Beaver Island has been home to colorful characters throughout history. A self-proclaimed king. An island healer. Rogue fishermen.
Their stories come to life in a new series of audio dramas created for the Beaver Island community by
honors students from Central Michigan University.
Will Anderson, an instructor in
broadcast and cinematic arts, led the weeklong oral history project in a course called Voices of the Past: Using Audio Drama to Bring Beaver Island History to Life.
Most of his nine students had no prior experience with broadcasting, oral history or audio drama, he said. But they were all excited about collecting and telling stories using their writing and acting talent, sound effects, and music.
Students Grant Polmanteer and Emily Schwemer record a story in the studio at WVBI-FM.
“Audio drama is entering a second golden era in the age of the podcast,” Anderson said. “When it is done well, there is no medium more engaging and immersive.”
The goal was to discover and uncover local legends and stories and to dramatize them for a live broadcast on Beaver Island’s radio station,
“Beaver Island is a fascinating place with tons of intriguing history,” said Keygan Galloner, a senior double-majoring in
biomedical sciences and
child development. She and her classmates wandered into local shops, conducting interviews with store owners and island residents. They used the local library and the internet to fact-check and dig deeper into the stories they were hearing.
After interviewing local residents and conducting research, students wrote and rehearsed audio stories.
“On our first day, we were lucky to meet islanders at the local coffee shop who could tell us where we should go and who we should talk to. People were happy to share stories about themselves and the legends of the islands,” Galloner said.
In the mid-1800s, religious leader James Strang declared himself king of Beaver Island. Galloner said people had many interesting thoughts on the leader’s demise.
“Everyone said he’d been murdered, but they all had a different story about how he died,” she said.
Galloner was an on-air personality at her high school’s radio station and participates in CMU’s
After Hours Improv. The Beaver Island project was an opportunity for her to engage those two interests in ways she doesn’t often get to in her academic studies.
In the oral histories, she played the female lead in a story about an islander who served as grocer, tourism guide, fireman, mechanic, tow truck driver and more.
Working with station manager Kevin Boyle, the students recorded the stories for the local library archive. The stories also will be included on the community center website as part of a new marketing campaign aimed at increasing tourism.
"It’s exciting to know that this project will help the community’s new Discover Beaver Island campaign, creating publicity for this unique island," Galloner said.