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Hello, fellow listeners!

It's been a busy month! I hope your October is treating you well, and that you've indulged in some autumn fare if you're in an autumn-having area at the moment. If you aren't, I suggest you enjoy some hot cocoa or hearty soup, anyway; I'm not sure those can ever go wrong. (Unless it's a bajillion degrees outside, I guess.)

Time Bombs (episodes 1-3): The team behind Wolf 359 embarked recently on a wild proposition: to create an audio drama in a single week. You can look back on their progress, but you should absolutely listen to the end result. Time Bombs is a three-part sitcom-style look at one New Year’s Eve in the life of a bomb disposal unit. It’s wacky, giggle-inducing, and secretly about friendships and how to navigate a stressful career. It brought me a lot of joy, and a great escape. [~16:00]

Everything is Alive, Chioke, A Grain of Sand (episode 7): “Chioke” feels like a return to episode 1, “Louis” form--an existentialist and impactful look at it what it means to be human, and to exist in a world with other humans, and to actually think about that. There's a long set of silences where Ian and Chioke are “just being”, and these were sharp, jagged moments of reflection for me, like the silence present “Louis” but entirely different as to shape and content of them. The fact that this is all researched,and then improvised makes Everything is Alive the podcast I need to marvel at creativity, ingenuity, and dedication. [27:56]

Super Ordinary, Nothing Like the First Time (episode 6): Super Ordinary has a been fascinating and riveting look into the way we perceive people and stories, and living with anxiety and mental health in a modern, digital era. This latest episode summons nostalgia without a rosy lens, and a bit of heartbreak over what past loves could have become, and keeps the listeners focused on the parallel stories of Sean’s investigation and Anika’s development into a news clip villain from just a teenager with anxiety. Running parallel plotlines is not an easy feat, and Super Ordinary has been killing it. It’s honestly amazing how much they are able to accomplish in fewer than 14 minutes--part of this episode is dedicated to a lovely interview clip with voice actor Danielle Shemaiah. [14:49]

Arden, The Curse Did It (episode 5): Arden has been one of the best new debuts of fall; a comedic investigative podcast, this is not a traditional parody and this is not a traditional fictional true crime. Arden is about a ten year old cold case of a disappearance and murder, but it’s really about the two hosts, played by Michelle Agresti and Tracey Sayed, and their relationship to each other and to the case. It touches on the sensationalization of crimes and journalism, on the respect for victims, on the foibles of the police and the media, while managing to retain a satirical, hilarious tone for a perfect balance. [50:49]

Love and Luck, The Aftermath (episode 2.5): Love and Luck’s latest episode has Michael’s voice actor’s first appearance, and Oscar Sabogal is exactly what I needed in Michael. Michael grapples with the traumatic aftereffects of gay-bashing and targeted homophobia, and Sabogal’s acting is tender, sad, stressed, and kind, and expertly has a small, heartbreakingly-real moment of anxiety when discussing what he’s been dealing with. Sabogal is just what the role needs, demonstrates a stunning performance, and I also can’t express how happy it makes me to hear people with non-native speaker accents in their English in an English-speaking podcast. It’s rare, because so many people will think ‘well they can’t be understood’ (which continues to support racist oppressive structures). Love and Luck’s production team tackles behind-the-scenes support of marginalized folks with the same aplomb as the characters in their scripts. [12:13]

Flyest Fables, Do I Look Like One of Your Little Friends? (episode 2): Morgan Givens’ Flyest Fables has been a long-awaited debut for me since he first teased its existence and not even the concept, because Givens is an incredible storyteller and performer. Flyest Fables is an interconnected anthology, focusing first on a young boy named Antoine and his struggles with bullying, and on the tale in the magical book he finds, of Princess Keisha and her quest to save her mother and her kingdom. Givens does all the voices--Antoine, his mother, the narrator, and so on--and his vocal control is incredible. He also soundscapes the entire thing beautifully, such that it always feels like I’m enfolded inside a story. Plus, there’s singing--what’s not to love about the inclusion of music as integral to the storyline? And the use of music as the clincher in this episode is like a shot of pure hope. [16:00]

The Glass Appeal, Trade Secret (episode 1): Elijah Gabriel’s debut audio fiction grabs your attention by the fire in your heart. In this world, Tinkers are a volunteer organization who adjust and, well, tinker with their biological data, also called “bio-hackers” and now associated with biological warfare. Protagonist Jason Cawfield is in a dystopian jail, going through an appeals process, imprisoned for terrorist crimes he says he did not commit. This first episode, a conversation between Cawfield and his friend who comes to visit, is difficult to listen to; the parallels in this conversation, where his friend demonstrates his bias against Tinkers (“I’m not prejudiced against Tinkers, I just think…”), to familiar conversations in our world are sharp, pointed, and really fired me up. I want to know more about this universe, and about Cawfield, and that kind of immediate engagement of my attention to a world is what keeps me attached to a podcast. [17:07]

