Guides, trailheads, and the upcoming journey

photo_9One major problem with contemporary climate change education rests in the journey.

Many of us only notice one or two climate trends from where we sit, and we think only about the day’s weather during the morning commute.

Beyond what we see day to day, there is a journey, a great journey, involved in stitching together the human story of the change we face today.

Imagine the distance between each person who can talk about his or her polar home and workplace, who can explain what life is, has been, and will be like as the surroundings change. Most people only run across someone like this but by occasional chance, and never think to seek them out. Each person has so much to give, but unless you know where to look, in the context of seven billion other people vying for our moment-to-moment attention – each and every teacher is incredibly, incredibly remote.

There is our problem. Most of us do not have a reason to travel to the places that are most affected by climate change, to speak with people who live and work there.

They need a guide.

And unless you go to the California Academy of Sciences, it becomes quite difficult to visually drop a stream into a museum.

And unless you go to the California Academy of Sciences, it becomes quite difficult to visually drop a stream into a museum.

Now, folks will not tag along with a guide unless the destination is dazzling, exotic. Our medium seems at first to make this difficult – who plans out a trip to the Grand Canyon, Stonhenge or Angkor Wat for the sound? Our eyes are often much more engaged. For example, my ears don’t register “room with lots of people” from one track. I must layer several rooms to murmur simultaneously in the background, before it seems to achieve the effect a single picture would describe as a bustling room.

But think of the energy that goes into set design – every piece of mundanity needs to be perfect, or else the place looks spare, inaccurate, unsettling.

Sound needs only to hint. Because people rely on their ears so much less, the ears are more forgiving when something is missing – and the listener fills in what’s left. A conference setup needs only the rolling carts, chattering people, and brisk footsteps to make itself clear. In a film, it would look bizarre if only a few people walked and talked and moved things around about in an empty lobby without any colorful booths or signs.

Thanks to the same mind’s eye that fills in gaps in storybooks, audio is the most forgiving and exciting medium to deliver this tale.

photo_6

Now, back to this idea of guides.

At the beginning of the series, our two main characters Nat and Aurora will pick you up out of your chair, or wherever it is that you are listening, and guide you along unfamiliar streets. Our characters are constantly moving, and the first several episodes are much like moving through a mansion with only a moment to glance out of the corner of your eye into each room.

AuroraColdWFOXFast forward to a couple months from now, at the end of your first hour with these two guides. Our first six episodes are a journey to a trailhead. The sign at the front promises mystery and adventure. You glance behind you at the two who have taken you here. Nat absentmindedly runs his hand over his head trying to make as much sense of this as you, and Aurora shifts her balance to lean against her walking stick. After getting to know your guides over several episodes, do you step forward? Do you continue the journey? Do you travel to the next place, to the next teacher?

This is why our main characters, though fictional, are so important. It is imperative that they are written well and are trustworthy as guides. Our audience can always step off the path before they reach the destination – before they meet a scientist or settle in for the night in a research cabin. Aurora and Nat must make the journey to that place interesting enough to keep the listener moving forward alongside them.

The scripted lines are only the beginning of a long process of establishing relatable, trustworthy characters.

You will meet those characters when you set up camp this Wednesday at http://thepolarhub.org/project/polar-voices, where Episode 1 will be live.

– Kelsey Gobroski (UAMN Digital Media Producer)
– Illustrations by Hannah Foss (UAMN Production Modeler/Animator)
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