fbpx Growth, Impact, and Accessibility with Podcast Critic and Advocate Elena Fernández Collins | HowlRound Theatre Commons

Growth, Impact, and Accessibility with Podcast Critic and Advocate Elena Fernández Collins

Adventures in Audio Fiction Episode #2

Podcast host Tamara Kissane talks with podcast critic Elena Fernández Collins about impact, accessibility and barriers to entry, the formation of critical language, best practices, indie creating, and more.

Elena Fernández Collins is a podcast critic and forensic sociolinguist living in Portland, OR. She writes about podcasts for her own website, outlets like The Bello Collective, The AV Club and Podcast Review, and curates her own newsletter about fiction podcasts, Audio Dramatic. In the time that she’s not trying to promote audio fiction and indie creators in the podcasting sphere, she’s working on a linguistics thesis about non-native English speaker comprehension of the Miranda rights in the United States. In a distant past, Elena performed in college stage plays; more recently, you can hear her as the voice of Marisol, the intergalactic pizza delivery girl on Ostium’s special episodes for International Podcast Month, and as Soledad Marquez on VALENCE.

This interview series for HowlRound is part of Tamara’s quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium.

Music: Spring Idyll by Pennee Miles.

Artist Soapbox is on Facebook and Twitter.

Wormwood Podcast
Sara Montague’s Towards a Poetics of Audio: The Importance of Criticism
Radio Drama Revival Critic Roundtable
What’s the Frequency?
The Museum at Tomorrow
Marvels Podcast
BBC Sounds Murmurs

audio dramatic logo

Audio Dramatic is a biweekly newsletter created by Elena Fernández-Collins, focused entirely on audio fiction in podcasting.

Tamara Kissane: Adventures in Audio Fiction is supported by HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. The HowlRound Podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and howlround.com.

Hey, friends. Welcome to Adventures in Audio Fiction. My name is Tamara Kissane. I'm a theatremaker and the host of the podcast Artist Soapbox based in Durham, North Carolina. Although theatre is my first and enduring love, over the last three years, my creative work has turned increasingly towards writing and producing scripted audio fiction. First, by adapting versions of my stage plays into audio dramas, and more recently, by writing to audio directly as I develop two scripted audio fiction serials. This interview series for HowlRound is part of my quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium, some of whom have a background in theatre and some who don't, but either way they are knocking it out of the park. I have so many questions and you may have some too! As theatre artists, what can we learn from audio fiction creators? What skills can we leverage to create powerful audio work? What do we need to learn? Is scripted audio fiction an evolution of a theatrical form or is it its own distinct and discrete form altogether? Ely Fernández Collins is one of my favorite podcast reviewers, critics, and advocates. In this conversation, we dig into impact, accessibility, the formation of critical language, some best practices, and more. Elena Fernández Collins is a podcast critic and forensic sociolinguist living in Portland, Oregon. She writes about podcasts for her own website, for outlets like the Bello Collective, The AV Club, and Podcast Review, and curates her own newsletter about fiction podcasts titled Audio Dramatic. In the time that she's not trying to promote audio fiction and indie creators in the podcasting sphere, she's working on a linguistics thesis about non-native English speaker comprehension of the Miranda rights in the United States. In the distant past, she performed in college stage plays. More recently, you can hear her as the voice of Marisol, the intergalactic pizza delivery girl on Ostium's special episodes for International Podcast Month and as Soledad Marquez on Valence. Enjoy the episode.

Hi, Ely. Thank you so much for this conversation today.

Elena Fernández Collins: Thank you so much for having me.

Tamara: Let's start with something that I know we have in common, which is our great fondness for scripted audio fiction. Can you talk about what initially peaked your interest?

Elena: One summer when I was younger, I was in Southern Illinois in my grandmother's house in the middle of nowhere, tiny town, no access to a vehicle because I couldn't really drive at that point. I had nobody else and my grandmother's health was failing, and it was rough. I felt really isolated. The internet wasn't great and so it meant that I had kind of patchy access to my support network at the time. Usually, my mother comes with me when I'm with my grandmother. Usually, I have her there to like sort of shoulder part of the burden, but she wasn't there at this point. That meant that I was dealing with everything on my own and living with untreated various mental health issues. I discovered audio fiction podcasts through the miracle of the internet, when I could get access to it, and immediately found stories that felt like they were talking to me and stories that I could hang on to. Specifically, I found this one called Wormwood. It's an older podcast. It's like one of the first scripted fiction podcasts. It's about a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in the Midwest and it actually turns out that the monster in it is based on legends in the area where I was living that summer, which I found out like a year ago from the creators. I think it was a little bit fated that that was going to happen. Yeah. They gave me something to hang on to and something to look forward to and find myself in.

