Icebox Radio Theater

News, events and doings surrounding the Icebox Radio Theater of International Falls, Minnesota.

Monday, July 06, 2009

It is vacation’s end.

I’m sitting in our backyard, taking a few minutes to begin to fill you all in on what’s up with the IBRT. But my mind is still drifting back to the previous two weeks (near enough) when my family and I were away from home, traveling over 4,000 miles, re-connecting with family and friends living back on the west coast, and finally making lots of new friends and contacts at our yearly pilgrimage to CONvergence, a sci fi convention in the Twin Cities. It was a wonderful time. My parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary at a huge party, followed by three days of family time at the Oregon Coast. Then Diane, Rachel and I met up with Stephen at CONvergence for four more days of fun and weirdness. As I sit here waiting for our vacation laundry to finish, I find myself infusing the entire trip with meaning.

If it seems strange to be philosophical about all that, you should know I come by it naturally. My birthday is in July, and it’s not unusual for someone in his mid-forties (as I am) to wax poetic about life, the universe and everything as the big day approaches. Plus, CONvergence is a very special event too me. It is, first and foremost, recreation. But the story of the Con and I is a little bit more complicated than that.

I first visited Minneapolis in July of 2003. After working for a year or more at developing my craft as an audio theater producer, I worked up the courage to submit two short pieces I’d done to the Mark Time Awards. Audio theater has no Oscars, and in those days, the Mark Times were about it as far as recognition goes. And low and behold, I won second place. After working in a garage studio for virtually no recognition, the award was vindication that yes, I could do this. And Diane saw that clearly enough to suggest that we could afford the plane ticket from Portland to Minneapolis for the convention.

So I went out to pick up a pat-on-the-back in plaque form. The fact that the ceremony happened to take place at a science fiction convention mattered to me not one whit. I had heard of such things, even heard they were growing in popularity, but they weren’t my thing. I was a serious artist, interested in some day easing, or even relieving the financial burden my wife had taken on by re-establishing audio drama as a viable art form, and maybe getting slightly rich. But costumes and parties and arguing over Kirk vs Picard? Not for me.

And then I went.

About four days later, I was back in Portland, trying to explain to my family what I had just gone through. The phrase I coined then is now still the best way of describing my feelings: It was like breathing pure oxygen. The amount of creative energy in that hotel was astounding. Sure, some of it was focused in some weird places, and I’m certain that after I had trundled off to bed, there were activities the family pastor wouldn’t have approved of, but there was also an unbelievable level of artistic freedom and a genuine sense of community. That, as Diane and I had often discussed, was something sorely lacking in our home town of Monmouth, Oregon. We had felt it so acutely we were commuting 40 minutes out of town for church. And my attempts at starting a community theater proved so frustrating, I switched to an art form I could create in the privacy of my own garage. But on the day I got back from my first CONvergence, none of that seemed to matter.

Driving back from the airport, I prattled on to Diane and the kids about the panels I’d joined, the concerts I’d heard, and the incredible movie room with couches for seating and all the free popcorn and soda you could stomach. We talked about going there as a family, how much fun it would be, how we all liked games and movies and stories of the fantastic. And we did not talk about the fact that four plane tickets, plus hotel, plus convention membership fees would have represented far, far more money than we had ever paid out for a vacation. Up until then, family getaways consisted of driving to one grandparent or the other, giving the kids GrandmaGrandpa time, and letting someone else worry about meals and grocery bills. Even as I chatted away about the possibility of a return trip to the con, part of me knew I was being humored. There was just no way.

That was in July of 2003. In August of that year, Diane heard about a job in International Falls, Minnesota; not exactly next door to Minneapolis, but at least in the same state. She brought it too my attention for the expressed purpose of having me poo-poo the idea so that she could forget all about it. Maybe it was my CONvergence experience, or maybe it was the subconscious need for a stronger community than we had, but when Diane did bring the job to my attention, I disappointed her. I said it sounded ‘interesting’. The drill was repeated with both sets of grandparents and our kids. Always, the results were the same. Everyone thought it sounded, ‘interesting’.

From there, the dominoes fell. On December 29th, four Adams’ and two cats flew into the International Falls airport on a cloudy, cold day. We were a full week ahead of the moving truck, and ate our meals around a cardboard box table on four folding chairs bought at the local K-Mart. A few weeks later, I was walking around my new home town on a bright, bitterly cold day, thinking our one complaint about Monmouth had been answered. Monmouth lacked a feeling of community. International Falls had it in spades. It had character and quirkiness. People didn’t lock their doors, left their cars running while unlocked for trips to the store, and didn’t always show up on time. They were all conservative, but strong Union Democrats. They worshiped hunting, fishing and hockey (not necessarily in that order) And they took an almost perverse pleasure in being able to tell people, ‘Yes, I live in the coldest spot in the nation. My home is one of our country’s extremes.’

And when I got there, no one seemed to be telling this town’s stories.

That was the genesis of the IBRT. Somewhere in those first few months it occurred to me that CONvergence was now only a days drive away. I packed up the last show I ever produced in Oregon (a sci fi story inspired by the CON) and this time, won first place at the Mark Time Awards. Truth be told, that second CONvergence was a disappointment. My expectations were simply too high. But the next year, my son joined me. The year after that, daughter Rachel came along. And they year that followed, the fantasy hatched during that car ride home finally came to pass when Diane joined in. All of us were at the CON.

Audio is a growing part of CONvergence. The Mark Time Awards are still going strong, though I haven’t managed to win one since 2005, and this year, six panel discussions were held on subjects connected to the art form. Our streaming radio station, Icebox Radio, broadcast live from the CON for the first time this year. And next year, some of us are getting serious about an audio ‘Party Room’ to promote the art form and let everyone there know just how much fun telling stories through sound can be. Did I mention we did a live show at CONvergence last year? Well, scan down through the posts to read about that.

I will be 43 in a few days. I have been blessed beyond measure. Furthermore, I am blessed by God with the ability to recognize His blessings as they happen to me. Nothing – I mean nothing – is better than that. I hope everyone at the CON this year got home (or is getting home) safe and sound. And I hope everyone connected with the IBRT will forgive me this brief indulgence. As I said, I get a little philosophical around CONvergence time.

Thanks for the download, and Keep Listening!

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