• PodTales sign

What’s a Podcast Festival?

What’s a Podcast Festival?

PodTales, the only event in the U.S. dedicated to audio drama and fiction, hosts first annual event at Lesley University October 20, 2019.

“What’s a podcast festival?” I asked my friend, Jim, when he invited me to attend PodTales with him. And everyone to whom I mentioned the event asked me that very same question. Many of us are familiar with podcasts, but here's an overview if needed.

According to PodTales organizers, "Independent podcasting has put the tools of broadcast media into the hands of more people than ever before, tapping into the power of sound and voice as storytelling media; contemporary story podcasts span the full gamut of fiction genres, from fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, to romance, psychological drama, and thriller, to the literary and experimental. This growing form incorporates a variety of powerful artistic elements—writing, voice acting, and sound design and production—to create a unique and immersive story experience. PodTales is a brand new festival celebrating a medium of storytelling that has experienced an explosion in popularity and a creative renaissance in recent years."

On October 20, hundreds of enthusiastic people gathered at Lesley University to participate in PodTales, the first podcasting festival in the country devoted exclusively to imaginative audio storytelling. The event included:

  • Exhibitors - local and national podcast creators.
  • Special guests - nationally known producers, writers, sound designers, and voice actors from inside and outside the Boston region.
  • Family-friendly activities - exhibitors with kid-friendly and workshops geared toward both young listeners and budding podcasters.
  • Hands-on Workshops – opportunity to learn the craft of storytelling through sound from experts and educators.
  • Panel Discussions - exploring how independent fiction podcasting responds to popular media, reflects social concerns, and contributes to mass culture.

Panel Discussion: Social Advocacy through Fiction Podcasting
In this session, panelists focused on the ways that fiction podcasting can play a meaningful role in effecting social change. Moderator, Eleanor Hyde, producer of Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery, a fiction podcast about conspiracies, ghosts, and unusual families of blood and choice, facilitated the discussion. Panelists included:

  • Lisette Alvarez, producer of Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services, a modern fantasy audio drama about a witch who has to juggle complex clients and an anonymous critic hellbent on ruining her magic business.
  • Keisha “TK” Dutes, producer of The Weeksville Project, which offers a unique take on the history of Weeksville, Brooklyn, one of the largest free black towns in the U.S. before the Civil War.
  • Dania Ramos, producer of Timestorm, a time-traveling audio drama series about Puerto Rican history.
  • Bob Raymonda, producer of Windfall, a dystopian science-fiction audio drama with rich sound design and a full score that follows a massive cast of characters as they live out their daily lives on the planet Proxima.

The producers shared a variety of strategies to ensure the authenticity of their work in sharing diverse perspectives and voices, including:

  • Conducting background research that uses multiple sources
  • Casting actors representative of the characters portrayed (e.g., latinx, black)
  • Requesting and being open to feedback from cast members on the script and the authenticity of the characters as written. One producer talked about receiving feedback from an actor who thought that her role was stereotypical. The producer and the actor worked together to expand the character, including adding musical talent possessed by the actor to the character’s story and actions in the production.
  • Requesting feedback on the work from both one’s “inner circle” and beyond. If everyone in your inner circle is just like you, look to expand it. Some panelist suggested having critical friends who will give honest feedback; others added that it can also be helpful to have a friend/reader who will tell you when something is good, as creators/writers can be very hard on themselves.
  • Two panelists also mentioned the use of sensitivity readers

They also talked about the importance of expanding beyond the narrow euro-centric range of story structures and characters we learn about in school and see produced. For example, Shakespeare’s plays are about royalty and nobility, demonstrating who was considered important and “story-worthy.”