The Immersive Sounds of Audio Drama
S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: For audio fiction to really work, the images need to exist inside the listeners head, and it needs to be kind of effortless. They seem to they need to know what’s going on effortlessly. And I guess with a really good radio drama, that’s what I’m hoping to do.
S3: Welcome back to Working, I’m your host ramyun alone, and I’m your other host, June Thomas, the voice we just heard belongs to John Scott Dryden, a man whose work can’t easily be distilled into one known as We’ll Hear in this interview. June, this conversation reveals you once again as culturally omnivorous. You know, John’s Coloradans work because you’re a fan of the audio play, which is a form that he produces.
S1: Yes. Thank you for that wonderful flattery remark. I haven’t lived in Britain for nearly 40 years, but one of the ways I’m still really very culturally British is that I love to listen to radio drama, whether that’s book adaptations or radio plays or these days, fictional podcasts. As someone who’s a professional Porchester, I sometimes actually feel a little bit guilty about how many hours I spend listening to plays and books of the week instead of catching up on podcasts. But I really love it.
S3: You know, it’s funny because I just I feel like the audio drama, it’s just outside my own experience. And maybe that’s because it’s just a cultural like a national attitude towards this particular form. I think in the States we have this sort of deep relationship to our regional NPR stations, but we don’t have that sort of national allegiance like the Brits do to the BBC. The BBC is that sort of great entertaining equalizer. We don’t really have that in this culture.
S1: Absolutely. I think the British fondness for the BBC and all the arguments it sparks because it’s not pure, unadulterated love. I mean, when you say that love then generates a lot of arguments and a lot of feelings, I think that’s really unfathomable to Americans. Just like our love for the NHS. The BBC may dominate TV these days a little bit less in the streaming era, but it’s still the big player in radio and actually in podcasts in Britain. And when it comes to online news and every single day on BBC Radio four, there are plays and serialized adaptations of books and there’s even more on the digital station, radio for Extra or radio for E! And I don’t know about you, but when I go to the theatre in New York, I always consult Playbill to see which law and orders each actor has been in. While in Britain, most of the actors have a long list of radio credits.
S3: It’s a it’s a thing, you know, I’m kind of jealous. I sort of wish we had this radio culture. It sounds very civilized. So I’m wondering if it’s your love of the form generally that first made you aware of the work of John Scottrade and John.
S1: Yeah. In a way back in 2015 when it wasn’t as easy as it is now to just listen to BBC Radio in the U.S., at least on your phone, I noticed that the BBC was releasing an audio drama called to Monday as an episodic podcast. And I listened and I was really interested when there was a same sex relationship on the show. So I interviewed John Scott Driton for Outward and a little bit later he actually came to work in our offices because he was running scripted content for panoply, which is no megaphone and is a sister company of Slate. So I know him a little bit. He’s now made several podcasts for US networks, including Passenger List, which ran on Radio Topia. And we’ll be back for another season at some point soon and to Monday, which was what first brought him to my attention. Just finished his fourth and final season in the UK and it too is coming to the U.S. very soon. Now that it’s easier to listen to the BBC, I’ve learned to recognise his work from the style and the setting. It’s usually quite internationally focused, very rich and sound and very modern sounding.
S3: The conditions of quarantine might actually create a place in our cultural market for this form to catch on stateside because, you know, no one’s producing big movies. Right. But you could in theory, produce a podcast, although that’s the way that John Scottrade and works is different from the way that you might think he works. So we should probably just let him speak for himself and listen in on your conversation with John Scottrade and.
S1: So you are one of the most hyphenated of the multi hyphenate people I know, writer, director, producer and more. What do you say when people ask you what you do for a living?
