36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals
You and your students sometimes need a break from the books in the book room. And you also may need a rest from working with non-fiction text, short passages, paperbacks that are never quite as up-to-the-minute as you had hoped. Audiobooks are a great alternative to solo silent reading—not that we aren’t still trying to get students to love the experience of sitting with a book—but even they can get a little stale.
Unfortunately, musical theatre, one of the forms that has much to offer our media-saturated students is usually beyond the price range of our instructional budgets. Films are great, but for full-length films, we often need class time or a budget to make outside-of-class viewing feasible. Problems, problems, problems.
But there’s a new experiment you might want to check out. Good news: It’s a relationship story filled with intrigue. Good news: It’s a musical, but it’s also a play. Good news: It has appealing actors—Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton—performing in what is a hybrid of audiobooks and musical theatre. Good news: It can be downloaded for free. (Slightly less good news: There are a few short ads embedded in the podcast.)
Do you know what the 36 Questions to Fall in Love are? Maybe your students do…okay, maybe slightly more of your female than male students do (or maybe not, you might be surprised). Okay, well, the psychological angle to this podcast created by Two Up musical writers Chris Littler and Ellen Winter builds on the popular cultural discussion about whether getting to know certain things about another person is the path to falling in love with them. You and your students can learn more about the psychological research in a New York Times article that links to an essay about the 36 questions phenomenon. Go to this page, see a brief article, and even access a podcast of Mandy Len Catron’s essay from The Times “Modern Love” column.
The musical complicates matters a bit, though. What if a person thinks they know someone, but really doesn’t? Will resetting their relationship by answering the questions lead (back) to love?
At this point, you may be wondering what IS this podcast? What is it about? Is it really something that might interest my students?
I can’t tell you for sure, but I think you should check it out. Go to https://36questions.bandcamp.com/ to listen, or look up the “36 Questions” podcast on the Apple store. Download the podcast, and give it a listen in your car on the way to work or to pick up the kids from their activities. You might notice as you listen that the creators are doing something more than straightforwardly telling a story through audio…though they are doing that too. They are also using subtle clues tailored to this particular medium to draw their audience into curiosity about the characters we meet but can’t see. Sound plays a wonderfully complex role in this story, so you’ll feel yourself noticing that audio effects are not just creating the reality we are being encouraged to visualize, but rather—as in old-fashioned radio drama—stimulating a listener’s attention in directions the writers think will serve their larger themes, characterization, and story arc.
One warning: The story is a relationship story, and though its details are not harsh, there are a few references to sexual matters…relatively brief, not overly explicit, but likely best suited to mature high school students.
What I’ve sketched out here is a rough set of complementary texts—an audio podcast or two, some short journalistic articles and essays, and then a wide set of texts that you might link to these when you investigate this podcast musical and the constellation of interviews, reviews, and commentaries available online. I’m sure you’ll find listening to the musical an enjoyable way to spend some time, and you might get some creative ideas for how working with such interconnected media texts might help you find a few new paths to engaging your students with characters, storytelling, and the psychology of human relationships.
Thomas C. Crochunis