What do you get when six Australian comics come together to try to navigate their way through a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign in front of a live audience? “Dragon Friends!” This quirky and inventive podcast has just entered its sixth season and shows no signs of slowing down.
In 2016, the show’s producer Shakeera Smith and her husband decided they wanted a fun way to do an improv show with their theater friends and record it. Shakeera’s husband was a director who ran live events in a local comedy room, who also loved playing D&D as a teenager.
This prompted an idea to merge their two passions into a live show, complete with actors and a musician.
They did the first show in front of an audience of around 30 people and recorded it. Smith, who is also a developer, stood up a webpage to make it official, and “boom,” the first episode of the “Dragon Friends” podcast was born!
“We figured we’d put it out into the void of the internet to see what would happen,” explains Shakeera. “We released the first episode, then tried four more shows, and we quickly found out with the podcast that we were reaching a whole lot of new people.”
Their audience numbers were also picking up as well. By December of 2016, they had over 120 people attending the live shows, while the podcast was continuing to grow overseas, with over 40% of their primary listening audience outside of the US.
“We fill a particular niche that surprisingly, resonates with a lot of people,” says Shakeera. “We get the theater buffs who want something funny, but we also get the D&D gamers who are intrigued by the whole idea.”
“We’ve been fortunate to be a part of some of the D&D launches, which has helped to elevate awareness for the show. We tend to anger the more hardcore D&D players because we’re so light on the rules, but the theater and comedy nerds love us!”
Their live show is performed on the second Wednesday of every month. That live show is then split into two podcasts and released bi-weekly on Fridays. This consistent release schedule helps keep their listening numbers up because their audience knows exactly when to expect the next episode.
Downloads for new episodes are now averaging around 10-15K, which is admirable for such a niche show.
The team just recently wrapped their 100th episode, and for the holiday season, they’re trying something brand new (and by request)…their first-ever Christmas musical, with half the songs scripted, and the other half improvised.
“There are so many episodes where somebody breaks out in song, and people have been asking us for a musical for years,” explains Shakeera. “We’re going to try to Livestream it as well for our international audiences.”
Even though Australia has not been hit as hard by the global pandemic, it has forced the team to make some pivots to keep producing content, but it’s also helped them find some more significant growth opportunities.
“We had to shift and do some live shows over Zoom, but it helped us realize we’re not limited by performance space,” explains Shakeera. “Audio Technica was very generous to supply us with some podcast mics, so we recorded the cast with Audacity, and we were still able to produce a quality and enjoyable show.”
“The audio recording has always been the top priority for us,” adds Shakeera. “We care about our audience on the podcast the most!”
When asked what drew her to Fusebox, it was the ease of the archive player that allowed listeners to binge previous episodes that made it the perfect choice.
“We usually see when people discover us, they start going back and listening to everything.”
So what’s next for Dragon Friends?
The cast would love an opportunity to come to the US again and be more involved in the D&D movement to expand their reach. They also signed a deal with Screen Australia to produce a six-episode web series for next year. Despite their growing success, there’s a golden rule that remains for all the cast. It has to stay fun!
“We’ll continue to keep doing this because we love it, but as soon as it starts feeling like too much work, then it’s probably the end,” explains Shakeera.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we can set it and forget it, and it still retains an element of surprise and spontaneity for our listeners and us. We never planned to get over a month or a year, and yet here we are six years later, still growing strong and having a great time.”
For more information on Dragon Friends and to listen to the podcast, visit www.thedragonfriends.com
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