that you think we’re better friends than boyfriend and girlfriend. For some reason, those conversations stay with me FOREVER. The point is the gang was puzzling over a sci-fi question, one that I knew the answer to.

For clarity’s sake, let’s say the conversation went like this:
Me: Are you wondering what movie had a crazy doctor played by Bruce Campbell doing weird plastic surgery on people?
Them: Yeah.
Me: Escape From L.A.
Them: Oh yeah.

I was about to go back to reading but Clayton was staring at me in a puzzled way. It was a moment before he said the only part of this story I can clearly recall. He said, “Jim, why haven’t we gotten you in on this?” I shrugged, Clayton waved me over, and just like that, I was in.

A few minutes later I was clued in to the basic premise. A few hours later I had my first good idea. And a few days later, I handed Clayton my first script for Our Fair City: “The Patch Job.”