Interview

They Plant Seeds In The Ground, They Create

Today marks the first month of The Play On Words Blog! Thank you to everyone who has joined me so far on this creative endeavor. I’ve always needed a creative outlet, whether that be performing, writing, even lesson planning in some cases. Your support means everything to me, and I am so grateful that my blog reaches such a large audience.

Creativity is something I foster in all of my students. The majority of my kiddos are extremely artsy, from playing four instruments, to acting, singing, dancing, and writing and performing their own skits. It’s not lost on me that language is left brained and creativity is right-brained. Yes, I am always the first one there to help them practice their lines or their jokes (bonus speech practice!), and in the front row to watch a recital, figure skating competition, variety show, or student play. For me, if you’re going to show up for your kids, show up 100%. This means going beyond the speech room.In this third installment of my conversation with Bianca and Gillian, we’re going to learn about their creative and collaborative processes for The Hamilcast. Also, if you’re not listening to it by now 1) you are seriously missing out, go do it and 2) what exactly are you waiting for?

StageSLP: How did you come to create your podcast, The Hamilcast, and why did you create it?

Gillian: Back in January of 2016 I had the idea during one of my many marathon text sessions with Bianca. We were talking about Hamilton (because of course) and it suddenly popped into my head: “Let’s start a Hamilton podcast!” It just seemed like something I had to do. The idea was in my head, and I had to move forward with it. I was so excited and really wanted to get started. I said to Bianca: “I’ll do all the work; I’ll figure out the tech stuff and all the logistics. Just come over and talk about our favorite thing and I’ll do all the work.” Thankfully, Bianca immediately said yes and we were off and running!

Bianca: Gillian and I were always texting back and forth talking about Hamilton, using lyrics to answer questions etc. One day during one of these text conversations, she brought up the idea of starting a podcast. One didn’t exist, and since we talk about it ALL THE TIME there must be others out there too. It was kind of a no-brainer once she brought it up. That was a Tuesday and on Saturday we recorded our first two episodes. We had no idea what we were really doing, but were so excited to get going we didn’t care.

S: Is this your first creative venture? What else have you done?

B: Not my first creative venture but the first of this nature for sure. I’m also an actor and I’ve been a part of many plays, films, web series etc.. I’ve had a couple short plays that I’ve written, produced, and performed at the Drama Book Shop theatre (where much of In The Heights was written and had its first workshop!) I also used to do a lot with photography, and have been thinking of starting that up again too.

G: Nope. I dive into my projects wholeheartedly, usually at the deepest end of the pool, and I figure out the logistics as I go along. Yes, it can be as stressful as it sounds but it’s also incredibly fun and exciting. I’m very proud of what I’ve created using this technique. This is how I created The Residuals with my husband Michael Paul Smith. Did we know how to juggle show-running, producing, and starring in a web series? Absolutely not. Had I edited anything more than 90 seconds long? Nope. But we lived and breathed the experience and the show is really, really great. www.theresiduals.tv.

Ask me if I knew a single thing about podcasting before I created The Hamilcast: A Hamilton Podcast. Better yet – ask me if I had even seen Hamilton before creating a podcast about it. A resounding no to both. But guess what? The podcast is resonating with people all over the world. Oh, and did I mention that I hadn’t seen Hamilton when I started this show? I was obsessed from the cast recording and that’s it. I am very grateful to say that the situation changed soon after I started the podcast, and I have now been lucky enough to see it several times. But yeah, my advice? DIVE IN.

S: Was this an easy decision to act on, or did you give it a lot of thought ahead of time?

B: I think it was super easy. It was kind of impulsive but honestly once Gillian proposed it, it just made sense. We never were hesitant or had any doubts once we decided “okay, so we’re doing this.”

G: So easy. The easiest thing in the world. It was actually not even a question. It was like the decision was being made for me by my passion for this show and I was just going with it. It was perfect. I didn’t give it much thought, and I don’t regret it at all. I can’t even listen to our early episodes for about a zillion reasons but I’m super proud of… ahem… where we are and where we started. I’ve learned so much and I wear this journey like a badge.

S: Did either of you have any experience going into podcasting?

B: Other than obsessively listening to podcasts? I did not. I worked at a radio station for a while and had some experience being on air and reading commercial copy but not so much in the way of interviewing people or hosting a show. That aspect was new to me.