Minefire, A.Z.R.A.E.L. (episode 1): Set around the mine fire zone of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a man uneducated in the way of the occult accidentally summons something that he can’t really put back. Minefire’s debut is funny, with a sassy performance by James Oliva and a bit of Tanja Milojevic’s incredible chameleon voice as the actual, knowledgeable medium that we’ll be hearing more of. I’m excited for a dramedy set in a supernaturally weird zone, and for that cast line-up! [21:50]

The Far Meridian, Defrag (episode 2.4): The Far Meridian’s second season has not just been blowing me away, but making me cry and centering me in adventures that are just outside the door and around the corner. “Defrag” has been a highlight; the episode shows Peri’s growth in both maintaining good relationships and in her own mental and emotional health as she helps someone else with a new, uncertain friendship. Being able to witness tangible progress, and healing, is one of the most important things that The Far Meridian gives its listeners. [18:10]

The following something a lot longer than my norm, because I felt it was important to hit on some of those details to explain my position. This also has some spoilers, which I normally shy away from in my mini-reviews.

The Horror of Dolores Roach (episodes 1-8): I find it awkward personally that I didn’t like this podcast, a “contemporary Sweeney Todd”, because on the surface, I should love this (and, to be honest, I wanted to love this). Dolores Roach, in a technical sense, is unobjectionable. The audio design is a callback to Homecoming season one, with some subtle design and creative work for the sound of meat and eating, and dramatic music that becomes pretty tiring to listen to after it’s used so many times at predictable points. Daphne Rubin-Vega is an incredible actress, and has the advantage of also being the star of the one-woman stage play this is drawn from, and her co-stars are no slouches either. My problems are not as heavily with the audio or the acting; I had deep problems with the narrative itself. Every person of color is a stereotype or playing out stereotypical situations, usually harmful. Slurs against transwomen and purposeful misgendering are used to highlight either the changing times or someone’s anger; the only reason I should be hearing that is from a trans creator talking about their experiences. The Jewish landlords are portrayed as money-hungry and heartless, or assumed to be so by other characters, and as the central problem for long-time residents suffering from gentrification effects. There’s fat-shaming in episode one, because why not. The main character’s deteriorating mental health is brushed aside by her partner, something that happens often in already oppressed communities. The writer is clearly trying to make a point, about gentrification and the way we treat people of color in society and in the criminal justice system, about transphobia--the political commentary is present in the dialogue, not just hidden in metaphor, something that I approve of. But are you succeeding at making that point if you keep playing and writing the same harmful stereotypes that have helped oppressed them in the first place, without subverting them? And I can see where the point is to have Dolores fighting off the stereotypes---but she doesn’t succeed. What message does that send, especially in this time? This was a conflicting one for me; I genuinely feel like I must be missing something, but mostly I just get the feeling that this was trying to be edgy and political and grotesque to drive home important commentary and then relied on stereotypes in order to do so. [~30:00]


There have been a lot of changes, big headlines, and ground-rumbling in podcast-land lately. For me, one of those earthquake moments was Phoebe Wang’s speech at Third Coast. I wasn’t present, but I was following as soon as I saw the first tweet that said she lit the entire room on fire. Phoebe Wang, who won Best New Artist for her piece on The Heart God + The Gays”, delivered a powerful acceptance speech that included a call to action to hire people of color to positions in your company, especially focused in the audio industry, which is predominantly white.

Go read the speech. Take some moments to digest it. I’ll wait.

One of the things I started considering was the way major podcast networks and production companies -- whether some form of indie or not -- support their employees and creatives who are people of color. I specifically went and looked at various companies’ and networks’ social media and podcasts to see what they were saying and how they were saying it: was it just words, or were there also actions? Were there even words to begin with? I was thinking of places like Radiotopia, How Stuff Works, NPR, Night Vale Presents--not that these places are being called out here, but that these are the levels of presence and types of podcasts I was thinking of.

I do believe that these types of networks and companies have a larger burden than a solitary indie podcast or even, perhaps, and un-funded independent network. This doesn’t mean I’m saying the latter has no burden to think about equitable and just inclusion for people of color; that’d be ridiculous. But I do think we need to expect different levels of capacity for them, especially since the former type has so many more resources and funding at their disposal. Large networks and companies have a better and bigger platform, with more press and a larger audience--and they’re also consistently the places with the worst movements towards meaningful work in hiring people of color for their job positions, and in accepting pitches for podcasts from people of color as well.

So what do I think they should be doing to support people of color, with the understanding that I think that everyone should be doing this, indie and otherwise alike. The form that they each take will be different by financial and production necessity, but everyone needs to do better.

First, quite simply to echo Wang’s point: hire people of color. If the words are “we just couldn’t find a person of color” or “they didn’t apply”, then what’s happening is a lack of marketing and actual intent. Pay them what they’re worth--the wage gap is real, attack it--and think beyond credentials gained by pieces of paper or underpaid internships at famous audio production places.