Tamara: Yeah. I don't think it can be overstated how important it is to have access to those stories and those worlds, especially for times, and I'll just speak for myself, for times in my life when I can't show up except in my bedroom or in the middle of the night and I need to be able to call that art into my life at the time at which it works for me. Having that access has been so helpful. Then there's the intimacy of having those voices speak in your ears, which, to me at least, gave me a connection. I felt like, Oh, these people, like I know them. They mean something to me.

Elena: Yeah, absolutely. That's a really common strength that's mentioned about podcasts.

Tamara: In that pro column of why everyone should start a podcast, one of those bullet points is often because it has a low barrier of entry. I know that you have some thoughts about that that I would like to hear. I think your thoughts can be characterized as wanting to separate that and kind of strike it from ... Or at least talk about how it's just a more complicated idea than people like to think. Would you share your thoughts about that?

Elena: I think that people think about podcasting ... When you're thinking about making it, it's often considered very superficially. When you're thinking about the low barrier of entry, a microphone, a computer, access to the internet, and yourself, and a story, that is theoretically true, but there's so much more involved and layered underneath all of those things in order to succeed or even feel like you have successfully created a podcast and in order to have the attention that is competitive with the market of podcast that exists today. Right so, not only do you need a computer, but you need the software. Yeah, there's free software, but you need to know how to use the software. Not just use the software, but you need to know how sound works and you need to understand how you can manipulate sound using the tools that you have. That also means that you need to understand things like, in conjunction with the microphone, you need to understand things about soundproofing. You need to understand how to get your mic to give you the best quality sound that you can, which is why people end up recording in closets or underneath blankets, because it allows for ... They learn about sound dampening, but that's all that they have. Necessarily, it's going to be not as good sound dampening as someone who has the money to spend on a sound booth or even just to build one in their home. The thing about learning about sounds and how to edit sounds, which is absolutely crucially necessary for podcasting, if you don't already know how to do that and you weren't someone who was able to get an education for it, then you have to learn it by yourself or from somebody else. That means that you need the time and the energy to put into doing that. A lot of people just don't have that because people need to work to make money to eat and pay rent. There's a lot of layers to this concept of making a podcast. I think that two of the primary reasons we need to do away with low barrier of entry is it reinforces this false belief that podcasting is easy and that like anyone can do it. That's said in a very dismissive kind of tone, and this then results in a lot of people considering indie podcasting, independent creation of podcasts, as a hobby, instead of a professional artistic endeavor.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: Right. There's a lot of steps that get us there that a lot of people just don't see because we don't talk about them, and we need to talk about them. I think something that often gets ignored in all areas of art is actually the emotional expenditure of putting your art out there.

Tamara: Right. Yes. Talk about that.

Elena: Yeah. First of all, podcasting happens online and it's the twenty-first century, which means podcasting happens in front of everyone. Your first podcast, everyone sees it. Your first drawing is something that you can keep hidden, right? You don't have to show anyone that, but your first podcast ends up being something that everybody can see and everybody is going to judge merit or critique, like judge merit on it or critique it or they're going to analyze it because they have the access to it. For marginalized artists especially, this can result in a lot of microaggressions. This can result in a lot of racist or homophobic and transphobic feedback. Marginalized artists of all kinds have to be able to deal with that. Something that they always are going to have to have energy for is dealing with the fact that it's the internet, so these people exist in their lives aggressively. They're witnessing their art and that's a lot. That's just a lot. We don't talk about that nearly enough in all forms of art.

Tamara: I think most artists want the exposure. Theoretically, we want our work to go out to as many people as possible. It sounds so beautiful that anybody can access this thing that you're creating, but that may rapidly lead to a feeling of being sort of overexposed and an intense vulnerability that you can't ... It's very hard to screen what comes back at you. I don't think there are a lot of protective screens for creators who put their work out there and knowing how to respond to, and I'm air quoting, "feedback" that may be harmful not only in that moment, but to their work going forward. I don't know. That's something that we're just going to have to reckon with I think as a community because that's very problematic.

