The Bright Sessions is a science fiction audio-drama that follows therapist Dr Bright and her gifted young patients. As if listening to other people’s problems isn’t stressful enough, Dr Bright specialises in patients with supernatural abilities. The show is written and directed by Lauren Shippen.
Before ‘The Bright Sessions’ was in operation you used to run a radio show in college, what was that show like?
It was a pretty straight-forward music show. For two hours every Wednesday morning, I would play music and talk about it. Sometimes I would dedicate the whole show (or an hour segment) to one artist or genre and sometimes it would just be a grab-bag of things. I would usually try to talk about the artist’s history a bit, what their concerts are like if I had been to one, maybe dig into some musicology if I felt like it. I can’t say I spent much time planning each show, so a lot of it was off the cuff. My college radio station was pretty low-key and sometimes wouldn’t even be broadcasting terrestrially because our transmitter would shut down randomly. And then there were the days I would find myself locked out of the studio (only the station managers had keys and they weren’t always there) and just have to pack it in and come back the next week. It was all pretty casual, to say the least.
Where did the idea for TBS come from? Was it something you had been working on for a long time or did it come suddenly all at once?
It was a little bit of both – I’d had the idea of Sam in my head for quite a bit. There was this girl in my head who lived alone, didn’t have a lot of friends, and had anxiety. But she could also travel to different places. For a while it was that she could teleport, or travel into the world of a novel, and eventually I settled on time travel. I spent a while just tossing this idea around in my head – the girl who time travels when she panics – when I realized I needed to give her someone to talk to. Once I figured out that she should talk to a therapist, everything else rushed into my head. I started thinking about who this therapist was and what her other patients were like and it just snowballed from there.
Even though TBS is relatively young in terms of podcasts it is still among many great podcasts with a large amount of LGBT* characters. Why was it important for you to deliver such diversity in TBS universe?
Having LGBT+ characters in the podcast didn’t start as a considered effort to deliver diversity. I was just writing what I knew. My experiences with my own sexuality and the fact that I have always had close friends and family who are LGBT+ made it really easy to include diversity. I knew I wanted Caleb to have a high school romance as one of the story-lines and the character of Adam just sprung fully formed into my brain. It wasn’t a conscious decision at that point.
Since then, I’ve been a little more intentional with the diversity. I always knew which characters were LGBT+, but I’ve made a point to confirm those identities in the podcast. One central theme in The Bright Sessions is the feeling of isolation and loneliness. This is something that everyone feels at one point or another in their life, whether because of circumstance, mental illness, their sexual or gender identity, their social life, etc. It is my hope that members of our audience feel a little less alone hearing characters struggling with these issues, so including a variety of sexualities is part of achieving that. I’ve always wanted to make something that people can relate to.
Throughout school you had always been involved in writing in one form or another but I heard that TBS sessions was your first go at script writing? Were you surprised by the amount of fans TBS had accumulated by the end of season one?
By the end of Season 1 (our first 9 episodes), we actually didn’t have a very large audience. Our friends and family were listening, and we were having a great time doing it, but we hadn’t broken out yet. It was really the spring of 2016, when we were wrapping up our second season, that the numbers started going up and up. And yes, it has absolutely surprised me. The whole experience has exceeded my wildest expectations. It’s bizarre, sometimes I’ll stop to take stock of how far the show has come and have a strange, out-of-body experience where I realize that, oh, I’ve written this thing that all these people are listening and reacting to. It still feels incredibly surreal to me that something is coming out of my brain and being consumed by other people. That sounds quite gross phrased like that, but you get what I mean.
Besides having unique abilities the characters face the typical nightmares all young people go through from sexuality, isolation, frustration, lack of control etc. When you were creating these characters did you find yourself taking aspects of your own experiences and dividing them up into the characters?
Absolutely! As I’ve talked about many times before (so sorry for people who have already heard this), Sam is me in many ways. She has my anxiety disorder, my tendency to be alone, my stubbornness and self-doubt. Obviously as she is the character that I voice, she’s bound to be the one most similar to me, but all the characters have gotten pieces of me. Caleb’s temper and experience with sexuality have been heavily informed by my own and Adam is very close to who I was in high school – music obsessed, smart but pretentious, huge dork, not the best at socializing. Dr. Bright and Damien have both been given qualities I don’t particularly like about myself, which I won’t psychoanalyze here to save your sanity. Chloe is probably the character who is farthest from me because she was largely modelled after my best friend and Chloe’s voice actor, Anna Lore. Anna has an enormous capacity to love and charismatic, charming disposition that defines who Chloe is. The thing that Chloe got from me is her self-righteousness.
Every character has a piece of me, including characters that have been introduced in later episodes, which I won’t say anything about for fear of spoiling something. But while I definitely draw on my own experiences, those things get exaggerated and altered to a degree that creates an entirely new human completely separate from myself.
The new season is absolutely brilliant so far, but I sense the A-typicals have yet to see the full wrath of the AM. Can we expect some serious drama in the coming episodes?
You definitely can. Our final two episodes of this season, Episodes 39 & 40, are the culmination of a lot of different things and go to a darker place than we’ve gone before. While not all the drama is AM-related, you are correct in thinking that we’ve barely scratched the surface of that organization.
Where can readers find you and how can they support TBS?
They can find us at thebrightsessions.com and @brightpodcast on twitter. You can find me at @laurenshippen on twitter. If you want to support the show, you can make a one-time donation on our website or becoming an ongoing patron at patreon.com/thebrightsessions.
Apart from TBS what other podcasts are you addicted to?
Oh my gosh, so many. I just binged S-Town, which was incredible, and I stop everything to listen to new episode of The NPR Politics Podcast when they come out. In terms of fiction, I adore ars Paradoxica, Wolf 359, Wooden Overcoats, Within the Wires, Archive 81, Greater Boston, The Bridge – god, there are too many to name. At the moment, I’m catching up on Rabbits and Hello From the Magic Tavern, which are extremely different but both very much worth a listen.
If TBS keeps growing in success, which we know it will, would you consider giving one of the characters their own spin-off podcast? Who and why?
This is a great question that no one has ever asked before! I have thought about spin-off podcasts SO much. I have a bunch of Chloe plot that has never made it into the podcast – there’s stuff with her college life I want to get to that I think would be best served in a separate podcast. Caleb is going to be in college soon as well, so that would be a fun way to get him in the mix. I also definitely have some plans for Sam and Mark that I’ll keep quiet for now because some of it will probably pop up next season, but that’s another spin-off that’d be a lot of fun.
Any final words for the fans of ‘The Bright Sessions’?
Thank you. I am so grateful for each and every one of you. Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have so many fans and the fact that the ones we have are as kind and enthusiastic and creative as you all is really a gift. And of course: stay strange.