Earlier this June, Gimlet released a new scripted podcast for kids and teens with a twist: it centers around two princes, who fall in love on a magical adventure. Boasting a beautiful story brought to life by a star-studded cast and the goal of helping LGBT youth feel seen, The Two Princes may just be ushering in a new kind of podcast for young listeners. We met with writer, Kevin Christopher Snipes, to discuss how a personal project turned into a blockbuster production.
When I heard that Gimlet was putting out a new podcast for teenagers and kids, I was curious. When I heard it was going to be an immersive narrative set in a fantastical land with knights and dragons, I was intrigued. When I heard that it was going to be a love story between two princes and had partnered with The Trevor Project, I knew I had to hear it. And then I listened to all seven episodes in one day and texted all my friends to listen immediately, and I knew I just had to interview the creator. Luckily, Kevin Christopher Snipes was kind enough to discuss his podcast, The Two Princes, with me and now I get to tell you all about my latest obsession.
Kevin grew up in central Florida, somehow surviving life in a swamp (trust me it’s hard, I did it too). He fell in love with theater at an early age and tried acting for a bit before he realized writing plays was way more enjoyable than acting in them. He kept at it and has written plays for a while, getting very comfortable with telling stories on stage with the help of a cast and crew.
While The Two Princes can boast so many of the ingredients of a classic fairytale – like an enchanted forest, two kingdoms in distress, mysterious killer plants, a flying ship, and epic sword battles – they’ve been mixed up into something entirely new and exciting. So, of course, I wanted to know where Kevin had gotten the idea in the first place. He told me “the whole idea for The Two Princes actually started a few years ago when [his] first nephew was born.” See, his family loves to read and Kevin wanted to help build their family library as much as he could, but children’s books were really lacking any LGBT characters. “And it was really important to me that my nephew grew up seeing that kind of representation,” he said. “Because whether he grows up to be straight or gay or somewhere in between, I wanted him to know that there’s no wrong way to love.”
When Kevin realized that “there are plenty of children’s books out there that tell [his nephew] it’s perfectly okay for the prince to end up with the princess, but there are very few if any that have that same message about the prince ending up with another prince,” he took it upon himself to provide exactly that. Kevin wrote a fantastical book featuring a swashbuckling adventure and two princes who have to save the day and just so happen to fall in love along the way. And when the book was written and added to his nephew’s library, that’s kind of where it stayed. There weren’t any major plans for it and Kevin wasn’t looking for it to go farther than it had. All was well.
That is, until he and Mimi O’Donnell met up. See, alongside being a caring uncle, Kevin is a playwright. He fell in love with theater at an early age and tried acting for a bit before he realized writing plays was way more enjoyable than acting in them. He kept at it and has written plays for years, and during all that theater work he met Mimi. Years later, when they met up again, she had just become the head of Gimlet’s scripted podcasts division. She happened to be looking into ideas for a kids or young adult show, and Kevin threw out that he had a book he had written for his nephew a few years earlier about two princes on an adventure who fall in love. Mimi bought in even faster than I did, asking if Kevin could expand the story to series length. “In less than a year I had written it, Gimlet had recorded it, Mimi directed it, and now it’s out in the world in time for Pride, which is super exciting for me,” Kevin said.
This is a perfect moment to mention that this kind of programming for kids is pretty rare and hasn’t been seen in podcasting thus far. Kevin wanted to ensure that Gimlet be acknowledged for coming to this story with a lot of courage and excitement in showing support for the LGBT community and in helping LGBT youth feel a little more visible and a lot less alone. Not only did Gimlet jump full force into the idea, but they also made sure to hire some of the best actors in the business, which had Kevin all sorts of excited.
I rarely recognize voice actors in podcasts. Not because they aren’t phenomenal, just because I am not really versed in voice actors. But even I recognized a ridiculous amount of sheer talent in The Two Princes’ star-studded list: “Noah Galvin (Booksmart, Dear Evan Hansen), Ari’el Stachel (The Band’s Visit), Christine Baranski (The Good Wife, The Good Fight), Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog, The Expanse), Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale).” Kevin explained that most of the casting happened as he and Mimi read through the script, with one of them throwing out a name and the other immediately agreeing that they would be perfect.