Elena: Yeah. It's a huge issue. I mean, I'm not like ... One thing that I want to say is that marginalized people, especially if they are visibly marginalized, deal with this every day of their lives. They deal with it out in the street and they deal with it in families and in like work circles and all of this stuff. If we can, as various communities working in these fields, can deal with this, what you're talking about exactly, if we can figure out how to work with that and how to support these artists, then we might be able to foster a better understanding of creating art in a community way.

Tamara: Right. We're lifting each other up.

Elena: Exactly. My favorite phrasing from ... I don't know who it's from at this point. I'm going to say it's Amanda McLoughlin of Multitude, but I'm not 100 percent positive. "A rising tide raises all ships."

Tamara: Yes, yes. It's funny when you were talking about it's just so easy to start a podcast. Of course, in the theatre world, there's the whole like, I've got a bar. Let's do a play. People think like, What do you need? Some people and some black blocks and some seats and you got to play. It's just ugh. It's like, yeah, but not exactly. When you come to see it, you're going to be expecting something different than that. It's a little bit more nuanced, let's say.

Elena: Yeah. Nuanced. Good word.

Tamara: It's my opinion, and I'm curious to hear what you think about this, that podcast criticism is struggling to grow, but theatre criticism is struggling not to die, or at least it's trying to struggle in this transformation or metamorphosis so that it can be contemporary, it can be an inclusive mode of critique. Given that, what are the challenges that you're facing? Because you're at the front lines of this nascent field of podcast criticism as it seems to be forming kind of in real time. What does that look like to you?

Elena: My one word review is woof. I participated in a critics round table a little while ago. It was wonderful. You can find it on the Radio Drama Revival Feed. It was a hosted by Jeffrey Nils Gardner of HartLife NFP. In it, we discuss how we can get to this level of criticism and regard for audio criticism other fields have and what it is that we are missing to get there. It's based on this incredible article by Sarah Montague that was published with the Sarah Awards a few years ago that's called Towards a Poetics of Audio: The Importance of Criticism. She talks about the vital importance of a critical language and with it a critical practice. A critical language has all of these forms and tropes and themes and references to larger culture. It's used to inform critique, right?

Tamara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elena: We don't have that yet. This is a foundational level of criticism and, because this particular field is still developing, we don't have that foundation yet and we are still building it. All of us, everyone who is writing podcast criticism right now is participating in the building of that critical language that will be used later. That's extremely challenging because if you go into movie criticism, if you go into theatre criticism, that language has existed already. It has a critical language because it's been around for a while and so they already have that foundation. And so, not the problem but the big challenge that we're facing right now is the fact that we are building this critical language and with it Sarah Montague's critical practice. It's going to have tools and it's going to be constant and the tools will help us like help the public better understand artists and it's happening constantly and it's happening robustly and honestly, but it can't happen without the language.

Tamara: How do you do this other than to just write about it?

Elena: Good question. I participated in a round table where we talked about that for an hour.

Tamara: Right. That's what we need, more round tables.

Elena: More round tables. Actually first is the ... There's no easy answer right now. This is not something people intentionally built in the sense of, I am creating this foundation of work so that we can talk about it later. At the very least with some of the fields, depending on which field we're talking about. First, I think after understanding that there is basically no easy answer and that you have to be constantly engaging with the audio medium and the podcast medium in particular, it is by intentionally engaging with podcasts and with podcasts as their own art form and not trying to import critical language from other art forms. I see this happening a lot specifically in mainstream media criticism. It's very, very rare that they will have someone whose beat is dedicated to podcasts. They will pull from someone who does TV or who does theatre or who does movies and tell them to write this. In some cases, they may have pitched it themselves, I don't know, but the ones that I've read feel like things that editors want to have written and so they just go to someone in-house who's like vaguely related. I think that this is a mistake. I don't think that we should be trying to analyze podcasts through the lens of media, like movie criticism or theatre criticism. It's not going to work because all of these other areas have basis heavily in something else. Book criticism is based heavily on Britain literature and written text. Stage and theatre has visual components, so do movies and TV, but podcasts are purely audio, so you have to analyze it like audio. We have something else that's only audio and it's radio. Back in the '40s and the '50s, there was a huge amount of radio drama. If we're talking specifically about fiction podcasts, there was a huge amount of radio drama as well as radio talk shows and the news, but that died out. We had this huge gap in the production of radio drama and then what we're calling fiction podcasts and because there was that gap, we didn't have the ... In that gap, the language for all of these other mediums was developing. We're basically trying to overcome this multi-decade gap right now because the radio that we have right now, NPR, public radio, all this stuff that basically is just like talk shows, hosted narrative investigation. Up until they started moving towards podcasts as well, there also was no serious criticism about radio.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: You wouldn't find an article written analyzing the body of work of like a talk show on NPR. That wouldn't be published in a newspaper a while ago. That just wouldn't happen. You would have people talking about like, I'm so tired of talking heads, or I really love the way that he talks about X problem, but you wouldn't find someone doing criticism. There is a distinction here in the sense of like criticism is analyzing not just the singular particularities, but the entire body of work, even if you're just looking at like one, in this case, episode or one show, if we're talking about radio, one program slot, you have to be looking at it within the whole body of work.

