What do you get when you cross radio personalities with live performances and a big national simulcast? Cast Party. Its creator Seth Lind, director of operations at This American Life used both Voltron and a five family mafia as comparisons, but his best metaphor for Cast Party is simple: it’s a festival. One where “everyone comes together to form this thing that’s bigger than its parts,” he said. (There will be no actual Shakedown Street and hopefully no Tattly or body-con fringe tank tops.)
Cast Party gives radiophiles an opportunity to enjoy a sampling of some of the most popular podcasts together, at the same time, and actively, for a change. The impetus to party with podcasts is the same one that gets asses into seats for rock concerts, too. And, simulcasting means people all over the country can watch it together. In fact, the intention is for the party to be enjoyed at your nearest Cineplex. Attending the live event is to bastardize the vision a bit, which should be all the reassurance you need to know that everyone is, for sure, invited to the party.
At first glance, the lineup of Cast Party looks like the work of someone who suffers from adult ADD: What business do a horn quartet or a dance troupe have mixing in with our beloved podcasts? Why is the event being beamed into theaters across the country? Why do this? What links all the seemingly disparate threads is simple—Seth Lind. We’re all gathering to enjoy some of the stuff Lind likes, which is good news because Lind thinks big and has a vision for the event that is grand in scope.
But watching a podcast live feels counterintuitive, both for the audience and its participants. A glaring point of tension is the whole seeing-the-people-you’re-used-to-never-seeing thing, like spotting your teacher at the grocery store. There’s something unnatural about it. “I’ve only just started getting the reaction of, ‘It’s weird to hear your voice talk back to me and not be in a podcast,’ which I find just as disconcerting as they probably do,” says Jonathan Mitchell of The Truth.
“Being invisible is one of the central draws of radio for me,” said Lulu Miller from Invisibilia about going live and getting beamed. “I love getting to hear stories and tell stories without visual judgments getting in the way… I don’t like having to think about what shirt to wear. I don’t like having to hope I will have a good hair day and not a hair day where it looks like a spooky clump of dried seaweed that Andy Goldsworthy used in a beach sculpture. I wish I could stay in my invisible cave forever, helping to usher stories into the world which maybe, just maybe, reach other people and allow for fleeting moments of contact in our cold, skittish world…tap tap tap, grumble grumble grumble, kapow… (Those are the sounds of a radio troll making infinite radio stories and never coming out to see the light).” She also fully supports listeners—and readers—to delight in watching her come out of the darkness onto the stage, blinking and shaky-kneed. So many uncensored things could happen.
The crew at Reply All is also feeling the pressure that accompanies a visual performance. “I have four brilliant people (PJ Vogt, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Tim Howard, Phia Bennin) who are there to cover my ass if I do something dumb or get something wrong before it makes it to air. On stage, firing clips, we’re kind of on our own. There’s no cover. Except each other. I suppose we should do some trust falls before the show or something,” said co-host Alex Goldman. And their fear actually overrides any initial resistance to the unnatural nature of watching podcasts—don’t we all want to see what happens when these wonderful people throw “live” into what Miller calls their creative ecosystems?
For shows like Radiolab, with a little more experience in the live-podcasting game, there’s a sense that its creators know how to harness the power of live shows. “Our vibe has always been quite theatrical,” said Ellen Horne, executive producer, “by which I mean Radiolab has always blended highly improvisational elements with highly scripted and composed elements. With live shows we get to be more visual and interactive. It’s been a very delightful space for us to experiment and play in.”
Despite their jitters, everyone said they were thrilled to be taking their shows into three dimensions and especially to hear all of the stories. Also, immediate feedback is not part of a podcasters everyday storytelling, so that is a welcome change for many of these producers.
By far, from an audience point of view, the biggest boon to seeing our podcast crushes in the flesh is the energy a collective creates. “It’s happening at the same time and you get to be around these people who are also fans of these shows that you never know or see,” Lind said, “sitting near people who also like this thing that people always just listen to alone.” So yeah—you don’t have to twist The Timbre’s arm. We’re going.
Here’s what to expect: On Tuesday, July 28, and the official date of Cast Party, go to your local theater (it’s playing nearly everywhere, so go!), sit down with boxes of Jujyfruits, and watch what people at NYU’s Skirball Center will be seeing live and on stage. The show will run about 2.5 hours.
Because the run of show could still change, we can’t tell you the exact order, but we can tell you that between set changes, Lind’s comedy buddies have created some sketch videos to fill the time. There will be a dance performance by Cocoon Central Dance Team—hilarious modern dancers—a horn quartet called The Westerlies that Lind was blown away by (pun intended) at a Brooklyn house party, and other surprises that we will have to wait to see.
As for the podcasts, here’s what we know: Horne said Radiolab’s segment involves music, technology, and speed. It feels like a date card from The Bachelorette, doesn’t it?
Invisibilia will be a sports story, and even though Miller is the only one listed on the Cast Party website, she said, “Let’s just say Alix Spiegel,” her co-host, “is never really not present.”
Reply All’s Goldman said he can’t reveal much except that it’s a new story. And, “there’s a gun in the first act. We all know what Chekov says about a gun in the first act.”
Lauren Lapkus will switch up her guest from Monday (when there is a test-run for the live event that will not be aired) to Tuesday—and if her show With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus is any indication, her stage partners will be comedians—ones who can properly perform improv. Recent storylines have included a creepy guy interviewing his pen pals from childhood and lifting the premise from Ex Machina.
And finally, The Truth, a fictional storytelling podcast, is bringing the funny. “This story was specifically written to be performed in this space,” said Mitchell. “When we do live shows, we like the setting of the story to be literally in front of an audience. The format of this particular story is a celebrity roast. I won’t say who the famous celebrity is—that’s a surprise. But here’s a hint: it’s not a person.” The segment will look and feel like a play.
Find out how to join the Cast Party at CastParty.org.