G: Experience with creating my own podcast from scratch with no equipment? Nope. But I have a lot of on-air experience whether it be on-camera for acting/hosting/interviews, being on other podcasts, being on-air on the radio, doing voiceovers, etc. I knew I’d be able to host a show about a thing I was in love with, but I also knew there were a lot of things I was going to learn as I did it. And as crazy as it sounds, that feeling of uncertainty is a familiar place to me so I knew I’d be okay.

S: Have you ever gotten frustrated while creating an episode during any part of the process or wanted to give up on it? What kept you from doing so, and what would you tell students who get frustrated when they’re doing something new and get frustrated?

G: Frustrated yes? Wanting to give up on it? Never. The technical issues are seemingly never-ending, but I do what I can to figure it out on the fly. If I have to ask for help, I do it. My advice to students who are frustrated is most importantly: you’re not alone. I have cried tears of frustration and anger and confusion over microphone issues because IT JUST DIDN’T MAKE SENSE! Sometimes technology won’t work. It’s frustrating, but it’s okay. In the moment, it won’t feel okay. You’re going to want to scream and throw things out the window. Trust me, I get it. But! If you’re nice and kind, the people you’re working with will understand and there’s an excellent chance you’ll be able to fix it somehow.

Here’s an example: Anthony Rapp (YES ANTHONY RAPP) was one of our first followers on Twitter (I KNOW!) so we could Direct Message him and I reached out immediately. It took us months to set a date to record because he was on tour with If/Then. Months after we connected, we had a date and something came up and we had to postpone. The date of the postponement, he was in a hotel in Florida and there was construction happening on his floor and we could barely hear him – we tried Skype, we tried the land line in the hotel room, it just wasn’t happening. We had to reschedule AGAIN. That would not have happened if Anthony didn’t really want to do it, and if we didn’t exude a vibe of OKAY SO WE’RE DOING THIS. That worked out eventually, but here’s a story of when it didn’t and I wanted to scream: Listener favorite and my best friend Ashley Graffeo came over and the mics would. not. work. They didn’t connect. They refused. It was a nightmare. I didn’t do anything differently, all the settings were the same, nothing was changed – but no. She came over for nothing. We couldn’t record. Why? I have no idea. So here’s another piece of advice: if you can, be prepared. Thankfully I had another episode ready so I wasn’t scrambling for something to release, but I was furious! And can you imagine if that happened with a cast member?! Guess what? If it did, I would google an app, or we’d huddle over my camera mic, whatever I had to do. I realize that my advice, on the surface, is seemingly podcast based – but it’s not: Be nice, be kind, be honest, be patient. If you are all those things chances are others will be, too. If they’re not, who needs ‘em?

B: I think any frustrations while recording have all come from technical issues. Gillian faces added obstacles when it comes time to edit sometimes but she always figures it out and puts out a great episode. So yeah, there are definitely times we get REALLY frustrated but never to the point of throwing in the towel. Advice on dealing with frustration would be to be patient. Depending on the task sometimes just walk away from it for 5 minutes. Get something to drink or a snack, taker some deep breaths and start again. Things rarely ever get accomplished from being frazzled and manic.

S: Would you encourage people to pursue passion projects like this one, especially knowing the effort and time required?

B: Absolutely 100%. If someone is passionate about something enough to want to create projects around it, chances are they will also enjoy the work and effort that goes into creating the thing. If they are not willing or able to devote the time necessary,  then usually they’ll find that out pretty quickly and decide for themselves how much they really want said project to exist. The bottom line is always try. Always give it a shot. If you end up hating it then at least you know that now. And don’t be afraid to fail. Growth comes from making mistakes.

G: One hundred million zillion percent. Do it. Dive in to the deep end and tread water and learn as you go. You’ll learn a ton of things and it’ll be great. You might realize you don’t want to do that thing and that’s great! You might realize that you love that thing so much that you just want to tread water until you find out how to do it. That is also great! This podcast is so much work – SO MUCH WORK – and you’ll feel that way about the thing you love, but if you don’t want to do the work then you’re not really into it. Cue Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.”

S: What was it like booking your first guest for the show? How did it feel pre/during/post show to have collaborated with guests?