Tamara: Right. Essentially as an expert, so somebody who has an understanding of both breadth and depth of this medium. I've been talking to a lot of people... Because I'm from a theatre background and I'm transitioning into making these scripted audio pieces, I've been casting about using what I do understand. It's like, Okay. Well, it's kind of like theatre in these ways, but it's actually also kind of like screenwriting in these ways. But it's also sort of like writing a TV show, but nothing works. As you say, we can't jam this into another, like the puzzle pieces don't quite fit. It's like a different thing. Why not let it be a different thing? But I think there is a little bit of a lag time because until we understand what this new thing is, we're still using outdated language that doesn't exactly apply so that it can make sense to us. It's a really interesting time.

Elena: Yeah, and you're right about the outdated language. There's a ton of criticisms and reviews written about podcasts, about scripted fiction podcasts, that still use the terms old time radio drama as a comparison point. Every time I read it, I want to fling myself and my computer out the window.

Tamara: I hope you don't have to read that anymore because that sounds dire.

Elena: Yeah. It's really bad. It's like it's different. It's different, everybody.

Tamara: All right. I have two questions. One is that I want to go back a little bit and ask you what you think that creators of scripted audio fiction are doing really well. What is giving you hope about this medium? Of course, I'm asking this with an ulterior motive, and that is like, what can we take and be inspired by as theatremakers or as artists who are kind of straddling these two mediums? What are people doing that you think is like right on target?

Elena: I think that they are constantly talking about what stories we are missing. Every time that I go to talk about what it is that I like to see in podcasts, there is somebody else out there who is talking about what stories they want to hear and what stories they want to witness because they don't exist yet. Someone has that story, but they haven't been given the platform or haven't found the opportunity in order to do so. I think the fact that that conversation is happening and it is helping more stories flourish is really incredible. I want to say very specifically here that I see that conversation happening a lot in independent artists circles, independent podcast creator circles. They are the ones doing the work of being like, Hey, public radio is not the be all end all. There are other people who are able to tell you stories. People within public radio, marginalized people within public radio, have been talking about the fact that there is just no change happening anywhere and it's all the same voice telling all the stories. I think that there is a willingness to have this conversation. I'm seeing more varied stories occurring and coming out and I think that's really beautiful.

Tamara: I'm heartened by the self production that's happening across audio fiction. It's happening of course in the theatre as well, but because the stories that are going out in podcast form are more accessible than the new plays that are being developed that only 50 people will see, I'm very excited by people doing some empowering of these stories and distributing them. I know it's really hard for all the reasons that you and I already talked about, but I feel really grateful that it is happening.

Elena: There's absolutely something to be said for the fact that people have realized that they can tell this story and their story in this way and people will be able to access it. The fact that there is a path that is fairly clear at the very least in a sense of like, Okay. Well, I don't have to wait for someone to tell me that I can do it.

Tamara: Right. You jump the gate.

Elena: Yeah.

Tamara: Yeah.

Elena: In that sense, in that very specific sense, podcasting is highly accessible, in that very specific sense.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: Yeah. Underline, like double underline. In book publishing, you have to have a publisher. You can self publish now, which is amazing, and I think that we should take self publishing more seriously, but we don't and so they ended up having to fight, instead, the gatekeepers who hate self publishing.

Tamara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elena: Podcasting is self publishing, but it's not viewed that way, in the same way as with books.