S4: I have struggled with that my entire life when the opportunities for making audio fiction was just BBC Radio four. It was really difficult to say. I would sort of say, well, I’m a sort of radio writer, I’m a radio producer. And then they would assume that I produce, you know, the drive time show on Radio one. And then when I said, well, no, no, it’s you know, I just do drama, then the response would always be they still do that. Yeah, well, they do actually. Yeah. And there’s quite a big audience. But now in the era of a podcast where it is the thing and everyone gets very excited about the whole concept of podcasts, even though fiction podcasts of the niche part of the it’s sort of much easier to describe what I do. And I, I say I’m a producer mostly. I sell audio fiction producer. But you do still write a lot, right? Yeah, I do write a lot. I don’t know why I don’t call myself a writer, but, you know, I guess most of my income probably comes from the producing side of it. And quite often I’m doing very detailed storylines and then working with lots of other writers. For example, when we did a passenger list, which was a fiction podcast about a plane that disappears in the Atlantic and a young woman who is trying to find the truth of what happened because she doesn’t believe the official story to make that was a big process. And so to be the sort of executive producer and co-director with Lauren Shippen, director with me, it was it was like a lot of work to do. So I couldn’t write all the scripts and nor could she. And so the way I approached it, and it’s the way I approach quite a lot of projects, is I spend quite a lot of time at the beginning working at a very, very detailed outline and then hiring writers to work with those outlines. So it was it was pretty detailed.
S1: Well, let’s talk a little bit about the world of audio drama. I have to quote from one of my favorite plays, although I haven’t seen it in a long time. But in Willy Russell’s play, Educating Rita, Rita is a mature student, no nonsense working class woman in middle age who returns to formal education. And and when she’s faced with the exam question suggests how you would resolve the staging difficulties inherent in a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. She writes, Do it on the radio. And I’ve always loved that line. But as a person who has spent their working life staging things for radio or latterly for podcasts, how do you respond to that? Like it’s always like a get out of jail card or just do it on the radio? How does that make you feel?
S4: Well, you know, part of what inspired me to keep pushing at the form and I guess pushing at that door of audiogram and trying to make it different has been that everything that I’ve mostly what I’ve heard has been like a stage play where someone has simply recorded it rather than being a whole kind of genre of its own. And so when I worked in radio drama for the BBC, that was pretty much what defined my style. I was always looking to make it a thing, make it real and not simply an adaptation of a stage play or, you know, I wanted it to be a genre in its own right. And and I think there’s many ways of doing that. And I had a particular style that I was sort of pushing for. And I think science fiction podcasts have come into existence and become popular and there’s a much greater appreciation of that. And so I think that kind of comment, you wouldn’t hear so much anymore, people thinking, oh, you know, so it’s like a sort of stage play that’s just been recorded. I don’t think people would necessarily think that so much now, although a lot of fiction podcast does actually still sound like that. Yeah, yeah.
S1: Although I like I love adaptations, I love them. And I actually feels like something that we still don’t have in the US so much. You know, not to harp too much on Britain, but I’m thinking about on Radio four every week, there are several of those on the schedule, usually kind of serialized over the course of five week days, you know, adaptations of books, mostly written.
S5: But I’m not saying they shouldn’t be adapted.
S4: I mean, I’ve done I’ve done tons of books, but I’ve tried not to make them just the book. Yeah. Try and find something that works in order. And if for an audio fiction to really work, the story needs and the images need to exist inside the listener’s head and and it needs to be kind of effortless. They seem to they need to know what’s going on effortlessly and not feel that they’ve you know, that they’re kind of floundering around trying to figure out who’s who and what’s going on.
S1: Yeah, just to go back a little bit, how did you get into making audio drama? How did that become your line of work?
S4: Well, I knew that I wanted to create stories in some form or another, like at school and stuff. I was always directing plays. And so I guess I had that in me. And when I was at university, I did drama and history and I carried on directing plays. Essentially, I acted a little bit, but I wasn’t like a really good actor and I figured that out quite early on. And of course, if I’d been a really good actor, I’d have wanted to be an actor because I think, you know, there’s nothing better if if you’re really good. Yeah, but I knew that I wasn’t and I knew that I was a better director. And of course, in my mind, I wanted to work in theatre or film because I didn’t really know that audio drama existed. It was kind of after university I started listening to audio plays and I like them. But I think what happened was I saw that there was an opportunity there because, of course, breaking into directing plays when you’ve got no history of that or your family and none of my family were involved in the arts or anything. Yeah, it’s it’s a tough task. You know, you’ve got no idea how to break into that industry. Yes. And I think the more radio plays I listen to, the more I thought there’s a bit of an opportunity here because I can hear something that isn’t being done. Oh, that I could sort of start formula and and develop into a pitch. Yeah. And that was my strategy. So that’s how I got into it. And so I pitched to the BBC. I actually started making documentaries for the first because they were sort of easier to get commissioned and I did that for a few years. But with this idea that I could make it an audio drama in exactly the same way that I made an audio documentary that is not in a in a very confined studio with actors, but having people literally walking down the streets, getting in and out of cars, make it very visceral and physical to block out the scenes for movement in the way that it would happen in real life and then find a way of recording it. And that was pretty much how you’d make a sort of verité type documentary. And so I pitched this idea to them that we could do drama in this way. And it you know, there was an opportunity there because at that time they were looking to refresh their their image, you know, the radio drama image and find younger producers who wanted to do it in a different way. And there I was, you know, at the right time, at the right place. And they pitched. Some ideas and eventually got a drama commissioned.
