UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 07 Winter 17 Library
Jenny Turner Hall, Michael Perilstein, Robbie Berry, David Kreizman (L-R) by Cindy Price

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Michael Perilstein, Jenny Turner Hall, Robbie Berry, David Kreizman
(Photo: Cindy Price)

Start Listening!

If you happened to be in the Drama Building last April 5 and heard some spontaneous cheering from the faculty, we have an explanation. That was the day the news broke that a trio of Drama Department alums had won the prestigious Peabody Award for their wildly creative and popular serial podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. The brainchild of writer and director Jenny Turner Hall (College) and head writer David Kreizman, and featuring the husband-and-wife voice talent pair Michael Perilstein (M.F.A. UVA Drama '99) and Robbie Berry (M.F.A. UVA Drama '99), the podcast has been described as “Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things for 8-12 year-olds.” It is the story of Mars Patel, a plucky-but-brilliant outcast prone to trouble and his friends, as they investigate the connection between disappearing kids and a billionaire inventor. “Never preachy,” Peabody officials said, “the podcast artfully embodies both old-fashioned sensibility and a modern outlook, while exploring timeless pre-adolescent themes. Crushes and misunderstandings collide with attack drones and spaceships, dramatizing beautifully the thrills and absurdities of growing up. For introducing a new generation to the wonders of audio storytelling, The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel earns a Peabody Award.” The project’s UVA roots run deep, according to Turner Hall. The first reading, held in her New Jersey basement, featured no fewer than 10 Hoos – many of whom were regular attendees at Turner Hall’s Dorothy Parker-inspired gatherings there, which she playfully coined “The Gonk.” Though she graduated from UVA with a degree in Government and Foreign Affairs, Turner Hall’s allegiance to the Drama Department was so great that when it came time to walk in Final Exercises, she chose to do so with the group she called “her tribe.” That tribe would only grow as she headed to New York to pursue her artistic dreams, where she met up with Perilstein and Berry as well as with Harris Ralf, G. Murray Williams, and playwright Jean Marie Higgins, whom she joined in creating Wall Eye Productions. Turner Hall was drawn to the podcast format for the artistic freedom and affordability it offered, and for the chance it gave her and her colleagues to create something that families could enjoy together – hearkening back to a time when families gathered around the radio to listen to their favorite shows. Turner Hall credits the collaborative nature and the nurturing guidance of the UVA Department of Drama as being key to the Peabody success. “Doug Grissom (resident UVA playwright and professor) was literally the first person to believe in my writing,” she said. He had a gargantuan influence on my life and career trajectory. Gweneth West was hugely influential as well, and Bob Chapel allowed me to embrace my creative influences, which was so important to my development as an artist.”

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