Tamara: I know you've thought a lot about who your audience is for your critical writing about podcasts. Let's pretend for a moment that your audience of readers, or in this case, readers, listeners, people who are taking in your work, pretend like they're the creators of this scripted audio fiction. What are you considering when you are reviewing a scripted audio fiction podcast?

Elena: This is a complicated question for me actually. I want to like slightly, very slightly, reframe it, so that I can answer it.

Tamara: Please.

Elena: When I'm writing any kind of critique of a single podcast, I consider my audience to include creators because I don't know who's in my audience. It's people who have experienced the podcast. It's people who may want to create one of their own and become creators. It definitely includes other creators of other podcasts and of course the creator of the podcast that I'm critiquing. But I have to bear in mind all of these different perspectives and with everything that I review, I have to decide ... First, I have to talk about the impact of the work that I am reviewing. I have to analyze the impact and I have to decide what is most important about the impact of this work that I have to talk about. That will necessarily highlight who in my audience becomes the front runner of who I'm talking to.

Tamara: Right. I see.

Elena: Yeah. If I'm analyzing a work that the story has not been well thought out and contains a lot of harmful tropes and is not well grounded in empathetic storytelling, then I'm going to talk about that and I'm going to talk about the impact that that's going to have. Of course, because I'm looking at the impact of things like harmful tropes, I am necessarily analyzing all of these other parts of the work. I'm analyzing story and I'm analyzing plot and I'm analyzing like character design and acting. All of the other things end up getting analyzed because I have thought about the impact of the work. With this example, where I'm talking about something that has harmful storytelling, I often end up talking to creators or people who want to become creators because I am pointing towards something that is endemic in our society. In my articles, I usually try to talk about what you could do otherwise.

Tamara: Be better.

Elena: We want to tell a story like this one, but we want to tell it better. What if we removed this? What would we be left with? Sometimes the answer is a skeleton that's missing some bones and you got to go back to the drawing board, but sometimes the answer is, Okay, if we take this out, we still have a plot. We still have sequence. There's still an idea here that can be told. When I'm reviewing something that I loved that I think was brilliant and something where the impact that it has is even something as simple as, I listened to this and it made me really happy. I listened to this and I felt hopeful, that's still an impact that I want to analyze. Why did it make me feel this way? Do I think that other people could feel this way when they listen to it? I have to think about other people listening to this who aren't me. I have to think about ... I am a non-binary gender fluid Puerto Rican person. I am young, not even thirty yet, and I am white passing. I think about all of these things. I think about how my experiences and not just my experiences in my life living in like the body and the world that I do, but also my experiences with the literature that I read and the movies that I like and the genres that I enjoy. That's also part of my experience. I think about, Okay. Who would this appeal to? When I'm writing about something that I liked or that I loved, I think about, Who else would this appeal to? Who would this not appeal to? I try to embed that into the work. In that case, my primary audience becomes people who want to experience new podcasts.

Tamara: Thank you for sharing that because not only is it illuminating, but I think it also highlights how much work it takes to do this criticism and to do the writing that you're talking about. That's some heavy lifting, so thank you for sharing that.

Elena: Absolutely. Thank you for asking.

Tamara: Are you ready to talk about the future?

Elena: Yeah, I guess.

Tamara: Oh no. The future is now. The future is ours. We're talking ... It's the end of January in 2020. Prior to the end of 2019, Bello Collective gathered some predictions from its contributors and you are a contributor. Your prediction was, "In the depressing corner, we'll see more Hollywood influence and strategies in fiction podcasting. For example, using celebrity names and traditional boring and usually racist storytelling techniques in order to hook listeners." I think this is something that a lot of indie artists have been struggling with for a long time, continue to struggle with as well, this big money, big name influence and the, as you say, boring/racist storytelling techniques. So if that is the direction that we hope things don't go in, what direction do you hope to see that is different from that? What can we aspire to that offsets some of those things?

