I accidentally stumbled across Cocotazo Audio Theatre last year and listened to “Hot Drinks” that episode made me put them on my “drop everything and listen to immediately” list. If I had the money, I would get billboards telling people to listen, but I make do with two twitter accounts.
12. I have such a soft spot for @CocotazoMedia the first two eps are incredible. The acting and writing are top notch. The new episodes will be focusing on Puerto Rico to draw awareness to the struggles they are currently experiencing.
— Alex (@Cult_of_Trash) January 25, 2018
If you haven’t listened to Cocotazo Audio Theatre, click play before you continue reading because it is incredible.
Eventually, I gathered up the courage to ask Dania Ramos if she would agree to an interview. I have to say that I don’t think that I will ever get over the fact that people are willing to be interviewed by me, or that they are excited for me to interview them. Strange times we’re living in, strange times. Speaking of times (A+ segue) I was able to ask Dania about her new audio fiction podcast Timestorm, so on to the interview!
What is appealing about audio as a medium for storytelling?
I’ll often listen to audio dramas while doing chores. There are times when I have to stop and be still to emotionally or mentally process something that’s happened to a favorite character, or a surprise plot twist. There’s nothing like the intimacy of a moment like that – when good audio storytelling feels like it was created just for you. I also love that the medium is gatekeeper free and relatively low-cost. I think as long as it remains this way, we’ll continue to hear creators of all backgrounds tell their stories through audio.
What inspired the creation of Cocotazo Audio Theatre?
My husband, Michael Aquino, and I created Cocotazo Audio Theatre as a way to learn the ropes of audio drama production. We’ve known since 2016 that we wanted to create a long-form audio drama series for children (Timestorm). But first, we did our research and took some excellent advice that we’d heard echoed on several episodes of the Audio Drama Production Podcast: begin with short pieces. Back then, Michael and I had experience in relevant disciplines – I’d been a playwright for a few years, and he was a musician familiar with ProTools, plus we both had a background in acting. Still, we knew there were specific skills that you could only learn through the actual process of creating audio drama. So we made Cocotazo Audio Theatre as a space to experiment and take risks.
How did you come up with the name, Cocotazo Audio Theatre?
In Spanish, the term “cocotazo” means a bonk on the head in a cartoonish way. If you listen to the very end of Cocotazo Audio Theatre episodes, you’ll hear a little knock during the sign-off.
Would you say that the aftereffects of Hurricane Maria and the US government ignoring Puerto Rico inspired you to make more of an effort to showcase Puerto Rican culture and experiences?
Even before Hurricane Maria, much of my work reflected aspects of Puerto Rican identity. But, yes, this natural disaster and the failed response increased a sense of urgency to tell our stories.
In 2018, we produced audio versions of four poems, three short plays, and a monologue written by seven Puerto Rican writers, both island-born and across the diaspora. What’s striking about these pieces is how the range of subject matter, writing style, and the representation of three generations all serve as a testament to the diversity of Puerto Rican identity. We’re more than how the news media outlets portray us. Storytelling is one small way to show who we are as a people.
I have to add how grateful I am to have my mother’s writing featured in “Open Mic: Puerto Rico.” She wrote those words back in the 1980s, and I thought they were the perfect ending to that tribute episode.
What inspired Timestorm?
Back in 2013, I’d written a proposal for a theatre-for-young audiences playwriting contest that was seeking scripts about New Jersey history. In my research, I’d read about Mexican aviator Emilio Carranza who, during an electrical storm in 1928, had a fatal crash in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey. I outlined an hour-long stage play with an alternate timeline where Emilio was transported into a time-storm and helped twins time-travel to witness moments in New Jersey history. My proposal wasn’t selected, and I put the project away. But a couple of years later, I dusted it off for a writing workshop. The instructor asked a key “what if” question: What if the twins witnessed moments in history from their own culture? That led me to shift the pilot character to a family relation and focus on Puerto Rican history. I also realized I should tell the story as an ongoing series.
All that time, Michael and I had been discovering and falling in love with audio drama podcasts. The freedom of the medium is what drew up to audio, and it felt like the perfect fit for Timestorm. We got our feet wet with short audio drama productions through Cocotazo Audio Theatre while Timestorm was in development.
Can you tell us a bit more about Timestorm?
Timestorm is an ongoing audio fiction series for children, families, and anyone who loves adventure stories.
When twelve-year-old twins Alexa and Beni Ventura are sucked into an inter-dimensional portal, they meet a distant cousin who presents them with an incredible mission: travel through time to uncover hidden moments from their culture’s past. Along the way, they meet people from Africa, Europe, and the Americas who have left their mark on Puerto Rican heritage…only their names aren’t found in history books.