But the buck doesn’t stop at just “we hired X number people of color; that means we aren’t racist and aren’t supporting racist structures!”. These people of color need to advance into positions of power, and the place where they’re working needs to be aware and active to combat whatever oppressive systems might be at play. Nothing is perfect, especially for a company that, for instance, previously had only white men in power, and in order to help truly diversity and transform a workplace, it needs to be secure. If a workplace or network isn’t demonstrating their commitment to helping fight oppression internally as well as externally, then that’s not a safe place for any person of color to stay in, let alone apply to. Help prevent the backlash they will receive, and support them tangibly when it happens. Don’t assume the people that work there are blameless angels, and have solutions and standard operating procedures already in place for a situation that might be unsafe or harmful to a person of color, both in terms of their health and their careers.  I want these places to just not assume that what Phoebe Wang said doesn’t apply to them--if that’s what anyone is thinking, it probably applies to them.

And finally, it’s not just about hiring people, but supporting their creative work in a visible and tangible fashion. If your podcast network or production house has a podcast that’s been created or features people of color, make sure you are talking about them and their projects as much as you are for those that are created by your white creatives. And this one, this is so important, that I need everyone to listen--I need you to listen. Marketing matters, and the way you market to your potential audience also matters. Your personal Twitter accounts matter just as much as the business account, because you are a representative of your podcast and your business. Make sure you are varying your marketing, and that you’re reaching out to audiences that you may not have been able to reach before with other work. You’re giving them a platform, so make sure you honor that commitment to these creatives. We’ve seen so many major films, for instance, created and directed by women, people of color, queer people, and so on, flop--because their production house failed to market enough, or at all, or correctly, usually because they were already under the impression that it was going to fail, because of the centralized presence of a marginalized person. A self-fulfilling prophecy, one that people will then use to say “see, people actually don’t want these stories, so we should stop funding them.”

And that’s a sign you need to market them more and better. If you’re worried that will happen, fight it. Talk with the creators about the best way to announce their podcast and talk about it; make sure they’re in conversation with the graphic designer and the social media manager; don’t let the voices of those who would say it’s all just politics get in the way of being the best ally you can actually be.

Maybe you’re saying, “god, Ely sure does talk about this kind of stuff a lot.”

I do. I won’t stop talking about it. I want to help people examine their own choices, and also examine the choices of the media they consume. I want to check myself, and grow to be a better supporter and ally, always. And this industry is not there yet. We aren’t in a post-racist, post-oppressive industry; change has to happen. For change to happen, for it to be long-lasting and transformative change, we need to keep the conversation going. So, please: don’t stop talking about it, do better, and hold those around you to the promise to do better too.
!A list of audio drama debuts from September and there's a whole pile of them
A curated list of 13 spooky, haunted podcasts for Halloween, fiction and nonfiction.
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me over at my ko-fi account! 
Ko-Fi Support
The #FallFictionPodcasts campaign has begun, a collaboration between RadioPublic and PRX (with a little curation help and research from yours truly). There's a great playlist of fiction podcasts over on RadioPublic, geared towards getting new-to-audio-fiction listeners to join in. 
The Truth's "The Off Season" series finale drops tonight. Please don't miss out on the conclusion for this great podcast that discusses the #MeToo movement.
The Godshead Incidental podcast is crowdfunding, for a story about a city full of gods and the people who want nothing to do with them, an advice columnist, the letter she never answered, and a whole host of fun, interesting things. And then there's the birds.
Crossroads Stations is crowdfunding Forest Guide, an audio drama about a confused grad student who ends up on a magical adventure with a strange, mysterious creature in the woods. That cast line-up is incredible, and I hope we can help them out!
Cocotazo Media dropped a trailer yesterday for Timestorm, a young adult audio drama about two Puerto Rican kids who travel back in time to discover important moments and historical people from their cultural pasts that have been erased from modern history books. It directly deals with consequences from Hurricane María, and I have been waiting for this with a deep love in my heart. The show premieres November 25th.
Remember that you can find HELP WANTED ads at Wil Williams' website.
You may remember that last time I wrote about horror and the portrayal of mental illness. This is a great tweet thread on horror and the portrayal of physical disability, and use of mobility aids as a scary prop.
It seems likely that I'll be recommending Amanda McLoughlin's videos a bunch, now that she's back to vlogging.  And this video about working for free in the digital economy hits home in a lot of ways, especially for freelancers and creatives who are having a hard time finding any kind of meaningful, funded platform.

And now that McLoughlin is a full-time podcast creator, it means she's out here writing helpful articles available for everyone. Her article on calls to action in podcasts, The One Shot Rule, is incredibly important! All podcasters should read it, and start implementing this plan.

Podfade is the term for those many podcasts that are abandoned, like the webcomics that did the same, or go on a mysteriously long hiatus. Liam Niemeyer has a great article with interview material on podfade, on the what and they why.

And finally, over at The Podcast Host, Wil Williams has published an easy-to-follow how-to on designing podcast art. Great tips and solid examples all around.

Just a reminder that I'll be at the Austin Film Festival this week! I'll be live-tweeting some panels on Twitter, and writing some articles post the event. And if you're going, I hope to see you there!

If you'd like to ask me questions or comments, you can reply to this newsletter (it goes directly to my email!) or reach out to me on Twitter.

Happy listening,
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