Farewell to Consolation Prize

This afternoon, we held a party at RRCHNM to celebrate the past of Consolation Prize and the future of R2 Studios. I wrote out a little speech which sums up a lot of how I feel about the show and what it has meant, so I thought I’d post it here.

Thank you all for coming to our R2 Studios open house and celebration of our OG show, Consolation Prize. As many of you know, Consolation Prize was launched in September 2020, during the first full semester of the pandemic. The Center had made a podcast many years ago called Digital Campus, doing podcasting before podcasting was cool. I remember listening to Digital Campus on a few road trips. But it had been a while since the center had been in the business of podcasting. An external partner reached out about the possibility of doing something with us, and we had the idea to make a podcast. That project eventually didn’t pan out because we were concerned that the Center’s lack of experience with podcasting would make our grant application non-competitive. How do you get the podcasting experience necessary to be competitive? Well, you make a podcast! So Mills very graciously gave me the green light—and the time of a number of people at the Center—to pilot a brand-new podcast, different from anything we’d done before. That podcast was Consolation Prize.

Consolation Prize had an ambitious goal—to be a highly produced, deeply researched narrative podcast…a thing that no one at the center had the least bit of experience with. It also had a very niche premise: that consuls, low-level diplomatic officials, were important enough to the history of the United States that they were worth making a whole show about.

Even though I read everything I could get my hands on about making a podcast, we still went into this with a lot of room to learn. Very, very few other shows exist that do what we wanted to do, and sound like we wanted to sound. So we were kind of flying blind on some things. We got some really helpful advice from a consultant after the first few episodes, which led to our now-maybe-familiar description: “Consolation Prize is a podcast about the United States in the world through the eyes of its consuls.”

Over the past two seasons, a lot of things have changed and improved. For one thing, we got a real studio space, which I’d invite you to check out after the speechifying. We also got a lot more comfortable with sound and story. We learned how to find interesting stories, how to ask better questions, how to articulate our ideas in a more focused way. Over two seasons, Consolation Prize went to six continents and three centuries. We did legal history, religious history, art history, economic history, military history, gender history, and of course, diplomatic history. I also counted up the number of different voices you hear over our 33 episodes, and it’s over 100, between me, our team, our expert guests, and our voice actors. Getting to talk to so many amazing historians was definitely a highlight for me. And yeah, I definitely called in a LOT of favors to get voice actors on a shoestring budget. So shout-out to many of you in this room whose voices have been heard on Consolation Prize, whether you agreed to do it eagerly or with a significant amount of arm twisting.

I’m really proud of our core team, made up of me, Deepthi Murali, a postdoc, Megan Brett, a graduate student turned graduated student, Kris Stinson, a PhD student, Jeanette Patrick, a classified staff member, Andrew Cote, a former adjunct, and our two great interns, Brenna Reilley, an undergraduate intern on Season 1, and Frankie Bjork, a graduate intern on Season 2. Consolation Prize has truly been a team effort from Day 1, and I’m so proud of that.

But all good things must come to an end. This is my last month at GMU, so continuing the show would be complicated. But I had already decided that the show needed to come to an end. It’s time for the studio and the Center to move on to bigger and better projects, which will hopefully build on the lessons we’ve learned from Consolation Prize. It has truly been my privilege to be the showrunner for Consolation Prize, and the head of studio for R2 Studios, and I’m delighted to be leaving the studio in such capable hands.


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