BACK in 2019 the radio serial Tranquility aired for three weeks on Wack Radio 90.1 FM. Since April 12, its creator and award-winning theatre veteran Eric Barry opened up the series to a broader audience with an online run.
According to the synopsis, Tranquility is a daily, comedic five-minute radio serial. The story centres on Uncle Tony (Errol "Blood" Roberts) a retired man who, after being swindled out of his life savings, begins driving the eponymous maxi taxi to make ends meet. It is his first time doing such a job, and the experiences he encounters on the road are the antithesis of his maxi's name.
Barry has had a long history in the arts, starting with acting when he joined the San Fernando City Theatre Movement in 1988. He is a graduate of theatre arts from UWI and co-founder of Tête-À-Tête Théâtre. Work that he has written or directed has won a total of seven Cacique awards from the National Drama Association.
He also has experience in radio drama, having written The Rough Season, a ten-part radio soap opera on hurricane preparedness that plays annually during the hurricane season in the English- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and Hush, a six-part radio soap opera on child sexual abuse and HIV, as part of the Break the Silence Project.
Barry told Newsday in a phone interview he had the idea for what eventually became Tranquility since back in the 1990s.
"I used to travel daily from Port of Spain to Couva, and I wanted to write a story about two women doing the same commute and their daily adventures on the roadway."
He explained his style of writing is that before he puts pen to paper he would juggle an idea in his head over and over to solve the problems. It was during this process he realised issues with the concept, namely if two women are in a taxi every day, then there would be a different driver every day.
"The audience may not connect with that. So it was not a solid premise. I want characters the audience would know.
The idea remained "bubbling" in his head for some time and then, years after, came back to him while he was assisting theatre director Brenda Hughes with a production.
"We were chatting one day and she mentioned a friend of hers had an idea about doing a story in a maxi taxi. And I said, 'Yes! That's it. I will put the characters in a maxi taxi.'
"I was thinking of having characters that you see on a regular basis. If it's the same driver and passengers, that solved the problem."
He began writing the series in 2017 and worked with his friend Sunil Wittle to develop the show. Not all of the ideas, however, made it to the first instalment, as some were too advanced.
"The audience needed to get to know the characters first before you get to those stories. So I went back to the drawing board and writing establishing stories. This is how it was born."
Barry did the casting himself, with a mix of veterans and some "new-ish" actors. He held an audition for the character of Kevin, Tony's nephew and the maxi conductor. Actor Kevin Humphrey, who had been doing theatre since he was at Presentation College, San Fernando, auditioned for the role and Barry said it fitted him perfectly.
The other main cast includes Theresa Awai as Miss Ann, a talkative passenger, Shannalee de Freitas as Wendy, a feisty red-woman passenger, and Alvin Fortuné as Andre, a no-nonsense passenger.
Asked why he did not voice any characters, Barry said he did not want to.
"Being a producer and director is enough to deal with. And if I voiced it, who would have been directing me? And I could not afford another director. So I preferred not to."
With the casting completed, the next stage was getting the show on the radio. Barry described this process as "painful."
"You need money to do anything. If you go to TV or a radio station they would tell you, 'We love it, we will do it, but you have to bring in money, advertisers.' This is where many a good idea dies or goes nowhere."
He said while writers may be creative, they usually know nothing about marketing or advertising, nor the first thing about approaching a business with a plan to advertise. He pointed out each station has a sales team, whom one would think would be the ones to get promotion for a show.
"I don't know why in Trinidad they tell you to find advertising. I find it very unfair. Creative people are creative, marketers are marketers."
Barry said he works in advertising and advertisers like to put money next to something already popular or which has a big name, especially a soca star.
"If you have a new show with soca star, yes, you might get advertising. Otherwise, you go with God."
He applied to the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts and received some financial assistance. He planned to air the show in the period after Christmas but before Carnival, when advertisers normally spend a lot of money.
"It did not work. But the ball was already rolling."
He took a loan to pay the actors and cover other costs and was able to record 15 episodes out of the 60 that have been written.
And what about the recording costs? Barry said radio drama costs much less than theatre, television, and cinema as it does not require a set and all the other trappings.
"With radio, the budget is much smaller but imagination is limitless. You could be on the moon, in China, in the middle of the earth, anything. That is the beauty of radio."
When looking for a radio station Barry set his sights on Wack Radio 90.1 FM.
"I felt their programming married with the essence of the show. The show is very Trinidad, very us, and their format is 100 per cent us. I thought it was a perfect fit."
When he approached Wack radio they "grabbed me one time." They had been trying to do something similar, but had difficulty getting financing.
"They were happy I brought this forward."
Barry said he hoped to get the show on air so it would get some traction.
"That did not happen, though it did enjoy a good run."
He said Wack radio has a very loyal audience in San Fernando who tuned in, as well as Trinidadians in Canada, New York and London.
"We got a lot of good responses from those people and they truly loved the show."
He added, however, Tranquility never reached a mass audience nationally.
Shift into online
Barry recalled when the run of 15 episodes ended in 2019 people approached him and asked where was the rest of the show.
"The other 45 episodes had been written and were just lying there. And the story gets better and more fun as it progresses. It really is a lot of fun."
He said the desire for people to hear the rest of the story was like being pregnant with a child that you want to be born. Barry added he would love to finish the series if he got the money to do it.
He said there was also the desire to have the first 15 episodes heard by a much wider audience. But without money he could not get on radio again. Then, while listening to a radio drama on music and podcast streaming platform Soundcloud, he was inspired to upload Tranquility to the site.
On April 12 the first episode of Tranquility was released online and the remaining episodes over three weeks (from Monday to Friday). Each week will focus on a different story, with the first being Baby on Board.
"Listeners can expect Trini bacchanal but well structured and intelligently done."
He said the episodes would be posted "before the sun rises."
"People kind of tired of the news and talk radio. This is a nice break from the norm. Something different. A nice little laugh and smile to start the day."
Tranquility will be available to listen to on Soundcloud at Tête-À-Tête Théâtre, on Facebook at the Tranquility page, on Barry's personal Facebook page and on Tête-À-Tête Théâtre's YouTube channel.