In their own write

Dayton Writers Movement gives voice to Unwritten

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Jordan Lopez as Chelsea Wu and Luna Madison as Elaine Harper in Unwritten bring scripts to life at Mega Fauna; photo: Grace Poppe

Bob Dylan once sang “the times they are a-changin.’” Back in the proverbial day, creative writers disseminated their works via the typical outlets – books, magazines, spoken word, and so forth. But in the 21st century, creative writers are looking to other ways to get their works into the hands of potential audiences, and that’s exactly what the recently founded Dayton Writers Movement is doing with its ambitious first project, Unwritten, which will be available exclusively via podcast.

Dayton Writers Movement was founded by University of Dayton instructor Chris Burnside and his wife Megan Burnside, with the mission of producing writer-centric, thought-provoking creative content intended to intimately engage audiences and create dialogue about social issues potentially affecting audiences today. It all began with a meeting of University of Dayton writers about creating a long-form project, and that meeting inspired the Burnsides to do something to make it tangible.

“A group of eight writers came together earlier in the year to discuss a collaborative writing project,” says Chris Burnside, who also serves as chief creative officer for DWM as well as lead writer, director, and executive producer of Unwritten. “Megan and I formed Dayton Writers Movement in order to produce that project. Without DWM, that story would just be shared among the minds of the writers and the scribblings in our notebooks. Now, these artists can hear their work playing to an international audience as a professionally recorded podcast.”

Unwritten is the first major production from Dayton Writers Movement. This story, told across the span of eight 50-minute episodes, follows the trials and tribulations of main character Elaine Harper (played by Luna Madison), a grad student who, in the midst of her studies, becomes aware of a sexual assault that leads her to question things going on around her, as well as inside her head – though those questions are directed to her delusions, the likes of Freud, Mary Shelley, Frida Kahlo, and others. Her subsequent efforts work to raise questions and visibility about social issues that affect us all in the modern millennium.

“Mental illness, LGBTQ issues, and sexual violence are not subjects that should be ignored, but openly discussed!” says Jordan Lopez, who plays Elaine’s best friend, Chelsea Wu. “If our story gets one conversation started or encourages one victim to seek help, then we’re doing the right thing.”

Having such a large group of creative minds giving input into a single product, on the surface, seems potentially problematic. But according to Burnside, this gathering of imaginative forces is what makes DWM and Unwritten intriguing and bound for success.

“The collaborative nature of the show is what makes it fun, special, and unique,” Burnside says. “We modeled the initial writing process on a television writers’ room, where the writers all contribute ideas to the story. While each writer wrote an episode, the overall story came from everyone, which created cohesion in the plot, becoming something far greater than the sum of its parts.”

With the story in place and a plan for delivering said story, it was then time for DWM to recruit a cast who could portray the characters they developed. The DWM held auditions for Unwritten in June and were overwhelmed by the interest in being a part of making their show a reality.

“We had a great turnout for our auditions, listening to over 30 performers,” Burnside says. “Everyone in the cast has been excited about and dedicated to Unwritten. All of them are local stage or improv performers, so they are used to their work existing only for one audience at one moment in time. Unwritten gives them a chance to reach much larger audiences in perpetuity. They’re all a joy to work with.” Local theatre legend Dodie Lockwood of Dayton Playhouse even graces the cast list.

The next step was to actually record Unwritten. DWM has been doing so at Mega Fauna Sound in the Oregon District.

“Dan Sievers, founder of Mega Fauna, is our engineer and audio guru,” Burnside says. “We have a narrator [Sean Gunther] who guides the show and essentially acts as the eyes for the audience, telling them what to picture. Everyone is so dedicated to making the project sound great, even when that involves hours in a vocal booth recording and hours afterward editing and mixing. We saw the cast react to the material – every episode included moments where we all broke down laughing, and every episode also included moments of silence where we just stared at each other, needing to gather our emotional fortitude before continuing.”

The creation and execution of Unwritten will culminate in a world premiere public release at the Neon in downtown Dayton Aug. 28, in which DWM, its cast, and attendees will hopefully enjoy a natural discourse about what they hear.

“We’ll be playing the first episode of Unwritten for the first time for an audience and then hold a talkback where the audience can ask questions of cast and crew,” Burnside says. “Listeners will go on a journey, both through the plot of the story and through their own emotions. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll think, and if no one’s watching you, you’ll cry. We want our listeners to be entertained, but we also want them to think. Unwritten tackles mature, serious issues that real people struggle with every day. We hope listeners will talk not just about the plot and characters but also the themes and messages of the show.”

The world premiere of Unwritten takes places Sunday, Aug. 28 at the Neon Movies, 130 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. Show begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. For tickets and more information please visit unwrittenpodcast.com.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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