B: Every guest we’ve booked we’ve honestly been really excited about for one reason or another. Our first official guest was Kathleen Cameron, and we couldn’t believe this woman was just like “Yea sure I’ll come over to your apartment and record an episode of a podcast that has a total of 2 previously recorded episodes.” I’d say the first time we were in absolute awe was with Scott Wasserman. To have someone on who is a part of the Hamilton creative team and so early on for us was just mind blowing. There was lots of jaw dropping, face holding and miming of falling off of chairs. Luckily, this interview was over Skype, so he didn’t witness those silent freak-outs.  Seth Stewart was our first ever cast member interview and we are forever in love with him for giving us his time. We could not believe it. We were podcasting for 6 months and were talking to someone who is IN HAMILTON! I could go on forever on each guest. Obviously talking to Anthony Rapp is a life highlight for both Gillian and I who grew up devouring RENT (and still do). We never get over it. We still do our quiet celebration dance when someone leaves Gillian’s apartment and we just stare at each other with bug eyes and have some sort of telepathic conversation of excitement.

G:  I was also equally thrilled when Hollis from @HamiltonsSquad and Lizzy from @TheHamWing Skyped with us. Again, I was a fan of what they were doing and I was so grateful they’d be down to talk to us about how and why they started their accounts. When we talked to Scott Wasserman, that was a SUPER big deal. That was Episode 9 and he was someone actually involved in Hamilton. Scott is the beatmaster aka ableton programmer aka the dude behind everything on the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording that can’t be made by someone in the orchestra. So the record scratches in “Non-Stop”? That’s Scott. And he walked us through the “Satisfied” rewiiiiiiind because he’s been there since Hamilton was at The Public. It was amazing. In the same week, we spoke to Anthony Rapp and Seth Stewart. Anthony Rapp was very meaningful because, the Hamilton hype is only matched by Rent, so it was so cool to talk to someone who lived the Rent phenomenon and is now a Hamilton super-fan and explained what it’s like to, ahem, be “in the eye of the hurricane” of the hype. Bianca and I celebrated a LOT after every single one of these people and we do the same celebratory dance to this day. We are so thrilled and grateful that people want to hang with us, and we will never take it for granted.

S: Is your show going the way you had planned it? If not, how did you get over controlling the outcome?

G: Yes and no? I didn’t have plan, but it’s going really well and I’m happy about it. I never went into this wanting to control the outcome.

B: Yes and no. Like I said earlier we didn’t put a whole lot of pressure or expectations on ourselves in the beginning so I think that’s been really helpful. The show keeps growing and improving and I think that would certainly have been a reasonable goal had we made a list of them a year ago. So in that respect yes absolutely it’s going as planned. But if you would have asked me would I expect to one day sing *NSYNC with Javier Munoz and have Lexi Lawson refer to us as “the official Hamilton podcast,” the answer is no, no way!

S: If you don’t script out/plan your discussions ahead of time, do you let the guest control the flow of the interview or do you control it? Is it a bit of both? Is it hard to give up that control of where a discussion can go?

B: I think it’s a balance. We don’t plan it out. We do some research if we’re not already super familiar with the guest and make mental notes of things we want to touch on, but otherwise it’s pretty organic and free flowing.

G: I always want the guest to talk about whatever they want to talk about. I’ve always said that I wanted to use this podcast for good, so if there’s something they want to promote or discuss, the guest has that platform. The only time we try to plan the conversation is when we’re going off the Chernow outlines. I never struggle with having “control” because it’s all about everyone feeling comfortable.
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Over the course of this interview, I heard quite a few statements that I hope resonated with you all as much as they did with me. I challenge all of my readers to take anything Gillian and Bianca have shared,  apply it to your learning, teaching, or overall lifestyle, and let me know how it worked in the comments section. Bonus points if you’re creating something new–whether it’s for school, work, or just for yourself. Know that I support you one hundred percent and to infinity and beyond!

I cannot thank these two enough for this interview. Gillian and Bianca are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met, and have been so great during my diving head-first into the creative process of this blog.  If you already listen and you love what you hear, please consider checking out their Patreon page   https://www.patreon.com/TheHamilcast.  They are on all things social media at @TheHamilcast and their website is TheHamilcast.com.  I am really looking forward to tomorrow’s episode, and I hope you are too.

I hope you all enjoyed reading my first of hopefully many interviews on the blog. I have a new interview for the beginning of Better Speech and Hearing Month–stay tuned!

Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP

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