A report by Kaitlyn Kanzier for North Jersey.
Imagine sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner when all of a sudden, you are sucked into an interdimensional portal to help preserve your own heritage.
While it sounds improbable, it is the premise for a new podcast, “Timestorm,” created by Bloomfield resident Dania Ramos.
“Timestorm” follows twins Alexa and Beni Ventura as they are ripped from their Newark home and tasked by their distant cousin, Lt. Horacio Méndez, to help preserve Puerto Rico’s “true history.”
“Alexa and Beni are New Jerseys to the core, but they have a genuine curiosity about who and what came before them,” Ramos says. “While exploring their culture’s past, they start to take ownership over it.”
Michael Aquino, who served as sound designer, composer and producer for the podcast, says he tried to relay a sense of urgency throughout his compositions.
“I fell our history has always contained a sense of urgency,” Aquino says.
Throughout their adventures, Alexa and Beni are faced with the familiar problems of school, friends and family as they bear witness to the history of Puerto Rico and try to keep from revealing their time traveling.
The idea for “Timestorm” came to Ramos while she was creating a proposal for a playwriting competition in 2013. She says the main requirement for that contest was that the scripts had to be about New Jersey history.
“Many aspects of the project have changed since that proposal, but a driving force of the story has always been that two kids from Jersey travel through time to witness history,” Ramos says.
The podcast brings into focus hurricanes Irma and Maria in late August and September 2017. In the first episode, the twins are eating dinner with their parents in Newark on Sept. 17, 2017, while Puerto Rico is battered by Maria.
The twins’ goal is to witness, find and remember Puerto Rico’s past and how it shaped the people that came before them.
“Too many moments and people from our culture have been overlooked, lost, forgotten,” Horacio says to the twins.
For Ramos, it was important that Latinx characters be featured to show children that people like them can be the heroes of an adventure “rather than the sidekick.” (“Latinx” is a gender-neutral substitute for Latino and Latina.)
“Latinx narratives are rich and varied,” Ramos says. “They are tales of people born and raised in the states, indigenous myths, accounts of the immigrant experience, and stories that traveled from Africa and Europe – all of these deserve to be heard by children of all backgrounds.”
A good portion of the series’ development happened well before Hurricane Maria but Ramos and Aquino felt it was important to include the devastating hurricane and its aftermath into the story. She also included the fundraising efforts that took place in and around Newark after Maria.
“I rewrote the plot so that the contemporary scenes take place in 2017 in the days leading up to, during, and following Hurricane Maria, which meant portraying the disaster’s impact on the Venturas and their community,” Ramos says.
Keeping it local
Ramos says making the Ventura family from northeastern New Jersey was natural, since she and Aquino were from the area.
“When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time visiting family and friends who lived in different parts of Newark, and my parents were also involved with Puerto Rican leadership and community organizations in the city.”
The cast of the podcast also keeps it local, with many living in New Jersey; some are graduates of Montclair State University.
Alexa’s voice actress, Leilany Figueroa, is from Montclair as is featured cast member Amanda Faison. Aquino is a Bloomfield resident while Jennica Carmona is a West Orange resident. Ramos, Faison, Aquino, Carmona, cast member Mia Diaz and musician Aurora Mendez are all Montclair State graduates.
Where to listen
The episodes are available on podcasting apps including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio and Spotify.
The series is set to continue through November. There will be nine episodes, with two special episodes being released on Sept. 26 and Nov. 28.
Ramos says she is planning on the podcast lasting four seasons.
Ramos produced the podcast through Cocotazo Media and the Google Podcasts creator program. It was one of six podcasts that were chosen to be the “inaugural cohort” for the PRX Google Podcasts creator program, with over 6,000 podcasts hoping to be chosen, Ramos said in a statement.
It was featured at WBUR’s CitySpace in Boston and part of New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s Stages Festival.
“We want to see ‘Timestorm’ grow a strong international following,” Ramos says. “We also aim to bring the podcast into the community and classroom through live events, listening parties, and workshops.”