S6: That’s that’s amazing and the way you describe that, you know, it’s funny because in my mind, even though I love them and I listen to them, you know, pretty much every day, I think of them as plays on the radio in their most basic form. But what you’re describing is more like movies on the radio.
S1: You know that you’re not confined to a proscenium stage or a stage or any small place, but you can be out in the world recording it and then it kind of comes into your ears. But it’s. Yeah.
S4: Yeah, definitely. You know, I tend not to think of them as movies for there. And some people do describe that kind of fast paced cutting with lots of music as sort of, you know, audio movies. But I kind of like that because I actually really like movies. Yes. And I really like audio drama. And I think audio drama done well is audio drama. It doesn’t have to be, you know, the soundtrack of a movie. Yeah. You know, for me, it’s a little bit more like reading a book and a really exciting book where it just starts to unfold inside your head. Yes. It’s extraordinary how the story, you know, all the characters and everything, they just appear in your head and you don’t really know what they look like. But, yeah, you sort of do as well. And I guess with a really good radio drama, that’s what I’m hoping to do.
S7: Enjoy the evening, everyone. And remember, life’s too short to dwell on the past. Right. So you’re still the future.
S5: On the 15th of February, at a party here thrown to celebrate his acquittal, Vicky Ryan was shot dead who switched the lights over many versions of what happened that night.
S7: And a generator put the generator on, none of them quite the same.
S1: I know you’ve done a ton of work that you’ve made outside the UK with the original UK audience in mind. A lot in India, but in Egypt, in Japan, rather than being in a studio in London, making a show about India or whatever, can you can you give us an example of a specific time when you’ve done that specific project and kind of how it works out?
S4: Yeah, one is the project I met my wife on. Actually, I was in India and it was an adaptation of a novel by Vikram Seth called A Suitable Boy and. I’ve never read I had been to India was, but I’ve never worked there and but I had this strong feeling, having read the book, it’s a huge book, a TV series about to come out actually of the book. And it’s a it’s kind of coming of age story of a young girl. It’s just a beautiful story. And I could have made it in the U.K. You know, there’s loads of Indian origin actors here. But somehow I felt if I went to India itself, where a lot of the acting community speak English as well, there would just be something more authentic about it. So it was largely about the actors. We could get all the actors there. And then the other part was just the sound of India. If we’d done it in the UK, we probably would have ended up using loads of, you know, sounds from BBC, you know, sound effects and things like that. And also a lot of the you know, the other thing with the actors here is that the the British, you know, their origin is Indian. And sure, they can put on a you know, an Indian accent because maybe, you know, their parents have slight Indian accent, but it just wouldn’t feel quite as real if it would they would be putting on the Indian accent that they think the British audience would expect to hear. Whereas if we did the whole thing in India, it would just all feel much more authentic. And so it was a hugely complex production because it’s got a very large cast and we decided to do it in a real location. So we found this this huge house that was pretty rundown. And we had the actors living there. We all lived there for three weeks and we were recording there as well. But it was one of those experiences where we just became this community and we’ve all stayed in touch since, you know. You know, I met my wife there. She was playing one of the characters and then the writer and all the things that she’s written. Yeah. And the production team are still my producers in India. So we stick with, you know, as a result of that, we we probably do at least a project a year in India.
S1: You mentioned accents then, and I’d love to dig in that a bit more. I know you made one of your first and I think most popular adaptations was Robert Harris’s novel Fatherland.
S6: It’s set in Germany, but but obviously it’s in English. So how do you how do you think through that kind of thing?
