'Go in depth with the leading artists and professionals working on stage today when you go Downstage Center. Downstage Center is the American Theatre Wings acclaimed weekly theatrical inteview programme that spotlights the creative talents on Broadway, Off-Broadway, across the country and around the world with in depth conversations that simply can't be found anywhere else.'
That's the official description of what I consider to be simpy the best theatrical podcast I have heard and I've been a loyal listener since 2005. I can't for the life of me remember how I came across it but if you're into theatre, want to or currently work in theatre or just enjoy post performance discussions then this is the podcast for you.
What sets Downstage Center apart is threefold - The interviewer(s), the production and creative talent at the top of their game. I'll adress each in order.
Interviewers and the Production
In the beginning there were two. When I first started listening to the Downstage Centre, it was presented in association with and broadcast on US Satellite Radio XM 28 On Broadway. The two men responsible for the interviews were John Von Soosten - Programme Director of XM28 On Broadway and Howard Sherman - Executive Director of the American Theatre Wing. What a great double act they made. John,with the deeper voice, came across as the 'everyman', the audience member who occasionally asked a question or picked up on a passing guest comment (although he went solo on various occassions). Howard was always the seasoned theatre practioner with an unbelievable wealth of knowledge backed up with hearty research. Together you got a complete package.
What I absolutely loved about them was the absolute lack of pretense. There was always a thirst for knowledge and a genuine interest in their guests stories. The questioning always stayed on topic but the format was never confining to the guests who often side lined answers with interesting anecdotes. John and Howard's interview style was never about John and Howard. It was about their guest and the absolute interest in their stories.
The format for each interviewv was and is basically the same. It starts out with questions, observations, stories and background about a current project or production that each guest is involved with and then goes back to the circumstances that originally shaped the guest's interest in their particular theatre discipline. From that point it moves progressively forward to the present through stories and antecdotes of their theatre career and sometimes their lives.
Sometime in the summer of 2009, Downstage Center went on hiatus. I wasn't sure when they would return as there wasn't an exact date listed, however it took alot longer than I expected and to be honest, I went into serious withdrawl. I looked forward to my weekly dose of Downstage Center and found it to be an inspiring link to the world of theatre. The show returned two or three months ago with a few changes. One, it's no longer broadcast on XM radio, it is now exclusively available online or as a podcast download available through itunes or directly from their website and two, as a result XM Radio's John Von Soosten is no longer presenting, it's just Howard now.
To be fair, Howard was always the main person and listening to him present on his own you begin to really understand how talented an interviewer he is. I would say he's the best presenter of this type of long interview format that I've heard (each interview averages around 60 minutes, straight through) - warm, accomodating, knowledgable and direct with a pretty easy going style. He does a marvellous job in keeping the procedings on track as well as providing quick explanations and background when a particular reference could be too obscure for some listeners. It never becomes cloying or gossipy. Its more like hearing all the best bits about a persons life and career directly from the source - with all the theatre related questions you've been dying to have answered.
The Creative Talent
What also hooks me into this podcast is the talent they attract. There's a mix of big theatre heavy weights along with up-and-comers and those you may have heard of but don't know much about. I find every story interesting - no two stories are the same, and everyone has their own take on working in theatre. If you are in a certain frame of mind you could learn alot but it's not just about that. If you are a people watcher then you'll love it as well.
And...it's not just about actors. Here's a list of categories represented by those who have been interviewed:
Actors / Advertising Execs / Artistic Directors / Authors / Casting Directors / Charitable Organisations /
Choreographers / Composers / Critics / Dancers / Designers / Directors / Executive Directors / Lyricists / Musical Directors / Press Agents / Producers / Recording Executives
And...here is a selection of past guests:
Tom Stoppard / Doug Wright / Douglas Carter Beane / Len Cariou / William Finn / Stephen Sondheim / Tracy Letts / Phylicia Rashad / Beth Leavel / Hunter Foster / Tony Walton / Liev Schreiber / John Doyle / Rita Moreno / Anthony Rapp / Kristin Chenoweth / Angela Lansbury / Bob Martin / Oskar Eustis / Galt McDermott / Arielle Tepper / Des McAnuffe / Billy Crudup / Michael Mayer / Rosemary Harris / Michael Boyd / Stephen Lang / Michael Ball / Maria Friedman / Alfred Molina / Audra McDonald / Tonya Pinkens / Vanessa Redgrave / Dori Berinstein / Edward Albee / Christopher Durang
...the list goes on. I've picked out names that many will immediately recognise and that's a good place to start, but I've found some of the most interesting interviews were from people I never heard of before. Thier stories are just as fascinating.
Downstage Center is part of The American Theatre Wing (based in NY), an organisation 'dedicated to supporting excellence and education in theatre'. ATW is also the creator and owner of The Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre - aka The Tony Awards. When you go to their webiste you will find a host of other interesting theatre realted links. The most immediate is inthe Audio/Video section. In addition to the podcasts you can find videos of discussions they have hosted. Here's what you can watch:
Working in the Theatre
'Bringing together performers, directors, playwrights, designers, choreographers, producers and behind-the-scenes personnel from the American and international theatre, the program offers a rare opportunity for students and audiences to see the people who create theatre engaged in thoughtful conversation with one another.'
In the Wings
'Focusing on the people who are almost never in the news but who are essential to the making of the shows we all see and love, In The Wings explores the talents and stories behind the scenes, from the costume and scenic shops to the rehearsal room to the stage itself, with designers, artisans and craftspeople explaining their unique contributions to theatrical art in their own words.'
'A series of one-on-one video interviews with the theatre's leading artists and professionals, explaining each specific discipline in the theatre and what it takes to pursue that specialty and make a career in the theatre.'
It's a bevy of information. For the dedicated theatre lover it is certainly the most in depth and broad ranged podcast you will find. And it's all free. I can't recommend it enough. To hear the end of Howard's fantastic recent interview with Stephen Sondheim when he is genuinely giving his thanks to the great composer for providing many years of enjoyment, could be reason enough to start listening.
The title at the top is a link directly to the Downstage Center page and you can find the additional sections I mentioned through links onthe right side of that page. There is also a link in the link sections to the right of this post.