The Storytellers

‘Fun comes back to life’ at University of Chicago

By Kyra Senese

Zombies


The University of Chicago is known to some as “The Place Where Fun Goes to Die,” but two freshmen at the college are working to reinvent that reputation.

Ash Lanquist, a math and classics major, and Adam Schwartz, an astrochemistry major with a background in acting, are fusing their love for their university, zombies and literature in a new audio podcast, “Where Fun Comes Back to Life.” The podcast will follow two U of C students, exploring what might happen if there were to be a zombie apocalypse on campus.

Lanquist and Schwartz say the U of C campus is filled with fellow zombie lovers—fans of the BBC miniseries “In the Flesh” and the Max Brooks book “World War Z” as well as other fandoms within the zombie-loving community—the university even has a Zombie Readiness Task Force.

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The college also has a group called Humans vs. Zombies, or HvZ for short, a live-action alternative reality game that requires all players but one to start the game as “humans” and attempt to survive a growing zombie outbreak as it spreads rapidly throughout the U of C campus. It was the HvZ group and its games that inspired the two to start writing about what they thought it would be like to try to survive a zombie outbreak within their college community.

“We were kind of talking about ‘Oh, what would happen if there were actually zombies on campus?’ ” Lanquist says. “Then it morphed into an idea for an actual story. Then, that morphed into the idea for the podcast.”

Pairing Lanquist’s speaking and editing skills as a YouTuber of four years and his creativity as a lover of classic literature with Schwartz’s equal passion for literature and acting, the two began brainstorming ideas and story plots in October 2014 that would later become episodes of their podcast. As they became mentally and emotionally invested in their new brainchild, Lanquist and Schwartz decided they were 100 percent committed to creating “Where Fun Comes Back to Life.”

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After Schwartz and Lanquist realized they had the smarts and creativity to ensure they could produce the content they wanted, the pair had only one major obstacle stopping them from sharing their new work of fiction with the masses—money.

The two students decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds they needed because, as full-time students, the thought of getting jobs and committing to additional responsibilities felt a bit overwhelming.

“We realized that [it] wasn’t something that we could do on our own,” Lanquist says. “We just went through the options and realized either we get a job, or we try out crowdfunding and see what happens.”

With an original goal of $300 and a few “stretch goals” after that mark, Lanquist and Schwartz exceeded their minimum goal in January, reaching $490 with 10 backers and more than one week left to fundraise. The two say their friends, family and even professors have been enthusiastic about their podcast’s pending release.

“Everybody in our [dorm] has been really supportive and excited and looking forward to when our final product comes out,” Lanquist says.

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Robert Decker, a U of C freshman and voice actor on “Where Fun Comes Back to Life,” says that zombies and the HvZ game have always been popular at the college. In addition to voice work, Decker says he also helps Lanquist and Schwartz with editing their scripts.

“I remember my first quarter [at U of C], there was the whole HvZ thing on campus,” Decker says. “Everybody was talking about how it was this cool thing that was going on around campus at the time. A lot of us have a shared interested in this one activity, so it must have inspired them.”

Although the two creatives met their target goal on their first attempt, they both say launching their podcast was never a matter of “if” but “when.” Lanquist and Schwartz say they would have completed the podcast without the Kickstarter funding, but the process would have been more difficult and taken longer, and the finished product likely would not have been as high-quality as they wanted.

So far, Lanquist and Schwartz have written half of the first season of their podcast, with each season consisting of 15 episodes. They’ve done a few practice runs at recording while they wait to gain access to better sound equipment and their hosting website, which they will pay for with their Kickstarter funds.

Lanquist and Schwartz chose to write each season based on inspiration from famous works of literature. While Schwartz is more involved in the acting or vocal projections of the characters’ voices, he is a huge fan of “Les Misérables,” and he and Lanquist agreed that the first season of their podcast would be centered around a zombie apocalypse occurring on the U of C campus, but with “Les Mis” influences sprinkled throughout the episodes.

Schwartz says he and Lanquist will keep the inspiration for the upcoming seasons under wraps for now, but considering Lanquist’s major, it’s safe to assume the other influential works impacting future seasons of the podcast will also be classic novels.

Schwartz says that while some events in the episodes will be based off of the literature that inspired them, there will be two recurring characters, both U of C students.

He also says that he and Lanquist will work to incorporate events into the episodes to make them feel more realistic—as if they are happening in real-time—despite their plans to record episodes about a week or two in advance of publishing them.

“Generally we read the book, we get ideas from it, and we figure out where we want our characters to go from there,” Lanquist says.

edited by Sam Vinton

photos by Sam Vinton

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