Welcome back, Germ readers! I hope your holiday vacations were spectacular and that you are taking a much-needed break from school (except for you AP students…I see you doing those pesky “at home” assignments given over break). While you have a break, I suggest you pick up a good book, start a new show on Netflix, or, better yet, get acquainted with one of my absolute favorite web series on YouTube!
A couple weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure of interviewing Kate Hackett, who is the creator, writer, and star of one of my most favorite web series: Classic Alice. I’ve been watching Classic Alice since the very beginning, so getting to interview Kate about the show was such a great experience! If you are currently watching Classic Alice or have been looking for a great web series to watch and need some convincing, I hope you enjoy what you’re about to read. See you all down below!
Germ Magazine: So to start us off, for current Germ readers who haven’t watched Classic Alice yet, tell us a little bit about your web series and what role you play in the production.
Kate: Classic Alice is the story of Alice Rackham, a college student with a huge drive to succeed. When she gets a bad grade on an essay because she isn’t emotionally connecting to material, she decides to show up her professor and live her life according to classic novels. Her friend, Andrew Prichard, uses the opportunity to make a vlog-style documentary about the process, and together they create Classic Alice. The show is also told ‘transmedia style,’ all of which can be found here: The Narrative.
I created the show, wrote it, produced it, and star in it — as well as head the transmedia efforts. That’s not to say I do it all alone, of course; I have an amazing team of people supporting me, from Lex, Clare, and Christina who produced it, to Josh & Ty, my directors, and Dana, my transmedia producer. The actors, of course, and our post team and…I could go on and on. Kate Welsh has stepped up this year to help manage …well, everything transmedia related & press, so I’m surrounded by amazing people.
GM: That’s great! How exactly did you come up with the story for Classic Alice and what pushed you to really pursue this project?
Kate: I was asked to write something that would bridge the gap between a kind of hosting show that would give out book recommendations based on YA novels fans liked… but I didn’t want to do a host job, so I told them that I’d write something with more of a narrative. And when they asked me what I meant with that, I just said that I’d do a vlog because that would be easy to shoot, but it would have a story, so it would be scripted. They asked, “Oh, like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?” and I said, “Sure.” I wrote the first one in a mock-umentary style and wrote six more, then when the company moved on to other pastures, I decided to go ahead and make the show myself!
GM: We’re so glad you kept with it! How do you and your team choose the novels that Alice is going to “recreate”/read in her own life?
Kate: It’s kind of a piecemeal process; I have to see if the book fits the show and if the show fits the book, so sometimes I try something and it doesn’t quite work out. I always look for the “how can I update this for today” angle, that’s important, and once I find that, it’s GENERALLY smooth sailing. It doesn’t always pan out. I couldn’t get a number of books that I tried in — Count of Monte Cristo, Jekyll & Hyde, etc.
GM: Monte Cristo would have been so interesting to watch! It’s incredibly refreshing to see new artists and creators being able to harness new media such as YouTube in order to tell stories they want the public to see and hear. How has YouTube, as a platform, helped you develop yourself professionally? Because YouTube is such a new avenue for telling stories rather than using traditional media, what are the perks and downfalls of using it as a platform? And is there any advice Current You would have given Past You before starting Classic Alice?
Kate: This is kind of a tricky question right now; last season, I would have said that YouTube was great — it helped us find an audience and grow it while giving us a few bucks every month. This year, whether it be because of YouTube Red or new algorithms or WHATEVER, it’s been kind of a let down. I would honestly advise narrative series to begin to move away from YouTube, but what the heck do I know? What works for one thing may work (or not) for another!
I can say wholeheartedly that I am super excited about our upcoming app (made with The Horizon Factory & Jay Bushman of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries); had that been available when I started, I would have probably never really lived natively on YouTube. The app lets us put ALL of our story in one streamlined, timeline-type place instead of making viewers who come in late hunt for the story, or leaving viewers who watch the show wondering where the transmedia lives.
GM: It sounds like the app is going to be amazing! Alice is an undergrad English major (and being an English major as well, I can relate to the struggle) at Valeton University and aspires to become a writer. She seems the most productive when she is immersed in the tales of other writers, as seen in the series. How important do you think it is for writers to heed and read the words of other writers who have been so successful at what they do?
Kate: I think art is different for everyone, but for me, personally, I need to read. I MUST read — classics, nonfiction, contemporary literature, whatever — because that is what fuels me as an artist. It lets my imagination turn in new ways while I see new styles, new phrasings I like, new stories, new worlds. So for me, it’s unequivocally important.
That said — you take what you need from that and throw away the rest.
GM: One of my favorite things about the web series is the dedication to being so interactive with the fans. Not only do your characters have Twitter pages where they become “alive” outside of the YouTube Classic Alice framework, but you’ve also allowed the fans to become a part of this world by giving us real access to the Olenska’s Quarterly. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration for this side project and what fans expect from it?
Kate: Olenska’s Quarterly was a vehicle for the Dracula-era Alice to have a goal. In the book, Dracula’s motives aren’t ever really explained, but it’s generally surmised that he wants to recapture his family’s prestige. Alice wanted to recapture her former place in the literary world; after months of rejection, she wanted to get that feeling of accomplishment she got when her short story ran in a few literary magazines back in book 7.