“This cast is insane,” Kevin said. “If you had told me a year ago I would be working with some of the people I was working with, I would have called you a dirty liar.” This was a once in a lifetime chance to meet actors and actresses that he has loved and looked up to for a really long time. Getting to watch such talented people bring The Two Princes to life was his favorite part of making the podcast and he wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But that didn’t mean it was easy.
Kevin usually writes for the stage which, while it is dialogue driven, can depend somewhat on its visual elements. Podcasts don’t have that option. “Having to craft a love story where you can’t do long, longing looks or blushing, or some of the other things you can do in plays or on television when people are falling in love” was really difficult. When the audience can’t watch a pair fall in love, the storytellers really have to depend on two things. The first is phenomenal actors who can play off each other really well. Kevin had the talent and Mimi made sure that they recorded together, in person, so that they could really get a feel for the scene and make it as realistic as possible.
The second is the soundscape. Kevin said they were lucky enough to have the brilliant Matthew Boll who mixed and edited and Daniel Brunelle as the sound designer, both of whom made it pretty easy to hand the story off at moments when more talking would kill the mood. Making a live-action story like this for television would require “Game of Thrones level funding,” Kevin told me, but creating an immersive story in the podcast form requires way less money when you have the right team. And The Two Princes absolutely had the right team, because I could clearly see every scene and setting as clear as if I was watching a movie when I listened.
But The Two Princes isn’t just about creating an exciting and enthralling experience for the listener. Kevin never lost sight of why he wrote the story in the first place and told me a little about why he felt it was so important. “Growing up as a closeted gay boy in central Florida, there was nothing out there for us,” he told me. “There’s a lack of representation and visibility in pop culture.” So, when Kevin made this podcast, he wanted to write the story he needed when he was a kid and a teenager, because “that lack of representation and visibility can be damaging and isolating for kids and teenagers.” He told me that he started to wonder if he was the only gay boy and then thought that “if [he was] the only one then it must be wrong.”
And, while representation has increased over the years, Kevin wanted to make sure that kids like him weren’t left thinking that they were alone. So telling a story where kids — not adults, because when Kevin was growing up pop culture made it clear adults could be gay — discovered their feelings, acted on them, and were accepted by those around them (despite a bit of shock) felt absolutely necessary.“If nothing else,” Kevin said, “I hope it makes them feel less alone, makes them feel seen, and makes them feel loved.”
Kevin makes sure this happens in two main ways. The first is hitting on a number of themes over the course of The Two Princes. We see lots of LGBT acceptance, female empowerment in the face of male privilege and disrespect, healthy friendships, the process of growing into your own person, what it means to lead selflessly, learning to respect and appreciate diverse cultures, and admitting wrongs in order to do better. Despite having so much going on, none of these messages beat you over the head; each of them flows seamlessly from a compelling narrative that keeps you hanging on and excitedly playing episodes one after another.
The second major way Kevin cares for his listeners is by mentioning in the first episode The Trevor Project. “The Trevor Project does such important work,” he told me, “providing suicide prevention for gay and lesbian and trans teens and children and suicide prevention in general.” Both The Two Princes and The Trevor Project have the same goal: queer empowerment. And as much as the podcast works hard to make sure those teens and kids feel less alone, Kevin knows that sometimes they’ll need more than that and won’t know where to turn. Which is why making sure that, right up front, they were made aware of a resource to help them if they were struggling was really important.
A few months back Podchaser reported on evidence showing children listen to and learn a great deal from podcasts, a report Kevin mentioned he read when his team was wondering if kids would even hear the show. With less than a month having passed since its release, we will have to wait a bit longer to see for sure who is listening and how well they’ve received The Two Princes, but the podcast has already earned a 4.8 star rating and 338 reviews in this brief period, which bodes well for continued success in the future. That success could pave the way for more shows, like The Two Princes, that use narrative to give a voice to marginalized peoples and are marketed to children in order to increase their sense of being acknowledged by those around them. Podcasts focused on inclusion and support for all people at any age level could become the strongest argument for the uniqueness of the podcast medium and help to propel it into the world of mainstream media if those podcasts are done as artfully and with as much care as The Two Princes.
If you’re looking for a great show for the family, a fun story to binge, or a little representation, this is the podcast for you. And be sure to leave a rating (I, of course, gave it five stars) and review here on Podchaser to let Kevin and the cast know what you think!