Elena: Take risks. That's my answer to this. I want people to take risks and I want people to take risks with empathy and with kindness, which sounds contradictory, but guess what? This is the real world and several conflicting things can be true at the same time. I want people to take risks with their storytelling technique, with the stories that they are telling. I want people to learn to write from outside of that zone of experience that I talked about. I want people to be able to approach it with an open heart in a way that considers, Okay, so I'm going to take this risk with this story that I'm going to make and I need to make sure that the risk that I'm taking, the step that I am taking, is not going to step on someone. But if you take that risk and you do it conscientiously, I think that so much beautiful, really dynamic, engaging art has been made that way. Honestly, there is no easy answer for fighting ... I'm going to say it. There's no easy answer for fighting this like capitalistic attitude towards art. That's what this is.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: It's a capitalistic attitude. Artists need to get paid. If you like shoot your shot and you get hired by one of these big companies, great. Do it. Take a risk. Tell them, "This is the story that I want to tell." I'm going to shout out the team behind Marvels. Marvel hired Paul Bae, Lauren Shippen, and Mischa Stanton to create the Marvels podcast, and they did an incredible job. Marvel hired a bunch of indie artists to come and make this podcast, and they blew it out of the water. So it's possible. We have to bear in mind that yes, it is possible to like get in there and still make art that you are proud of and is not just a cash grab, specifically like for the company. Not a cash grab for you but for the company. But also bearing in mind that this is something that ... We have to survive in this society. That's something that we have to learn to be okay with and be able to mitigate in other ways, but also just like don't stop making art and telling stories. Yes, have that night where you're just like, All right well, Capitalism is horrible and everything is terrible and I'm going to sit in front of the TV and watch a romcom while eating ice cream straight out of the carton. Yes, do it. You deserve that night where you're just like, Everything's terrible, but then wake up the next morning and get back to telling stories because we need them and it's worth it.

Tamara: You may have touched on this a little bit, but I want to bring up one of your other predictions or one of your hopes I guess. You have a newsletter, which I love, and in your year in review, this is what you wrote. I'm going to quote you. "I'm ready for new stories from the silenced, the oppressed, and the marginalized. I'm ready for a change in the narratives to see us truly engaging with empathy instead of weaponizing kindness," which you talked about all of this. Then you ended it with, "I'm ready for the weird shit." Then you also mentioned this in the Bello Collective predictions. You wrote, "We'll see independent creators hearing the call for weird shit. Give me the weird shit in 2020." I've said weird shit like seven times just now, but tell me about this. Is this content? Is this form? How do you characterize this?

Elena: It's everything, it's everything. I characterize it by ... This is why it ties into the previous thing. Remember when I was talking about taking risks? This ties into the step that you are taking. The step that you are taking might be with the story that you are telling specifically, but it can also be with the way that you are telling the story. It can be with your idea that like, Okay. I'm going to ... I'm going to actually use an example from real podcasts. You can be, I'm going to tell a psychedelic, like experimental audio story. I'm thinking of What's the Frequency. What's the Frequency is this experimental, psychedelic, noir story set in the '40s where a radio program slowly becomes, the radio serial, becomes the only program left on the air and it's doing weird things to the inhabitants of Los Angeles. It's incredibly good. It is super weird and it will break your brain because they do—

Tamara: Yeah. It's out there.

Elena: Yeah. It's out there and it does weird stuff with the audio itself, with the technique, like layered audio. It has weird scenes. The storytelling is very strange and it feels disconnected, but it ends up all being connected. The creator made satirical '40s style ads to do real world commentary that are breaks in the episodes. It all informs each other, but it's weird and it's out there.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: There's also something like ... I mentioned Jeffrey Nils Gardner earlier. They also created this podcast called The Museum at Tomorrow, which they describe very aptly as a magic eye puzzle because what they've done is that they've taken audio recordings of field trips to museums, interviews, stories, sound and music, sound effects, music, and they have layered them, have broken them up and they've layered them, so that you can hear more than one voice speaking at one time. But if you're able to like tune in to one particular voice or one particular sequence, you can hear one story. If you listen and tune in to the other one, then you can hear a different story. It is wild.

Tamara: It's very much an audio experience. It seemed kind of like performance art almost to me. I mean, that's unexpected to hear as a listener.

Elena: Yeah. I want the unexpected. I don't just want the unexpected by things like this. What's the Frequency takes risks all over the place with their storytelling, with the way that they framed their story, with their characters, with their audio. It just goes all out there. Museum at Tomorrow has taken some very sort of grounded, let's say, styles of talking to people and having conversations and looking at art and things like that and then combined them in weird, risky, unusual, fascinating ways. You can also take risks the way that the recent BBC Sounds podcast did, which is incredible. I can't believe I'm saying that the BBC gave me this.

Tamara: Yeah.

Elena: But it's because it was spearheaded by a bunch of indie artists, specifically Ella Watts put this together initially. It's Murmurs.