The magazine lived natively in the script — so I had written the element into the bones of the show — but it had to come alive online as well. A lot of the transmedia starts that way: it’s in the script, let’s bring it to life. So Kate Welsh, Dana Shaw, and I came up with a general, broad strokes idea of how to get this online and running with fan-submissions, then Kate W. took the reins and made sure it was brought to life on time. She also picked stories, sent them to me for approval, and so on. So you could expect awesome stories published alongside Alice’s during Dracula! As the arc wound down, so do the transmedia elements — but it will, of course, live on in the app!
GM: Currently, Alice is reading Persuasion by Jane Austen, which is incredibly exciting because Persuasion is my favorite Austen. Can we expect a certain reunion of epic Anne & Wentworth proportions to happen sometime soon between Alice and a certain individual in the show? Also, which is your favorite Austen?
Kate: I don’t think you should expect anything from this show. This segues into your next question, but in general… this chunk has been darker, more nebulous. A complete reuniting is so simple — I’m not sure that entirely fits with the tone of this season.
(As for my favorite Austen… I think Persuasion is probably mine too.)
GM: The climate of Book 8 and forward seems a bit darker and more intense than the climate of Books 1-7. It feels as if the writing is starting to operate in shades of gray, rather than in “black & white” and “this is right, this is wrong.” How do you maneuver that terrain as not only the writer of the show but the lead of the series as well? Can you give us more insight as to why you chose this route for the second half of the series?
Kate: It definitely did! I thought so the entire time I wrote it, so I’m glad that’s translating well; I wanted to challenge the viewers, and myself as a writer AND actor, to find layers and nuance in the characters. No one is all good, so our art should reflect that. Audiences grow up; I wanted the show to follow that and to showcase real problems. I wanted to play in sticky, ugly places as an actor & a writer, and I was confident that our audience would get that and want to explore some of the less pristine aspects of both themselves and my characters. Hopefully they did enjoy it!
As far as maneuvering that… it’s tricky! I’m not sure I’m an authority on it — but what I did was make sure that there was groundwork for genuine feeling from the get go. Alice and Andrew have problems communicating almost from the very start of Book 8 & that permeates through 9, culminating in a huge shift in 10. But it’s layered — I never want an audience to feel totally blindsided. It may be subtle, but I definitely wrote things in. I also wrote in Cara being a little wrong (or at least it’s up for discussion), Andrew is wrong, and Alice is wrong; no one is entirely in the right, which makes it both easier and harder to watch. Easier because you can follow actions & reactions and see the reasons behind different behaviors, but harder because you may not agree with those actions.
As far as the lead… I did my prep work. I made sure I had thoughts, I made sure I had secrets and needs to give me a purpose. There’s also an element of knowing when to show hurt, when to hide it, and … yeah — just rehearsal. Since I was lucky enough to write the character, I had a pretty great understanding of her — so that helped!
GM: If you could choose a contemporary story for Alice to read and recreate, which story would you choose?
Kate: IF I GET TO HAVE MAGIC, HARRY POTTER OBV.
GM: HP fans would be so excited to see that! In doing some research on the second half of the show, I read that you were able to collaborate with Alexandra Edwards, a writer for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for Cara’s mini-spin off series, Musica Mundana. How did this collaboration come about, and did you learn anything valuable while working with Alexandra?
Kate: Alexandra reached out to me during the IndieGoGo and asked if I would be open to a spin off — and of course I said yes, budget permitting. We were able to make some coin stretch and we got to make her “Cara centric” six story arc. I do regret that we didn’t give it more time — I think it could have stood to have 8 or even 10 episodes, but we worked with what we had!
I looooved seeing what someone else did with some people I created. I think it gave Cara and Lily a more unique voice, too, because bringing another set of eyes in who understood what the show is/was and wants to help make it better can only be great!
GM: How exciting! I heard that after Persuasion and two other book arcs, you will be wrapping up Classic Alice. What does life after Alice look like for you? Any plans to start another series?
Kate: Two other book arcs?! Who’s talking???
Classic Alice is wrapping up pretty soon, actually, and after that… Who knows! I wish I had a plethora of projects lined up, but I need to write them first. I’ve been lucky enough to book a few commercials and get a few good auditions, so I keep doing the grind there for a while. I would love to make a feature, though; I’m not sure the likelihood of that happening because features are expensive and don’t usually sell, but I’d love to do it. I definitely want to play someone who is as far from Alice as possible.
I can say, pretty affirmatively, that this will be a wrap on my lit web stuff — that said, I’m pretty dorky, so if you like the humor of CA, I’m sure you’ll like the dweeby stuff I cook up. Like this, for example: Hot Historical Maniacs.
GM: My wishful thinking must’ve gotten away with me for wanting more book arcs. But finally, where can Germ readers find you on social media, and where can they find your fabulous web series?
YouTube.com/ClassicAliceseries is the show account; classic-alice.com is the page. Definitely keep an eye out for the app — that’s going to be huge and awesome! We’ll have tons of videos, never before seen footage, never released transmedia, new transmedia, and everything we’ve ever done for the show. Crime & Punishment will be free, so you can get an idea of the kind of stuff we’re putting in there, but I assure you: there’s even more behind the curtain.
GM: Thanks so much again for talking with us about Classic Alice!
Kate: Thanks for having me!!!