When the COVID-19 pandemic began prompting shutdowns in March, Austin resident Jonathan Osborne and his childhood friend, Brandon Camp, were about halfway through writing a scripted podcast for kids.
The pair were inspired to create a production company, Austin-based HodgePodge Media, after observing the explosion of podcasts among adults. With kids of their own, they separately arrived at the same conclusion. "We both had this individual light bulb pop up over our collective heads in which we realized that, although the space was really blossoming, the kids podcasting space was not," said Camp, who is based in Los Angeles and wrote and directed the 2018 family movie Benji.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
Rather than continue with their script, Osborne and Camp scrapped their draft and began work on a new one—Quaranteen'd—about a ragtag crew of kids who believe they have found a cure to the pandemic. Its first four episodes are available now, with a new one debuting each week.
Producing the quarantine-themed show while sheltering in place required some ingenuity.
The cast and crew of Quaranteen'd held long Zoom calls.
With the help of Cindy McCreery, an associate screenwriting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, they hired a team of young writers, who fleshed out the story over long Zoom calls. "We treated it like any traditional Hollywood writers' room," Camp said.
In search of a cast, they created an Instagram account and put out a call. Close to 2,000 submissions filtered in. "We completely underestimated how much time people had on their hands," Osborne said.
Mayla Montgomery plays the lead role in Quaranteen'd
Mayla Montgomery, a rising seventh grader at Round Rock ISD, plays lead character Zoe Cross, a teenager who believes she's discovered the cure—but it is being hidden by the Bridge Corp., which stands to profit from the pandemic. "She's always fired up and passionate about something," Montgomery says of her character.
After hearing about Quaranteen'd from her neighbor, an executive producer of the show, Montgomery decided to try out. She put together a resume with her experience with improv at the local comedy club ColdTowne Theatre and musical theater. After submitting her audition, she was "shocked" to receive a callback. Her surprise doubled when she was offered the role.
Soon, Montgomery received a recording kit from Osborne and Camp. "We've been shipping equipment all over the country," Osborne said, adding that they soon learned how to conduct mic tests over Zoom and instruct the actors to wrap themselves in blankets for the best sound quality.
Sometimes kids' productions are shoddily made and don't take their audience very seriously, Camp said, but he wanted Quaranteen'd to be a true cinematic experience—on par with films by Steven Spielberg and moves such as The Goonies and Star Wars.
Montgomery said she has listened to the first few episodes with her younger brother, who is usually a little too distracted to sit through things. But Quaranteen'd has him hooked.
"We're not surprised because this is what we always felt like we were capable of bringing to the space, but it certainly has been pleasant," Camp said of the reaction so far.
Once this season is over, Osborne and Camp plan to tackle an even more ambitious project: remotely producing a musical podcast.
"The irony is that this is the time of isolation and yet I feel like we have brought together this family for this family podcast," Camp said. "Amid the 2 a.m. sessions with the sound engineering and pulling out hair and wondering why the heck we're doing this—those are the moments that have certainly inspired me and kept me going."
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.