If you’ve read the New Podcasts To Listen To In July article, you will have seen one podcast that has really pushed the boat out with the immensity of the project. THAT PODCAST is a magazine-style podcast that features more than 100 collaborators, with 23 commissions, performances from some of the UK’s most exciting names, and testimonies from the public.
The podcast is a co-production between the ETT (English Touring Theatre) and Storyglass. We usually do host interviews for new podcasts, but with multiple famous hosts taking on their own parts of the 6-part series, we decided to speak to the people on the other side of the microphone. So we asked some questions of Jen Bakst (Commissioning Editor) and Robert Delamere & Richard Twyman (Executive Producers.) Here are their amalgamated answers:
What does a producer consider when taking on a new podcast job – what appealed to you about THAT PODCAST?
We’d never heard of a project quite like THAT PODCAST… That’s what got us excited about the idea.
A magazine-style podcast which meshes together journalistic storytelling, comedy, interviews with experts, testimonials from the public and creative storytelling? It was like a chemistry experiment – it was either going to blow up in our faces, or it was going to result in a really interesting new format. So we thought we’d give it a go!
Plus, what with ETT being a theatre company, we were really keen to keep working with playwrights and creative freelancers who had had their projects cancelled due to the pandemic, to enable these brilliant visionaries to keep making imaginative and important work and share it with a broad range of audiences. So together with Storyglass, we paired these writers up with some of Britain’s leading comedians, journalists and commentators to synthesize fact and fiction in a new podcast.
We were relieved and delighted to find out that this content all sits side-by-side really well. There’s an exciting alchemy in combining factual material with humorous commentary and artistic perspective.
In terms of the actual content – these are obviously very strange and unexpected times to be living in, so we just wanted to really interrogate how the pandemic has influenced every aspect of our lives: from our dreams, to our love lives, to our communities, our news, our travel, our grieving rituals…
Did you take inspiration from any podcasts in particular before you started (either as a team, or an individual)?
When we first started this project, it was the summer of 2020, and everyone was still trying to wrap their minds around how the pandemic had changed the world overnight. At some point in a meeting, one of us said something like: “I wish the UK had a version of This American Life to explain it all to us!” It was a joke, but as with all jokes made in frustration, there was a definite kernel of truth in it. The idea stuck with us.
This American Life is so iconic in the world of podcasting, with its deep-dives into existential state-of-the-nation questions, how it features voices of the public in a meaningful way, and how it goes into the minutiae of the constantly changing landscape of daily life. We wanted to do a British version of This American Life, but made from a mostly cultural perspective instead of a journalistic one. We wanted to try and put together a creative insight into the complex and mercurial question of what it means to be British today, by telling stories from contemporary life reimagined by some of the most exciting voices in fiction.
Also, an absolutely huge shout out to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker, the geniuses behind the radio ballads of the 50s, who gave us the idea for mixing artforms in audio.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned producing this type of ‘magazine’ podcast?
We learned two big headline things: number one is – there are just crazy amounts of talent out there in every facet of British cultural life, in every nook and cranny. I mean, we obviously had a pretty good sense of that before we started. But I don’t think we were fully ready for the total breadth and depth of how the UK’s cultural scene is bursting at the seams with fascinating, diverse, imaginative, wild and wonderful artists. It was such a privilege to work with people from every discipline – performance artists, spoken word artists, drag artists, theatre-makers, storytellers, singer-songwriters, sleep scientists, journalists, sex historians, refugee human rights advocates, sex workers, app developers, novelists, travel writers, data scientists and spiritual leaders… We worked with over one hundred people on this podcast and we would have worked with a hundred more if we could have, but I think it would have broken the budget (and the team).
The second thing is – when you’re making a project that involves over a hundred people, it takes time. As the project grew and developed, we started uncovering more and more material, more stories, and more content from all our contributors. We realised pretty quickly that this was going to be a massive project that would need some deep thought and some proper nurturing of the many different pieces and artforms that were going into it. Ultimately, we’re really proud of what we’ve put out – but we also still have so many stories, testimonials, facts and ideas for creative commissions that didn’t make it into the podcast because we had to make cuts for the edit. Fingers crossed we get a season two so we can share some of our best-loved but as yet unheard materials!
You have different celebrity guests presenting each part. How did the collaboration work with the presenters?
It was such a joy to work with an amazing line up of different hosts – incredible comedians like Sophie Duker, Desiree Burch, Chris McCausland and Nish Kumar, film legends like Terry Gilliam, and top-shelf journalists like Remona Aly. Each one of them is so politically engaged, so smart and switched on, and with such a unique voice and perspective on things. It felt like, thanks to these collaborations with different hosts, each episode was refracted through a different lens, making the overall effect of the thing feel like a kaleidoscope of viewpoints. Which is exactly what we wanted for this project that is supposed to reflect the diversity of our nation.
For each one of them, we had an early-doors chat with the hosts to discuss the theme of the episode, and get their input. Then, based on those chats we’d set to curating content for the episode – interviewees, testimonials, creative commissions, etc. We eventually drafted a script for the episode and they’d change it round and make it their own.
What is something you haven’t managed to do yet with THAT PODCAST, but you would really like to work on?
Something that was new for us on THAT PODCAST was the testimonials from members of the public. So many people were really generous and honest with us in sharing their lived experiences, which ranged from the hilarious, to the unexpected, to the really really difficult.
The bummer though is that because of COVID restrictions, we couldn’t get any audio from live community events, from people on the streets, from people’s homes, things happening in the moment. Maybe in the next season, if we’re not making it in a lockdown this time, we’ll be able to fulfil our dream of having a roving reporter gathering audio from live events and gatherings, rather than doing it remotely via the internet.
How do you experience other podcasts as a listener? Can you turn off your editing ear and just enjoy shows, or do you always tune in to the things you would have done differently yourself?
We’re really happy to just enjoy what pops up in our feed, and celebrate the rich range of the podcasting world.
Because it’s still a relatively early medium, content is made at really different levels of professionalism. Some podcasts are really home-brewed and sweet, whereas others are much more thoroughly researched and supported have higher production values. There’s a really wide range out there, and no “right” way to make a podcast.
Where can Pod Bible readers find out more about you?
You can listen to THAT PODCAST… on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast, and wherever you get your podcasts. To find out more about ETT, visit www.ett.org.uk. For more on Fremantle and Storyglass, go to www.fremantle.com.