Voyage to the Stars is more than a podcast. It’s an improvised sci-fi comedy experience unlike anything you’ve heard before. The stories and characters are taking listeners deeper into the genre one hilarious episode at a time. At WonderCon 2019, we sat down for a hilarious and fun interview with cast members Colton Dunn, Felicia Day, Steve Berg, and Janet Varney and series creator Ryan Copple to talk about making this unique show.
For those unfamiliar with Voyage to the Stars, it’s a serial podcast about a group of misfits in space who end up on the wrong side of a wormhole. Dunn is the unqualified leader, Captain Tucker Lentz, who is trying to get them all home without destroying the galaxy (but maybe blowing up a few planets along the way). His crew, like himself, is a bit lacking. Day is the scatterbrained scientist, Elsa Rankfort, Berg is an apathetic technician named Stew Merkel, and their unfriendly A.I., Sorry, is played by Varney.
The idea for the show came from Copple’s desire to make a podcast and do something in the sci-fi/comedy genre. “You could do something really fun by just having [the show] be these cruise audio logs that we’re listening to as a way of telling a story from different character perspectives as well as moving a story along,” he said.
The format provided a more conversational tone and a freedom to play with the story in a way you can’t in other formats. Dunn likened it to vintage radio shows but with their own spin.
“Podcasting is sort of bringing back the idea of what you could do on radio and I thought something that was a narrative and something that was improvised that would have a huge production on the back end to really make it sound good was going to be really interesting. I think [we’ve] succeeded in that.”
Berg chimes in that these are characters that don’t really belong in a sci-fi show or in a spaceship at all and that’s part of what makes the story so interesting for the actors and the audience.
The intention was not to just make a “joke version of Star Trek,” Copple said. Instead, they wanted the characters and stories to stand on their own, not just as homages to other media. Varney feels they’ve achieved that.
“These are all very unique individuals and I don’t compare them to anyone,” she said. “They exist as their own people and personalities.”
The improv aspect of Voyage to the Stars also sets it apart. It succeeds in capturing improv in an organic way that connects with the audience, a difficult feat when you aren’t performing live in front of that audience. Berg knows first hand how hard this is to do. He’s done two pilots for improv TV shows and they were both “god awful.”
“I love doing improv but going every week is hard,” Day commented. “I have a kid now so I’m like, ‘I can’t really do that 10 o’clock on Friday improv slot anymore.’
“But I do miss playing in that way and the idea that we could do improvisation I thought was a super interesting way to do a podcast and it might have more a free sort of spirit to it and I think it does. I think it really comes off spontaneous.”
“Because we’re constantly surprising each other, it really buoys the energy all the way through our recording session,” Varney added. “I think we all enjoy putting something out there that someone else has to deal with but in a fun way.”
The podcast gives them all the advantages of improv while cutting out anything that an audience might find boring. “So it’s like the BEST of improv,” Day said and everyone laughed in agreement.
There’s a lot of structure built into the show and discussion ahead of time before recording each episode. Copple describes it this way. “Imagine they’re starting at point A and they have to get to point B. So they have that framework of where they’re heading but how they get there is more up to them.”
But when it is time to record, they go straight through, stopping maybe once or twice if needed, Dunn says.
“This show’s really done a good job of packaging improv and letting the benefits of it, that energy and that fun, sort of advance this already loose storyline and then backed up with the production that happens on the back end, it just comes out sounding very polished and clean but it has that great fun, energy.”
The podcast is just a starting point. Voyage to the Stars is quickly evolving into comic books, live shows, games, and much more. Copple even sees the potential for an animated show in the style of Futurama down the line.
Speaking of the future, who would they like to have guest on the show? Day suggests Rachel Bloom, particularly if they do a musical episode, while Berg thinks David Lynch’s voice would be perfect. Dunn would like to include actors known for their voice-over work. “Like Mark Hamill,” he said.
“Yeah, he’s known only for his voiceover,” Day quipped back. “He’s really going to get a career boost.”
“I think he would enjoy the genre!” Dunn added.
Listen to the full interview below where the Voyage to the Stars team also discuss what storylines they want to explore, character developments, and their favorite part of making the show (spoiler: it’s each other).