“Podcasting the Bard”
By Catherine Clifford and Yolana Wassersug
Depending upon whom you ask, we may be experiencing a podcast golden age or “Renaissance” these days. Podcasts, who take their name from a portmanteau of “iPod” and “broadcast”, are easy and inexpensive to produce, and they provide a platform for sharing ideas with a wide audience without many of the restrictions of traditional radio broadcasting. Never ones to miss out on a trend, or, more likely, highly susceptible to the seductions of pop culture, we (Cat and Yolana) decided to add our voices to the mix in June of last year when we started making “Bard Times: An Early Modern Theatre Podcast”.
As the subtitle suggests, we discuss an array of early modern plays, from Christopher Marlowe to John Webster to Spanish playwright Lope de Vega. We admittedly gesture to Shakespeare’s commonplace nickname in our podcast’s name; but our understanding of “Bard Times” is underscored by one of the most exciting elements of our period study: that Shakespeare’s “bard-like” greatness was not created in a vacuum, nor was it the singular poetic achievement of the Renaissance. “Bard Times” represents the historical moment to us in a satisfying way, allowing us to step out from under the shadow of The Man Himself, and into the expansive realms of the “non-Shakespeare”, as it is often called in university course catalogues.
That, and we liked the pun.
“So why a podcast?” you might ask. A brief origin story provides some context: As alumni of the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute, a place that fosters collaborative and communal learning in an environment that binds its students and fellows together with a common reference point, Shakespeare, we became accustomed during our years in the master’s and doctoral programs to talking with our friends regularly about plays from the Renaissance. Indeed, even during the most isolating aspects of conducting doctoral research in our several subjects, we were lucky to have common ground with dozens of friends and colleagues in our community. We could always talk to each other about the plays – plays we had seen, plays we were reading privately, and plays we had read aloud in the Institute’s weekly play readings – even as distractions from our primary focuses. When we each returned to our home countries (Cat to the USA in 2012 and Yolana to Canada in 2014), we each found ourselves disconnected from that type of Shakespeare and Renaissance-specific community.
So when at the Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America in Vancouver, an appropriate venue for such conversations, Cat asked if Yolana wanted to collaborate with her on a podcast, Yolana jumped at the opportunity. You see, along with our love for Renaissance drama, we share a similar cultural vocabulary and a sometimes-overstated confidence in our own sense of hilarity. Unsurprisingly, we also share similar tastes in podcasts. We were thrilled when we discovered that we were both listening to “Call Your Girlfriend”, a podcast about feminism, politics, and culture hosted by writer Anne Friedman and digital strategist Aminatou Sow. Like Anne and Aminatou, we did not live in the same city, but we wanted to find a way to talk to each other about the topics that interest us most. We were inspired by the CYGF sound, particularly, their casual and colloquial style. Rather than scripted episodes, which we feared would be didactic and rigid, we want to our listeners to feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation between friends.
This need to collaborate aurally underscores the fun we have producing “Bard Times”. At the center of our podcast experiment is a shared need to converse, and share our thoughts about plays from this period, plays we read for research, for teaching, and for fun. Each episode opens with a plot summary of the play we’re discussing, followed by a loosely-organized discussion about the play, both with plenty of reference-point analogies thrown in for good measure. We hope that in approaching our subject the way we do that we might invite others to approach these apparently “austere” texts (or so our students tell us) with a similar irreverence and affection.
We find in these plays moments of beauty and lessons consequential to our own times, and we find in “Bard Times” a venue specific to our personalities that allows us to have a voice. We are both academics, pursuing careers in higher education and working on research that we find meaningful. The podcast, however, gives us a place to collaborate with each other and with others who have also encountered these plays and have found them significant. As educators, we also hope that our podcast might offer useful starting points for students who want to understand these plays. Since the podcast began, the most positive outcome of the project was when our students let us know that they were listening too, and that the discussions they heard on the podcast enhanced what they were learning from us in in the classroom.
We hope that as we move forward with Bard Times, we might find more places to foster connections between academics, readers, and students of all levels. However, our less lofty goal as we produce our podcast is to keep reading, learning, and making ourselves laugh.
You can find the podcast by visiting http://www.bardtimespodcast.com/. You can also listen to it on SoundCloud, or have it automatically delivered to your phone, computer, or tablet by subscribing on iTunes. If you want to contact Catherine or Yolana, you can find us on Twitter and Facebook, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.