S4: This is it was kind of interesting, actually, because this is almost the opposite of, you know, say, working in India and stuff like that, that there was no real benefit in taking Fatherland and making it kind of in Berlin. Right. And has it set in a fictional future. Right. So, yes, no, it’s a thriller set in a fictional future. Everyone is supposed to be German in it, except for there’s an American journalist that kind of is caught in Berlin. And my feeling was not to have accents at all. If I was, I was determined not to have any kind of German accent because I thought it would it would just trip up the actors all the time. We’d be thinking about that the whole time and that we should just do it with all the actors, normal voices. So they have know a variety of kind of UK, most of them or UK actors, and that we would we would record it all on location in London and we’d just say London is Berlin and go to real places like, you know, if it was set in a pub or something, we would we would go and record in a pub. If, you know, they’re walking down the street, they’d be walking down the street, but we wouldn’t sort of pretend. We would simply say, this is Berlin and we’d do nothing else to create that illusion. And all the actors would just talk in their normal voices. And that was it. And that was enough. And, you know, with a thriller story, that’s kind of all you need.
S6: Yes. Well, we haven’t yet talked about your most recent epic to Monday, which just aired its last episode. As we record this, after Four Seasons in the UK, Season four is coming to the US soon. How did you decide on the accents in that show? Because it’s all just sort of foreign, right? I mean, they’re not speaking. At least some of the actors I know, like I know how Asia speaks because I’ve seen, you know, in our normal British voice, she’s not doing quite her normal voice. Yeah, an accent. But you’re not also doing like, OK, this is an Egyptian accent. This is a Greek accent. How much were you thinking around there?
S8: And I mean, it’s a fantasy. It’s a historical fantasy. So, yeah, we didn’t have to be accurate to anything in particular. But it is loosely inspired by this dynasty that ruled in Egypt between, I think, the 13th century and or nine called the Mamluks. So there was always a kind of Egyptian, you know, tone to it. Yeah. I mean, I have to say it was pretty random, you know, it was down to the actors. Yeah. Yeah. And most of them are just speaking in their normal voices. It’s got a very kind of multicultural cast anyway. Yeah.
S5: Go. You got my message was this was just a friend from experiencing the delights of your fine city, a killer fun. Wanted to see me. What do you have. That was an old man at the time. This was he said I mean, it’s it’s fiction.
S8: But the time it was inspired by Cairo was the most powerful city on the planet and attracted people because of its wealth from everywhere, you know, so artists would come from Europe, they would be tradespeople from India. And, you know, it just had the best of everything. People went that mercenaries would come in to earn their fortune. And so it was it’s a great kind of setting for drama because you can cast anyone. Yeah, yeah. And they’ll fit in in this world.
S4: And so generally, we told the actors to to decide how they wanted to. To do it, yeah.
S3: We’ll be back with more of John’s conversation with the producer, John Skitz, right in a moment. One of the things we’d love to do with the show is help solve your creative problems, whether it’s a specific challenge about your work or a big question about inspiration or discipline, send them to us at working at Slate Dotcom if and when we can. We’ll put those questions to our esteemed guests. Welcome back to working. I’m Ramona Lum. Now back to Jeunes conversation with John Scott Driton.
S6: I’m curious to what extent you come up with projects kind of from your imagination, things that you just dream up, as it were, and develop and kind of pitch to various companies and to what extent you are working on commission these days, like a company approaching you and saying, we really want to do a fictional podcast, do you have any ideas or indeed, does it work in a completely different way?
S4: I mean, it’s a bit of both. I mean, with the BBC, it’s very transparent. They they publish commissioning briefs every six months or so and say what it is they’re looking for in terms of durations and slots and stuff like that rather than specific ideas. And so I would have a sort of mind to develop ideas to those briefs. And and with podcasting companies I’m working with, you know, I heart media and a little bit of Wandera and and, of course, radio topia. I guess it just depends, you know, with with some of them. I have a kind of. A slight, I guess, where they say they will spend a certain amount of money over a two year period and I have to develop ideas to.
S8: To, you know, to get that money, essentially. Yeah, right, yeah, so that, I guess sort of focuses the mind and, you know, but for instance, with a passenger list and, you know, which is released by radio topia that was originally made, you know, with Panoply. Yeah. Yeah. So that was something that already existed. And we kind of took it around and knocked on doors to see if, you know, anyone was interested in and acquiring it.
S1: Let’s talk for a minute about passenger list. Season two is coming relatively soon. I understand. I really enjoyed season one. It’s a mystery. I love the international aspect of it.
