Freelance Opera Director Adele Thomas talks about Freelancers Make Theatre Work & Curtain Call’s ‘Ghost Shows’ Podcast series

Identifying within their ‘Routes to Recovery’ report last year that 70% of self employed and freelance workers make up the theatre industry, Freelancers Make Theatre Work have established a community of more than 200,000 members, their advocacy for the arts proving incredibly crucial during this very unique time. Currently available to listen to on various streaming platforms, their podcast Ghost Shows, in collaboration with fellow freelancer community Curtain Call offers insight into the impact of the pandemic on the freelance work force. The podcast’s presenter – freelance Opera Director Adele Thomas tells us more about exploring these relatable stories further a year on from the pandemic, working with Curtain Call to realise the podcast and what she’s taken away from utilising the podcasting form.

Hi Adele, Freelancers Make Theatre Work have teamed up with Curtain Call, a membership platform for freelancers to create ‘Ghost Shows’, a mini podcast series exploring the untold stories of the impact the pandemic has had on freelancers’ work. What does it mean to be able to create a space for unheard freelance voices during this time?

There was a lot of coverage of the anniversary of theatres closing last week, which was great to see. The problem with so much of it, and the problem with a lot of the narrative throughout the last 12 months, is that the voices on display are usually always Artistic Directors or the most visible. So for example, the voices of stage management, production, lighting, design etc these voices are never heard. And at this particular moment, with the possibility of theatres reopening being within reach, the tone has always been driven by people who are already in steady work and are looking to the future. It hit me before making this podcast, that there are a vast majority for whom the future is less certain, and their voices are not being platformed and the emotion with which they have lived the last year is not being vented. So, I am unbelievably grateful that the people we have interviewed have spoken with raw honesty, with intelligence and sometimes with rage. The real emotion of what we have all been through is too complex and unprocessed to be unpacked in a soundbite.

You’ve mentioned that you’re “making this podcast series because I’ve heard hundreds of stories like mine – of these vanishing acts, these ghost shows… I’m still fascinated by the shows that were dreamed of and conceived, sometimes even rehearsed and teched but never lived in front of live audiences.” How have you found the continuation of exploring these stories further using the podcast format?

I am a massive podcast fan! I always have at least 10 different podcasts on the go. What I love about the podcast is that they are long form and that the aesthetic can be completely dictated by the artist making it and the way you use the technology to hand. I love a lot of podcasts that are meandering, almost like kitchen table chat. But my real favourites are those like Radiolab, for example, in which there’s a love of sculpting the narrative and the sound world to create a real work of art in each episode. What has been a joy is interviewing the brilliant freelancers that we talk to, but then weaving their voices together to sculpt a powerful meta narrative. Even when people say the same thing as each other, it’s been so fantastic to hear the fractured voices coming together as a force. And the conversation, starting with the loss of a show, often veers into really extraordinary territory related to larger questions of theatre, social issues, metaphysics…

Featuring interviews with both onstage and offstage creatives, the podcast offers first hand accounts of what the year has meant for their creative practise. What issues/topics, from the various stories you have heard have arisen in the past year?

I am really aware that a lot of people got shows made last year that I’m probably going to get into trouble by not mentioning that! But this show is not really about how theatre evolved over the last 12 months. It’s more a way of exploring the really intangible and almost spiritual (although that is absolutely not the right word!) aspects of making theatre. Of commune with the audience and the pain of not having that. Of what we invest of ourselves in our work. In how entangled our identities are with what we do. In how overlooked freelancers have been and about the inherent grief that is at the heart of the cathartic act of making theatre. And on top of that you can’t escape how being locked down has made us stop and look at inequity, whether that’s the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and now Reclaim the Night, the amazing work of #weshallnotberemoved or the moves made to better the theatre industry as a whole.

What has the collaborative process with Curtain Call involved and how have you found it?

I have been so fortunate that John, who edits the podcast, has a musical brain! I work in opera and my whole life has been in bands and music since I was a kid. I live with a musician and all my friends are in music. So working with John is bliss because he absolutely feels the musical moment and has done an extraordinary job of weaving the piece together so elegantly. And I have to give a huge shout out to Freddie who wrote the music. He’s been such a genius to work with and the music is a huge, huge part of the identity of the podcast.

As a first time podcast presenter, what have you taken away from using the form to explore the year further?

Originally, I was really not sure about presenting the podcast, if I’m honest! I am used to being behind the scenes. And anyone who’s worked with me will know that I am a terrible corpser so I didn’t trust myself to not just laugh at myself the whole time. But as I was writing the podcast, I found that I could only write it from my perspective. Ultimately, the whole podcast was born from my experience of being in tech rehearsal last year, at the very last hurdle, and having my show shut down. As I wrote, I found that it was my personal story and my personal feelings that were driving my vision. So, then I had to bite the bullet and present it myself. That said, there are plenty of brilliant actors from my hometown of Port Talbot, so maybe I should have enlisted one of them! But I’ve surprised myself  by really loving it. And I have really enjoyed writing the podcast, something that I have also never done professionally, and I’ve loved trying to convey the meaning as best I can! It’s a vulnerable thing to do. It’s made me really feel for playwrights and performers.

What can listeners expect from the podcast?

You can expect a crafted, true experience.

What would you like for listeners to take away from the podcast?

A lot of freelancers have been very separate from each other for the last year. I would hope that, for them, this is a place to come together with other voices that have shared that experience. For non-freelancers, I hope that there’s the odd revelation in there about what making art means to the artist.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Ghost Shows is available to listen to via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and the Broadway Podcast Network.

To find out more about Freelancers Make Theatre Work, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop