Felicia Day has made the most of every small screen storytelling medium, from her breakout web series The Guild and the Whedon brothers’ Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to conventional television appearances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, and The Magicians. She even started the Geek and Sundry production company to produce digital content, and now her colleague from that endeavor, Ryan Copple, is producing an innovative sci fi program in an unexpected form: as an improv comedy podcast called Voyage to the Stars. Day joined us to talk about her part in the podcast and to reminisce about her career.
Day and Copple, who collaborated on web series such as Wil Wheaton’s Table Top for Geek and Sundry, have been friends and worked side-by-side for quite some time, so teaming up for Voyage to the Stars was a no-brainer. “When I was making [The Guild], I believed so passionately in enabling independent creators to make web series that I always searched for cool projects online that I thought were awesome, and Ryan actually made a web series called Riese, which was a steampunk web series. So I reached out and just randomly emailed him one day, and we became friends over the years,” Day explained. “When he came to me with this idea of an improvised podcast, I didn’t know how it was going to work to be honest with you, but I knew that the characters he came up with were really funny. And I love the format of podcasting; it feels like a really fresh place to be telling stories now.”
Voyage to the Stars, which premieres on February 12, 2019, tells the story of a group of misfits aboard a spaceship whose misadventures unfold when they accidentally find themselves on the wrong side of a wormhole. Their mission: try not to blow up the galaxy in their attempts to return home. The series stars Colton Dunn (Superstore) as Tucker Lentz, whom Day described as “an overly confident but under qualified captain,” Steve Berg (The Good Place) as Stew Merkel, “a surly, negative downer of a mechanic,” Janet Varney (The Legend of Korra) as the ship’s A.I. Sorry, who “doesn’t know as much as she probably should because her memory banks have been wiped,” and Day, who has great affection for her own character.
“My character is Elsa Rankfort; she is the science officer of this spaceship,” Day said. “She knows a lot, but isn’t really focused enough to finish anything. So she’s got like fifteen half-degrees but is kind of impatient with anybody around who doesn’t know as much as she does. She’s a really fun, ditzy but really, really smart character, and I really love her… They’re all in a quest to get home but in the interim, they stop on planet after planet and kind of leave destruction in their wake but in a really funny way.”
The four principle actors got together in a studio to record with only a skeleton of a guide for what was going to happen in each episode. “We recorded about three or four a day, so it was a really intense three or four days of recording the episodes,” Day recalled. “There are going to be seventeen different episodes in the podcast form for the ten story episodes that we recorded. We went in knowing where we’d start the scene; we’d know two or three bits of information and maybe our attitude in the scene; and we’d know where we wanted to end up… Everything after that was off the cuff. There was no dialogue that was given to us to say per se. We just made it all up along the way.”
Day found the audio format quite liberating compared to her previous short-format web series as well as more conventional audio dramas. “It’s a really fun, spontaneous way to do the audio format,” said Day. “Sometimes podcasts, especially longer form ones, can be kind of slow and plodding in their pace, but this? Everybody has their jokes they want to get in, and we’re riffing off each other in a way that we don’t even know what’s going to come out of our mouths. So we came up with some crazy stuff that turned into gold that we didn’t even know we were going to say, and that’s what I love about improv.”
Plenty of guest stars will join the small cast of Voyage to the Stars as their characters go from planet-to-planet. “We have amazing guest stars from Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken) — some really, really funny people who came in and really mixed up the dynamic between us and came up with some equally crazy stuff that you didn’t know they were going to bring,” said Day. Other guests include Amir Talai, Chris Williams, Eric Edelstein, Gary Anthony Williams, Hal Lublin, Nyima Funk, Cole Stratton, and Deborah Baker Jr.
The press release characterizes Voyage to the Stars as a “pop-culture reference laden space comedy… with stand-alone adventures each episode that come together to tell a larger story about finding your place in the world,” a concept which Day expanded upon. “There’s certainly a lot of references to earlier science fiction or fantasy worlds. I know there was a riff on 80s tunes that somehow happened even though it’s set way far in the future. So the pop culture references are aplenty in this, but certainly the basis of it is very farcical in nature. It’s not like The Orville which is like an homage; it’s definitely more of a spoof and a broader comedy.”
Voyage to the Stars is also banking on the ability to expand its story into comic books, live shows, games, toys, and other merch. “I’m excited to see how people respond, and I’m sure the response of the audience is going to inform what they do going forward with the story,” said Day. When asked if animation or television might enter the picture, she admitted, “I’m not a producer on it, but I’m sure that if there’s an opportunity that would be super cool. There’s a lot of podcasts being turned into television shows nowadays, so who knows? We’re just focused on making the funniest product now.”
Expansion opportunities will become more clear when Voyage to the Stars makes its debut on Apple Podcasts and other podcast platforms. For the full audio of our interview with Felicia Day, including much more about her career outside of this podcast, be sure to subscribe to our own podcast, Sci Fi Fidelity, or simply listen below.
Michael Ahr is a writer, reviewer, and podcaster here at Den of Geek; you can check out his work here or follow him on Twitter (@mikescifi). Dave Vitagliano has been writing and podcasting about science fiction television since 2012. You can read more of his work here.