I created and wrote Timestorm. Michael is the audio engineer and composer – he’s a magician! We’ve been lucky to work with an amazing cast that includes Jennica Carmona, Leilany Figueroa, Alicia Rivas, Walter F. Rodriguez, Claudio Venancio, Louis Vetter, and many other talented actors and storytellers.
Is Timestorm a limited run, or will it be a long-form audio drama?
We plan to produce Timestorm as a long-form audio drama series. I’ve got three seasons worth of episodes and story arcs mapped out. In the first season, the twins will travel to West Africa, Europe, and Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century as well as pre-Columbian Borikén (the Taíno name for Puerto Rico).
Are most of the songs featured in Cocotazo Audio Theatre original songs? And can we expect that in Timestorm?
Almost all of the songs in the Cocotazo Audio Theatre podcast are original. Michael wrote most of the ones specifically created for episodes – except “Blood Heart” from “The Last Call,” which was co-written with Ernio Hernandez. We also feature songs by many New Jersey musicians. We happen to be friends with many gifted songwriters who have generously permitted us to use their songs.
We’ll be featuring original music in Timestorm in a few ways. Rhythm will play a significant role in a few episodes of the first season. One of the twin’s friends is a budding songwriter, so you’ll get to hear that character’s songs at some point. We’ve also got plans for a bonus episode that will involve a lot of original music.
What had been the hardest thing about creating Cocotazo Audio Theatre and Timestorm?
We’re a team of two, and we both have multiple freelance jobs (teaching, acting, writing, directing, script consultation, etc.) Since our schedules are always changing, we have to be really on top of time management to meet outside deadlines as well as the ones we’ve set for ourselves.
What has been your favorite part about creating Cocotazo Audio Theatre and Timestorm?
I love collaborating with so many talented writers and actors who trust us and have been supportive about the projects. Many are friends we’ve worked with in theatre at some point.
I’ve also had the chance to work with several younger cousins. Leilany Figueroa, who voiced the role of Araceli in Hot Drinks, is spot on in the role of Alexa in Timestorm. Jessica Bracken shined as Xaymara in Dos Voces by Walter F. Rodriguez, and she also has a recurring role in Timestorm. Plus, three more cousins – Alyssa Bracken, Amanda Bracken, and Alexis Pérez – will be featured in various episodes in Timestorm. They all do a fantastic job – and I’m proud and honored to have them be part of the show.
We’ve also been fortunate to have Mr. Juan Cartegena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice, join the cast as a special guest for two episodes. After the recording session, he updated us about his organization’s recent efforts to protect the rights of Puerto Ricans who lost their homes during Hurricane Maria and have sought shelter in the states. We’re genuinely grateful to have a present-day civil rights leader play the role of a nineteenth-century advocate for educational justice.
As you can see, recording sessions have become more than a time to create audio drama – we eat, we have amazing conversations, and we share a lot of belly-laughs.
What advice would you give to aspiring creators?
Listen to all kinds of audio drama. Mix it up. If the genre isn’t your first choice, you might be blown away by the way the show is engineered or an actor’s performance. Share love online for fellow indie creators, shows, and audio fiction champions – that’s what I call you, Elena Fernández-Collins, Wil Williams, Audio Drama Production Podcast, and the like.
For scriptwriters, find a supportive yet challenging workshop, class, or critique group where you can develop your work. If that’s not possible, gather friends and have them read the script aloud. Read-throughs are a massive help during the revision process.
Be patient and kind to yourself. It takes time to make audio drama, and you’ll likely wear many hats. You might be better at some than others, and that’s okay.
If you could go back and visit any point in Puerto Rico’s history, when would it be?
Ooh. I’d go back to the island before European contact to meet the indigenous Taíno since what little we know about their culture has been based only from colonizer accounts, artifacts, and ruins.
If you haven’t listened to Timestorm yet, you are seriously missing out! I have had the opportunity to receive early access to the first three episodes, and I was so upset when I finished them. I need at least 50 more episodes to listen to before I can even entertain the idea of being happy.
You can find Cocotazo Audio Theatre and Timestorm on the web at www.cocotazomedia.com. Follow them on Twitter @CocotazoMedia. Don’t forget to listen and subscribe to both Cocotazo Audio Theatre and Timestorm wherever you listen.
Also, since Puerto Rico has been mentioned a lot in this interview, I would like to take the time let you know that the people of Puerto Rico could still use your help. The island suffered a lot last year, and they didn’t get the help they needed. If you are able to donate supplies, time, or money, please think about helping the people of Puerto Rico. Keep in mind that this was from Hurricane Maria, and a new hurricane season begins in June. So If you have the ability, please check out this list of ways you can support Puerto Rico. Cocotazo also has a list of ways to donate on their website.
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