Beyond an Audio Review: Podcasts

Since I moved to Toronto, podcasts have become a major part of my life. They’ve become so much a part of my day-to-day activity and news, fueling me through every trek downtown and errand commute, that I forgot to review them.

Until now.

Because now it’s only a matter of time before I start making my own radio and podcast content. Thanks to new collaborations with Toronto-based Indy Convergence artists on the horizons, my portfolio will soon include radio plays.

As a dramaturg, it’s an area of interest I’d love to study from multiple perspectives. I see more podcasts like Lady Plays and 12Peers popping up, producing stage plays as radio dramas to expand their reach to artistic directors and literary managers. But I think there is so much more the genre could do on its own besides creating new versions of plays and screenplays. I asked questions about it at the LMDA mini-conference and have begun to gather more podcasts to follow–like Small Wooden Shoe’s Fun Palace.

In the meantime, here are my favorite currently produced podcasts:

  1. The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
    My fiction professor, Ian Schimmel, forced our class to listen to this podcast. “Bullet to the Brain” by T.C. Boyle during class? Fantastic. Listen to it on my own time then report back? Ugh. Why can’t I just read it?

    It wasn’t until the next summer that I embraced everything podcasting and auditory learning could give to me. I could learn about New Yorker writers’ influences, reading habits, and research into the craft as I walked my dog around the block. When I reached Toronto, I could listen to those same talks and stories as I walked to the subway or grocery store, whether I was picking my way through icy snow banks or marveling at how happier everyone was in the spring or summer sun. Last fall, I unhappily found myself caught up with the years of archived episodes and must now wait for a new story to come out at the top of every month.

    True, I do lose some details when I listen to stories instead of reading them off the page. But I gain more wisdom in listening to the words wash over me. I’m not consuming but absorbing and it’s one way of learning I’m glad I’ve learned to appreciate.

    Listen to Deborah Treisman.

  2. This American Life
    A classic, I know. But for me, still novel because I began listening after I moved to Canada…

    I’ve since realized, in my growing education, that other podcasts provide news that interests me on a more regular, stable basis. But when This American Life gets it right, it sure does grab my attention. Like when they did a live show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And when they did a whole show on an abandoned house, wondering what had caused a family to leave so many of their possessions behind and intact from another era. And those are just the older shows…

  3. To the Best of Our Knowledge
    My mom sent me one of these. I don’t even remember which episode I listened to first (except it was this one about writing), but once I realized that the format allowed for many experts to talk about similar subjects; that the more I listened, the more I learned about current trends and weird popular facts before the rest of the world; and that I liked listening to the personal, Wisconsin-based and yet globally related stories of Anne Strainchamps, Steve Paulson, and the rest of the producers it became a regular subscription.

    My mom sent this podcast produced in Madison, WI to me in Toronto, ON from Taipei, Taiwan. I know that’s not a miracle these days, but the origin story means something to me here.

  4. The Blacklist Table Reads
    Only a few months old, it’s already been renamed on Twitter as @earmovies. Which is exactly what it is: Franklin Leonard hosts a podcast on Wolf Pop that makes “movies for your ears.”

    I’m so glad I learned to appreciate listening in addition to reading because now I get to hear a really well-produced reading of an unproduced feature film screenplay every month, in four installments. I haven’t loved every script, but I’ve learned as much from listening to them as I would have from reading them off the website. And with interviews from successful screenwriters and newbies, I am learning more.

    Anything that promotes great new writing in scripts is definitely on my top ten list. And that casts Darren Criss.

  5. Invisibilia
    I barely pulled myself through the first non-This American Life NPR program: Serial. Sorry not sorry, but I didn’t need an investigative piece about a murder case. I could have watched the actual news for that.

    But this podcast pulled me through a rough winter, my second in Toronto and though I had Tarragon and Abyss rehearsals to keep me busy and moving forward career-wise, I needed the happy voices of Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel to battle the blues swirling around me and in my own head.

    I miss hearing about other areas of study and life now that I’m out of grad school and far away from my differently nerdy Rice community–so this helps fill a gap. Or at least I hope it will when it comes back for a second season!

    Also girl power. Positive girl power with science and interesting sound mixing. Audio stimulating in addition to great stories about fear, personality and more of what’s going on in our heads.

  6. Welcome to Night Vale
    Science fictional town somewhat based on the world of H.P. Lovecraft… I’d heard rumors for months and then dove into the first ten episodes on a road trip from Toronto to Indianapolis. ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD. And now I’ve been indoctrinated into all the inside jokes about the secret police, the dog park, and disappearing interns.

    I love that Commonplace Books has finally produced a podcast to perform science fiction stories instead of more journalism. Not that I don’t enjoy the nonfiction podcasts, but Night Vale and dedicated fan base demonstrate the possibilities for storytelling that the revival of the audio through podcasting can bring back.

    Note: it’s really weird. Sometimes even too weird for me. Just keep listening and let the rest wash over you.

  7. The Moth
    I don’t know why I resisted this one for so long. Live storytelling from all walks of life, from various countries across the globe, comedy, drama, tales of long journeys and everyday life occurrences. I don’t know what to say since it’s the recommendation I hear so often from other podcast listeners, except to say that if you want to hear more than the news, listen to this podcast for real, human stories.

    I can’t wait to submit some of my stories to the pitch line and someday get up on stage to tell about my life adventures.

And Honorable Mention, 99% Invisible. Plus this one-off: alternative morticians, which unveiled a whole new world of death practices coupled through a deeply human and honest conversation.

This is just the tip of the… sound waves.

Happy Listening!

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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