S6: And I also love that the main character who’s played by Kelly Marie Tran, like speaks Vietnamese with family members like there is that I feel like there’s this like that’s a very John Dryden thing. I mean, it’s not like the most innovative thing in the world, but I’m not sure everybody would do that. And it feels very much part of your kind of vibe. But I imagine working with American actors who don’t just don’t have as much experience of radio or audio acting, just because there’s not as much of it in the U.S. is a little bit different. Do you? Is that right? And do you direct differently here?
S8: Well, I’ve worked in America, you know, a few times before, I worked at Panoply and I’ve done projects there for the BBC, largely aimed at the U.K. audience, I’d made an adaptation of Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale. Yes. And that was done entirely in New York. And I’d also made a it was a kind of well, it was a drama, but it was it was a sort of verbatim drama based on the weekend discussions that took place before the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank the day that Lehman died. Sounds like a really dry subject, but actually it was a really exciting drama, one of the most fun dramas I’ve had actually made completely at the studios of WNYC that we use their offices as though that was the Lehman Brothers offices. And we recorded over the weekend there with a whole load of actors from New York. And yeah, and what I found working with American actors is that it’s just it’s just completely natural to them this way, you know, especially because we were blocking it out and the microphones were following the action in the way that, you know, the camera lens might. But, yeah, I think they loved the pace that you’re able to work in audio because you can get a lot more done than you would if you were filming because you’re not having to set up quite so much. Yeah, and. Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed working with U.S. actors, actually. I find that they work in audio drama brilliantly and and what they don’t have, maybe because, as you said, you know, radio drama hasn’t really existed in the States since the 50s. They didn’t have this sense of what it ought to be. So it’s a very naturalistic kind of performance, which is something I’m always trying to get from British actors. And I find it harder almost here to get that kind of very naturalistic performance than I do with American actors in the States.
S6: And so actually, because you work in a non-traditional way, you don’t tend to just be in studios. It’s a style that they’re more used to because they haven’t had that studio. Like I am doing drama in a studio. Yes, experience is much interesting. It’s really interesting. As I was listening to various things that you’ve made in preparation for this interview, I swear, I heard and I think it was in passenger list where Kaitlyn was talking to somebody who was eating potato chips through their conversation. Obviously, that’s not casual. Nothing is casual. Nothing is accidental. I don’t know if you remember, like, what her you know.
S5: Yeah. And also I remember that and it’s you know, it’s just so you can learn things throughout your life. And I learned just how angry that makes some. I’ve never heard of them. There is actually a Yes.
S8: A word for it. I can’t remember what it is. But yes, in it there are people that have this and it’s like for them dragging your fingernails down the blackboard, you know, it totally makes them angry.
S1: And it’s called Misophonia, apparently. That’s right. Yeah.
S8: And I hadn’t known that. You know, it’s not something that bothers me in quite the way that I probably think twice about that now that I know that it actually did spoil some people’s enjoyment. But, you know. Yeah, I mean, I guess we thought, you know, here’s a scene where, you know, she’s coming in to interview an expert and let’s let’s make him not an obvious kind of expert. Let’s have him be very casual, you know, his feet up on the desk. Yeah. Yeah. Chomping on some chips while he, you know, tells her, you know, about his expertise and stuff and you can’t show his feet on the desk.
S6: So that’s a way of just like.
S5: Yeah, exactly. So the casualness of it. Yeah.
S8: You know, he was a you know, someone you might expect to be very formal. But actually, you know, the fun at the scene was that he was the opposite.
S5: Sorry, there’s a bit of a mess here. You just sit right here. Thank you. You know, I’m good. Thank you. So you could you say your name and what you do. I’m sure. William Schroeder, I’m an epidemiologist. OK, thank you. I would think twice about doing it quite that way. And next time.
S1: That’s awesome. You’ve recently done a reverse adaptation in the UK. The World of to Monday is available in novel form currently as the book The City of a Thousand Faces. It’ll be out here in the US on October 6th, I believe.
S6: How did that go? And given that you have done for so many years like taking a book and turning it into audio, how did you go about doing it the other way around?
S8: Well, it’s you know, it’s something I always wanted to do with Toowoomba, especially because we’d created over about five years this world to me and my co-writer Mike Walker, we kind of almost started to inhabit it ourselves. We knew the characters so well. Yeah. And we could see it all in our head. And I guess even though the audio, you know, was designed as an audio drama and we were going for a very kind of epic fail and seeing if we could make it work, you know, as an ensemble audio drama, I guess the more we got into it, the more we felt the limitations of audio drama and that, you know, that we had these incredible characters, this incredible world, these stories that if we could delve deeper, we would do it in novel form.
