The Hippo


Mar 17, 2018








Listen to Atoms, Motion & The Void or The Bellwether Dispatch

Visit, where you’ll find audio links and information on how to get the treasure hunt clues.

Interactive treasure hunt
Sean Hurley’s newest podcast development

By Kelly Sennott

 Ten years ago, New Hampshire radio journalist and podcast artist Sean Hurley was at a crossroads. 

His son Sam had just been born, and he’d taken a year off from things like running, writing and playing music to care for him, while still working from home in Thornton as a medical transcriptionist for a Boston-based company. By Sam’s first birthday, Hurley found he had a little more time on his hands, and he wanted to do something with it, something creative. His first thought was voice acting.
“I thought I’d get into voice acting as a fun thing to do after I’d finally have some free time, but I’d never done it before,” Hurley said over coffee at True Brew Barista recently.
But Hurley had all the right equipment, thanks to his love of writing music, and he began making a voice reel — like an audio resume of voices. He experimented with different sounds and characters and hit on this old-timey transatlantic one he couldn’t get enough of. Before Hurley knew it, stories began pouring out while he inhabited this character — now named Sherwin Sleeves. 
He began recording a fictional podcast called Atoms, Motion & The Void, telling more about Sleeves and his fictional life on a mountain in the fictional town of Lemon, New Hampshire.
“What I liked about the voice was the story seemed to come out of nowhere — from the voice itself,” Hurley said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I sort of wanted to put it out there.”
Not long after he started the series, New Hampshire magazine named it best podcast in the state. He’s now a part-time reporter on NHPR but is still telling Sherwin Sleeves stories. Most recently, the tales have taken on new life in the form of an eight-episode series called The Bellwether Dispatch. It’s set in the AMV world and centers around Sleeves’ involvement in a town-wide reenactment of a century-old Lemon event: an inaccurate weather report postcard service and treasure hunt.
To go along with the series, Hurley has created a real-life hunt in which listeners can participate by listening to free podcasts and sending along mailing information. In return, Hurley will send four postcards with clues leading to four “hidden treasure” locations around the state. The first who finds them all will win a to-be-determined grand prize. Right now there are 65 on the postcard list.
At the time of his interview, Hurley had released a couple episodes, one postcard. The third, fourth and fifth podcasts were written, the last vaguely in place. The hunt’s something Hurley wouldn’t normally organize on his own.
“I feel like I’m following Sherwin and his voice somewhere on this adventure. It’s a very follower-like experience,” Hurley said. “It was almost like I couldn’t do this story unless this treasure hunt thing was there. … I think I’ve just always been resigned to kind of obeying whatever comes up.”
This isn’t the only time Hurley strayed from pure audio in telling a Sleeves story. When he hit the 24th episode — he’s since completed about 50 — it was clear he’d hooked into a longer narrative fit for the stage. He wrote to Seacoast director John Herman out of the blue to see what he thought. Hurley had never met Herman.
“I had read an article about [Herman] somewhere and it struck me that he might like it,” Hurley said.
And Herman did like it. 
“I was immediately blown away. I listened to every episode. I told him he should be on the radio, and I started dreaming of a stage show. Keep in mind, he was a complete stranger,” Herman said via email. 
Herman agreed to direct Hurley’s one-man show, which hit the Players’ Ring stage in 2007. 
“I thought, ‘Why did I decide to do this? It’s the worst idea I ever had,’” Hurley said. “I had never acted before or done anything on stage, and I was terrified. But you know, I could see this sort of play sitting there, and it was very hard for me to avoid.”
The first show had four audience members. The second had 20, and the last had packed houses.
Herman said people today still ask him about Sherwin Sleeves. He thinks the fact that Hurley takes the character out of the audio world adds a kind of magic.
“Now he is leading a treasure hunt in New Hampshire, but it is so much more. He is inspiring people to discover small parts of the state that he loves,” Herman said.
Hurley likes the multifaceted nature of telling stories this way, in a tiny room with a microphone, laptop and piano keyboard. And there’s still a lot to learn about Lemon.
“In some ways, I feel like it’s a place I’m constantly reinventing. I don’t spend a lot of time mapping out the geographics of it. I have a sort of vague sense, but usually the episodes have new characters, and I don’t often bring them back,” Hurley said. “To me, it’s written in a very dreamy way.” 

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