RETREAT PODCAST: Meet the Women Creating Laughs and Topping Charts

RETREAT PODCAST: Meet the Women Creating Laughs and Topping Charts

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Retreat podcast
RETREAT podcast creators Andi and Aoibheann on a creative retreat in Ireland.

Do you need a good laugh these days? With everything that’s going on in the world these days, from war to illness to the energy crisis, it seems like we all need a bit of a “craic”­—an Irish term that loosely means having a fun time with others.

That was the thinking behind the new hit comedy podcast RETREAT, the brainchild of Paris-based American artist Andrea “Andi” Ipaktchi and Irish writer Aoibheann McCannn. The creative partners released six 20-minute episodes in Autumn 2022 after a year of writing, production and post-production. It has done well in the podcast comedy fiction category, peaking at No 1 in the Irish charts and No 5 in France, and staying in the top forty for the past few months.

The story is set in an arts residency in rural Ireland, a hotbed of egotistical types who, along with an army of frisky weasels, try to defeat a giant corporation scheming to take over the residency. INSPIRELLE spoke with Andi and Aoibheann about the inspiration behind their project, working through the pandemic, and connecting with local artists to create a vibrant creative community.

Andi, you’re an artist living in Paris. Aoibheann is a writer living in Galway. How did you two meet and get the idea for RETREAT?

We met in January 2019, at an Irish arts residency. It was snowing and the house was peaceful. Residents were toiling away in their studios while we were in town buying Prosecco for Andi’s printmaking show.

After the exhibition featuring rabbits, suspicious bed-knobs and chats after dinner, as the Irish say, “the craic was mighty.” And as craic should never be taken lightly, we vowed to meet again.

In January 2020 we returned, eager to bottle that lightening into some kind of artist project. We began with a walk around the lake and crossed paths with resident artists, poets, musicians and writers who said they were overcome as they took in the beauty and grandeur of their new creative haven. Spartan-like living is the expected norm for people in the arts, but here we all were being treated like royalty. It made us giddy. We joked that if Donald Trump were president of Ireland, he’d discover the place, kick out the artists and make it into a golf course and spa for oligarchs…Though we didn’t realize it at the time, our work had begun.

The house and grounds of the Irish arts residency that inspired RETREAT.

What made you want to do it as a podcast? How did you go about turning it into a community project?

Maybe we’re psychics or maybe just down with the kids, but we decided an audio format was feasible both financially and technically. Plus we both love podcasts. This was a fortuitous decision given what was around the corner. Covid appeared and the die was cast. Audio adapts well to remote collaborations. We used Zoom initially for auditions and read throughs. Then switched to Zencastr, a virtual recording studio.

We feel so strongly about paying talent fair industry rates that it showed up as one of the themes in the script—our baddie, Skye Jetjetski, abuses vulnerable artists for financial gain. We wanted to hire actors but had already spent 1000€ on snacks, software and hardware. (Viscount biscuits and Oreos don’t grow on trees.) Actors and related professionals were hit particularly hard by theatre closures during Covid. We reacted by starting a sheepish GoFundMe campaign. Sixty people responded with over 3000€ in donations, allowing us to hire three talented actors. We thank all 60 donors in the end credits. RETREAT had become a community project. (Sadly, we were a wee bit too short to land Liam Neeson but he seems to have weathered the storm.)

What is the process of creative collaboration like? How do you split up the work?

It’s a bit like ping pong. In fact, at some point we did make a video featuring two middle-aged woman (played very convincingly by ourselves) tossing a virtual ball from one screen to the other. We learned by trial and error how to play to our strengths.

We encouraged each other’s follies especially during the inevitable self-doubt you can experience when you are building something from scratch. We tried to capture the fun we were having together on the page.

We built the world together via regular meetings on Skype (yes we are the last two people single-handedly keeping Skype alive), WhatsApp for updates, brainstorming and nonsense, and Writer Duet (a virtual writing software designed for collaboration) for writing the scripts. When we get together in person, sparks fly.

“ID Card” for the character of Shannon, a slightly ditzy Irish-American artist

Andi, you also play Shannon, the lone American at the retreat. What was the inspiration behind her character?

Shannon is a ditzy, self-centered, Irish-American wannabe artist who disarms people by crossing over social norms and often gets what she wants this way. She asks nicely and sounds sweet. She doesn’t make threats or bully. Others comply. In one scene, Shannon arrives late and simply asks the seated dinner table guests to scoot down so she can enjoy the seat with the best view of the lake. The request surprises them and they comply. Shannon slides through life oblivious this way. People like her really do exist and I wish I knew how to handle them better. It’s usually not worth making a fuss. For heaven’s sakes, it’s merely a lake view. Right?

Once, in real life, at a writers’ workshop, we were settling into our seats when someone arrived late-ish with her toddler and a nanny. She pushed some people aside thoughtlessly and plunked the son into the most coveted seat, the one next to the guest speaker. There were no extra seats available at the long table so we grabbed her an extra chair and placed it close behind her son. The Mom disregarded the chair and approached mine way on the other side. She asked me for my seat and then asked the others to scoot down more because she’d like to see the speaker better. Like little soldiers, we all complied. The Nanny didn’t have a workshop ticket and was sent away. I found myself seated behind her son in the awkward seat and enjoyed entertaining him while his Mom interacted with the speaker. I have been questioning my behavior at that event since it occurred.

The cast of RETREAT performing at a live show.

What are some lessons the two of you learned making season one? What might you do differently next time?

People want fun. There is a place for us to do our thing. People who can’t make fun on their own turn to comedy. At least that’s what we do and it seems we’re not alone. And, if things continue this way for us, as a team, we can go further than in our other disciplines in short story writing and printmaking. We’ve also noticed that surrounding ourselves with trusting people who allow things to grow organically are the best kind of people for us.

In terms of what we might do differently, accept from the start that we were in over heads. We had to do everything from fundraising to writing to casting, directing, producing and all the audio tech. Humanity, pandemics and  technology have that not-so endearing trait of being unpredictable. We were thrown constant curve balls that had an impact on our precious plans. It would be wise to accept that this is part of the process. Something to be expected. We are not terribly wise but we’ll try to be more patient.

What’s next for you and RETREAT?

Well, we had two live shows in 2020 and 2021 and really enjoyed them. In fact, a staged spin-off of RETREAT was shortlisted for the 2023 Hammond House Publishing Prize for comedy in the UK! So we definitely want to do more live shows, which hopefully will be performed without Covid restrictions. We’re also writing Season 2. We’re over the moon as it looks like we have landed a surprise guest star from a well-known Irish comedy series. We’re also looking forward to new inspiration at a different arts residency, this time in Scotland for 2023. We’re hoping for a world tour but only if our handlers can guarantee the craic.

Andi and Aoibheann love invitations from writing groups, book clubs, and festivals to banter-on about creative collaboration. Get in touch with them HERE or visit their Patreon page to support the podcast.

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