S4: And and so, you know, we decide to do that. And we found a publisher who was interested in publishing it.
S6: Orion, what was the hardest part? Because you’re used to writing a certain way and you had to, like, add descriptions. You had to do things that you.
S8: Yeah, I mean, we didn’t just sort of add descriptions and stuff. You know, we we based the first novel pretty much on the first season of and. It was actually a pleasure to be able to write more about that world and to describe it and to describe the character’s feelings more in a way that you can’t and and the radio drama. You know, I thought it’d be really hard, but it was in some ways easier than making an audio drama in an audio drama. You’re constantly having to sort of think, what is the audience going to understand by this? And then a novel, you can explain a bit more, although we did go for, you know, for a very fast pace in the novel and short chapters to try and create, you know, something of what was in the audio series. But there was really no downside to it. Like, you don’t have to organize in a huge number of actors.
S5: You don’t have to go to some godawful studio where we may even be and, you know, for weeks on end and feed everyone and deal with all the sort of issues that are coming up. You know, it’s just you just alone in the library writing this. This story was that I enjoyed every bit of it. There was nothing. There was nothing I didn’t like about it.
S4: It was a really cool thing to do. And we’ve actually already written the second novel. Oh, my God and God, you’re embarrassed.
S1: You’re one of those people who you’re like you’re an awesome guy and you’re lovely to talk to, but, jeez, you’re so productive. It kind of makes a person.
S5: I mean, I said, not really. I think I get my co-writer. It’s the most of the work.
S6: Well, actually, you know, I’m curious about that because obviously, again, writing for radio or audio is is collaborative, as you’ve discussed. But the city of a thousand faces and I guess the other ones in the series are you did write them together with as Walker Dryden. Yeah. So how how did you divide the the writing work?
S8: Well, we already had a lot of stuff because we had planned out season one season to season four. We had the radio scripts. So in a way, even before we started the novels, a lot of our work was done that we had the story arc, we had the characters, we had fantastic dialogue. Yeah. You know, if we wanted to use it, you know, I imagine with a lot of novels, there’s a lot of working out to be done. You know, we’ve kind of done all of that. And I think we might work and we work quite well together. And we’ve been working together for quite some years on different things, like he’s often the script editor on projects. I do. And I think what he’s very good at is the kind of the broad story beats.
S9: Uh huh. And what I’m very good at is the detail. So we sort of we complement each other. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s also.
S3: OK, there’s so much to discuss here, but let’s begin with John and a cast of actors moving into a house in India together to make an audio adaptation of Vikram Seth doorstop novel A Suitable Boy. That is incredible to me. It’s like something you’d hear about a 1970s auteur making a film totally or the setting of an Almodovar movie.
S1: Like a lot of things about audio drama, it sounds like fun. I mean, I’ve been on TV sets and they can be really boring places, in part because you have to be quiet when they’re working. And then there are these long pauses where they break to reset. There’s much less of that on radio. So I think it actually might have been fun to be in that house for three weeks. Normally, I’m a really big believer in setting healthy boundaries between work and the rest of one’s life, but that sounds like it might actually be worth the immersion.
S3: It does sound really fascinating to me and I really enjoyed hearing Jon describe the work that he does, not using the language of film as I just did, but sort of relating it to the experience of reading a book. When we think of story translated to audio, at least for me, I think of the audiobook, which is usually a lone performer, sometimes a handful performers reading aloud to us as though we’re children hearing a bedtime story. You know, sometimes they’re putting on different voices for various characters, but they’re kind of just reading you a story. And that is not what John does.
S1: Now, John’s adaptations are character driven dramatisations. There is often a narrator kind of setting up the action usually, but by no means always trying to solve a mystery of some kind. As you mentioned in the interview, his wife, Aisha mentioned is herself a quite prolific writer of audio dramas, and she has done some really atmospheric series set in India. She has a series called Mumbai Undercover, which is a police procedural, and she’s done several adaptations of books by Vikas Swarup, who wrote the story that the movie Slumdog Millionaire was based on. No shared on audiobooks, which can be great, but that’s not what these are.
