Live performance and theatre has been one of the sectors most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But for podcast fans, this has meant a slew of new creative podcasts coming out over the past year. Armchair Adventures is one of them. It started life a lockdown project to bring people together last year.
Since then, more than 30 older people aged 60+ have been involved in the first series, and it was even praised by Prince William! The award-winning podcast is back for a second season and looks set to continue is its mission for creativity and connection. We spoke to creators, theatre company Made By Mortals.
Why podcasting? What is it about the format that appeals for this project?
We turned to podcasts through necessity to be honest. We run a not-for-profit that traditionally creates music theatre and films with groups of people from our community in Manchester. When lockdown hit, like everyone we were forced to work remotely, which meant that none of our groups could meet in person. We wanted to create something that could bring people together during a time that they were forced apart. So, through experimenting, playing and using our imaginations over zoom, we came up with the concept of Armchair Adventures, a podcast series for children that takes them on a journey of the imagination.
We were able to develop the scripts, rehearse and record using equipment we all had to hand, while still managing to create something that meets (and I think has now surpassed) the artistic quality of our theatre work.
Podcasting has also helped us to grow our audience reach. Armchair Adventures has had tens of thousands of listens, if that was one of our theatre productions we’d have to sell out a lot of venues to reach those numbers!
You’re also able to play with sound design to make the listener feel part of the action. Podcasts have allowed us to create immersive theatre far more regularly than we ever could when putting on a staged theatre show
To top it off, podcasts are also easy to get hold of, they’re convenient for an audience as they can take their podcasts with them wherever and play them whenever. So all in all, podcasting was the perfect solution!
Which episode would you say is the perfect introduction to your podcast?
I think our Armchair Adventures episodes are getting better and better all the time, so I’d go for our latest one ‘An Underwater Adventure’ (released 11th November). The series follows 15 year old travel agent Connie, and her gang of explorers. With the pandemic, people haven’t been able to go abroad as freely as they used to, so they’ve come up with an alternative to a traditional vacation, a journey of the imagination, an “Armchair Adventure”. Using the voices of Connie and the gang, music, immersive sound design, and places in the podcast for the listener to interact too, the listener is very much a part of the action.
The use of the music in this latest episode, ‘An Underwater Adventure’ is really fun. It’s like the piano has come along on the journey too, and instead of hearing someone speak, the piano communicates through music!
We also always have an important message for children in the podcasts too, in this one, it’s all about conservation and climate change. And as always, there’s plenty for the listener to join in with too in this episode! I do love ‘Carla’s Bubble Adventure’ and ‘A Showbiz Adventure’ from season 1 too though!
Has Armchair Adventures grown beyond the podcast?
One of the most exciting things about Armchair Adventures is how it has been adapted to be used in lots of different settings. We made the series for children so it was important to us that we put it in front of as many kids as possible! We have great relationships with local schools through our theatre work, so we presented the podcasts online in ‘Live Online Shows’. This also put podcasting on the radar for many schools and children. Since then we’ve made teaching resources to accompany the podcast episodes, so teachers can embed the learning. This was particularly impactful with ‘A Unity Adventure’ which is about racial equality.
We’ve also created an activity pack for older people and trained up activity co-ordinators in nursing homes so they can use it with their residents. Now restrictions have eased up we’re now creating the episodes in person and also working on the development of a live Armchair Adventures theatre show – watch this space!
Which podcasts do you take inspiration from?
I really like The Story Pirates and how it blends actors, musicians, improvisers and stories from kids. It’s quite like how we create Armchair Adventures, except we make it using stories from over 65s!!
Away from podcasts, we’re really into the work of Tim Crouch, a theatre maker who challenges traditional theatre conventions. We try and do that with our work, blurring the distinction between performer and audience member.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from working on this project?
You can’t just expect an audience to fall at your feet, no matter how good you believe your podcast to be. You need to spend just as much time, if not more, marketing your podcast and maintaining audience engagement as you do making the episodes!
We’ve worked really hard at this, and although we’ve had a low-budget, grassroots marketing campaign, the results have been brilliant: tens of thousands of listens including a surprise following in India; engaged with over 5,000 school children through our Live Online shows; we’ve trained over 50 activity co-ordinators in nursing homes; we were recommended by BBC Radio 4 and Podcast Radio; received a letter of commendation from HRH Prince William and most recently we became an award-winning podcast by winning Best Podcast at the Manchester Publicity Awards 2021!
It’s all nuts and can’t wait for where our next adventure takes us!