Tamara: I have not listened to it, but I've heard of it.

Elena: Yeah. It's really good. It's this anthology, like semi-anthology, about what happens when the reality starts breaking and something else is coming through the cracks and invading. It is fascinating. It is so interesting to like listen to it and realize that you're getting this connected perspective of different stories, as well as one through line.

Tamara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elena: The lead writer is Janina Matthewson, and she is a co-writer of Within the Wires. She did an incredible job piecing this together with her team. That is some weird storytelling. It's really good.

Tamara: I'm excited to listen to that. Again, it's sort of heartening that indie artists, if they're given the keys to the castle, they can really transform across the culture of the stories that people have access to and of the way that we're telling these stories. I say that we raise our glasses to the weird in 2020 and beyond and see what that does.

Elena: Yes.

Tamara: Is there anything else that you would like to mention or any final thoughts that you have before we wrap up?

Elena: There is one thing that I would like to mention because I want to shout out, let's say like, I don't know, just like theatre people or theatre culture. Theatre culture has done this incredible job, really good job, of making sure that, at the very least in like big theatres and independent community theatres, of making sure that everybody gets credited.

Tamara: Ah.

Elena: Programs are very good about crediting everyone on the crew and making sure that everybody's name shows up. I'm sure that there are exceptions to everything, but in general, they're very particular about the fact that everybody gets credited in the program.

Tamara: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. It's a common practice. Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elena: It's a common practice. Podcasting hasn't figured out that you should do that. The biggest offenders, which blows my mind, are podcasts from places like NPR or these big, large companies or VC-funded ventures, that all they do on the website is like name the host and maybe the sound designer, if you're lucky, and occasionally like executive producers. That's like it.

Tamara: It's problematic for a lot of reasons because it masks the amount of work and the number of people who are involved in putting that together, not to mention sort of erasing them from the product.

Elena: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Especially this like ... There's so many like layers of problems that are involved with this. Absolutely, yeah, it masks how much work is involved. It masks, like it hides and erases the people from the work that they've put in, which is especially bad if your hosts are white and your crew has marginalized artists on it. You're erasing the fact that they helped you tell a story and you're making it harder for them to be able to say that they worked at this place. People will be like, Oh, but they get credited like in the audio. First of all, that means that nobody knows how to spell anybody's name.

Tamara: Right.

Elena: Which is also important. Additionally, it means that people might not listen to that part because it's the credits. Do you sit through movie credits?

Tamara: I don't sit through any credits. If I hear the credits coming ... Sometimes I do. If it's something that I really highly value and I start to recognize names, I will sit through it, but usually that wrap up music, that's the cue for me to say like, All right. It's over. Onto the next thing. But if I was looking something up on a website or in printed form, I almost certainly would read that.

Elena: Podcasting needs to learn from theatre in this way. We have to create a culture of crediting.

Tamara: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Elena: And I've seen indie artists do this as well, where they don't credit their crew or in some cases, like with scripted fiction, don't even credit their actors. In one sense, they're learning from other podcasts. They're learning from these big name podcasts because they're taking their cues from what already exists in one sense.

Tamara: Right because we're building common practice, and so they think that, Oh. Well, those are the people who are dictating what that is.

Elena: We're all dictating what that is.

Tamara: I would like to credit you with giving me lots of really insightful and inspiring and thought-provoking writing and speaking, including our conversation today. I just want to thank you for all the work that you do and for taking time to speak with me today.

Elena: Oh my gosh. Thank you.

Tamara: I am completely 100 percent sincere in that.

If you would like to continue today's conversation, please visit howlround.com and follow HowlRound and Artist Soapbox on Twitter and Facebook. A big thank you to the staff at HowlRound who make this show possible. Our music is Spring Idle by Penny Miles. Check out the show notes for links and for more information. Thank you.

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark
Thoughts from the curator

In this podcast series, Durham-based theatremaker Tamara Kissane chats with artists about their work, their plans, and their manifestos. This interview series is part of Tamara’s quest to learn more about audio drama by speaking with the people who are working in the medium.

Adventures in Audio Fiction Podcast


Add Comment

The article is just the start of the conversation—we want to know what you think about this subject, too! HowlRound is a space for knowledge-sharing, and we welcome spirited, thoughtful, and on-topic dialogue. Find our full comments policy here

Newest First