S3: I’m really curious strewn about when exactly you listen to this work, you know, because it seems to me even just in the snippets that we heard played through your conversation, that it is it’s sort of a full text that might demand your attention. It seems very different to me than streaming a podcast about sports player washing the dishes.
S1: I will confess that it does sometimes require a little more concentration, especially when there are a lot of characters with similar voices. But that’s also often the case with podcasts. I actually listen to audio dramas as I’m falling asleep. They distract me from like the squirrel cage of daily existence. When you’re worried about work or money or art, so much better to listen to audio dramas. The problem is, of course, that if you fall asleep, it can be hard to figure out where you dropped off. But that’s true of anything that you’re listening to, including working well. None of our listeners are falling asleep, listening. Never, never, never. Lets close out this week with another listener question. Anna writes, I like to think of myself as an artist, but the truth is, most of my time is spent on my job instead of pursuing acting and performance, my real passion more and more. I wonder if this is even a good use of my time. I’m not getting paid. How can I take this seriously? Or more to the point, am I crazy for trying to treat this as something I’m committed to? That’s not just a hobby. What do you think, Ramon?
S3: I wish that we lived in a culture that valued pursuits that didn’t have anything to do with money. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with having a hobby. In fact, having a hobby seems wonderful to me. And I think if something brings you joy, that is no small thing. So if performing or playing the clarinet or painting bad watercolors makes you happy, maybe you can’t necessarily evaluate that pursuit in terms of money.
S4: Yeah. What do you think?
S1: I agree. Sadly, we live under capitalism in a rather cruel form of capitalism. And you can’t neglect the world of work because you can’t neglect eating. I remember in the 80s having friends who had movement jobs and street jobs, they had street jobs to support their movement jobs maybe, you know, as a bike messenger or secretarial work. The idea there was that you would take a job for pay. It wouldn’t heat up your life, but it would subsidize your political commitments or your artistic commitments or both. And I just don’t think that’s possible anymore. Work is so much more demanding now. It’s so much more precarious. And I don’t know. I just feel that Anna should not beat yourself up. You know, I totally get that. This is an identity of a.. She sees herself as an artist and as a performer. And it so happens that the kinds of art that she’s dedicated to are ones that need an audience that you can’t just do at least satisfactorily, perhaps in the privacy of your own home or your own room. So it’s a really hard challenge. I understand exactly Anna’s dilemma, but I just think that if it is time to kind of decide that this might not be my primary identity, you know, just kind of maybe say goodbye to that ambition of it being your whole life, you know, with grace, with emotion, really say goodbye to it, mourn for it, maybe. But unfortunately, as you said, Ramon.
S3: This world is not set up to live a life in the arts that said, you know, when you and I spoke before your conversation with the writer Jasmine Guillory, you mentioned that you yourself had participated in a national novel writing month. There are ways to engage in artistic pursuit that aren’t necessarily about audience. What are the consequences of the capitalist system that you’re talking about is an overinvestment in product. And there is a way in which if you were a pianist, you could enjoy sitting down and pounding on some Chopin without having to record it, without having to perform it for a live audience. It is harder, certainly for an actor, but I love the idea that maybe somewhere where Anna lives, there’s another person who loves to act, who will want to, you know, get together, even if it’s Vieuxtemps, as it must be right now once every couple weeks and just sort of work their way through Albi or work their way through Brecht or work their way through Ibsen just because that brings them happiness, you know, like. And who’s to say if in those moments you don’t stumble on some kind of magic, you don’t actually create something that’s really valuable, that allows you to say to yourself, yeah, I’m an actor, I’m a performer, I am doing this thing that I care about in addition to working as a nurse or a school teacher or whatever it is I’m doing to make money.
S1: That’s so beautifully said. And I hope this has been helpful to you. And we’d love to hear from any other listeners who have a artistic dilemma or a creative process dilemma. Write to us at working at Slate, Dotcom and listeners.
S10: If you’ve enjoyed this show, please consider signing up for Slate. Plus Slate. Plus members get benefits like zero odds in any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And you’ll be supporting the work we do here on working. It’s only 35 dollars for the first year and you can get a free two week trial now at Slocomb Working.
S3: Plus, thank you to John Scottrade, Katrien, for being our guest this week. An enormous thanks as always to our producer, Cameron Drus.
S10: We’ll be back next week for a conversation between Isaac Butler and composer Michael Abels. Until then, get back to work.