Local writer and Ball State journalism professor Brad King didn't start the Downtown Writers Jam podcast just to talk with writers and storytellers about their latest projects they are looking to promote.
Instead, the podcast is meant to be more like the WTF with Marc Maron podcast or Charlie Rose on PBS, in the sense that he wants to interview the writers about their backstories, particularly "why they made the terrible decision to become a writer," he says.
"I didn't want it to be traditional journalism," says King, noting the questions he asks are more like what a therapist might ask. Questions like: "Where are you from?" "what did your mom do?" and "what did your dad do?"
He adds that he has had guests tell him after a recording session that the show did feel like therapy as they talked about what ultimately shaped their life stories and careers as writers.
Also unlike his work as a traditional journalist — King has written for Wired in San Francisco and was senior web producer and editor for MIT's Technology Review in Cambridge, Mass. — he doesn't do much research before his interviews. While this is not something he would recommend to his students or other journalists, "I want to be introduced to the writer like the audience," he says.
Elise Lockwood — who runs the Geeky Press with King — finds the subjects for the show. Lockwood is herself a published local playwright who is working on her master's degree. She is also developing Geeky Press-hosted events where local theater groups will do readings of works by local playwrights at New Day Meadery.
"I like working on the podcast because I get to hear from many different people in a very in-depth way about why they write," she says. "It makes it easy to see writing as a community of people. It makes writing about the process, not the product. And that to me, personally, makes me want to keep writing."
Lockwood has brought in local writers and those in town for various festivals, speakers' series or, recently, the 2016 IndyFringe Festival. When the podcast rebooted this summer after an 18-month hiatus, IndyFringe writers and storytellers, including Casey Ross, who has her own production company in Indianapolis, Catalyst Repertory (formerly CRP) and Les Kurkendaal, a Los Angeles-based comedic storyteller who has done several fringe festival seasons around the world, were featured.
Ross, who is currently working on an adaptation of Coriolanus for Bard Fest that opens mid-October, has produced original plays and adaptations around Indianapolis and has done IndyFringe shows several times, says her appearance on the podcast was mostly about her personal background. Ross spoke in depth about her childhood with strict grandparents and her early acting experiences, and why she saw herself as a "nerd" who was making her own comic books from a young age. Even though she opened up about her personal experiences, the podcast interview was not quite what she expected when she agreed to participate.
"It was much more personal and organic than 'tell me about your writing, or your project ...' It was a unique approach to an arts podcast," says Ross.
Kurkendaal, who was in Indianapolis to perform Terror on the High Seas for 2016 IndyFringe in August, says he had a similar experience.
"It seemed like he didn't overresearch but all of his questions were good because he actually really was inquisitive and took the time to get me talking," says Kurkendaal.
Kurkendaal spoke on the podcast about moving around a lot when he was growing up, what it was like to get into an acting program against his parents' wishes, and other challenges that, while sometimes painful at the time, have ultimately shaped him and his craft.
"That's stuff I never talk about," says Kurkendaal. "I definitely think it was the most honest interview I've ever had."