Review of Toronto’s Hot Docs Podcast Festival – Nov 1 to 5, 2018
The third annual Hot Docs Podcast Festival took place in Toronto, November 1 to 5, 2018, and featured over 10 chart-topping live podcasts, and introduced a new two-day Creators Forum for podcast pros.
As a deaf individual, my experiences with podcasts are unique, and with the generous support of Bloor St.’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, I was able to attend live recordings of three podcasts during the festival. I may not be able to hear, but I find that podcast transcripts often make for engaging reading, since there is a high level of storytelling talent created by natural storytellers, entertainers, journalists, and many others. The trouble is that not all podcasts have transcripts created, and the process of transcript creation can be time-consuming and, sometimes, costly.
The idea of a podcast festival seems, on the face of it, to be counter-intuitive. Isn’t listening to podcasts a solitary experience, as if the podcaster is speaking only to you as you embark on your morning commute, or relax before bed? However, podcasters do encourage a loyal following, as was seen with the breakout hit of Serial, where fans were galvanized to figure out whether or not Adnan Syed was a murderer.
The recordings are done in the theatre, with throngs of fans excited to see the podcasters do their work face to face. I certainly was excited being this close to LeVar Burton and even asked him a question! We will get to that in a second. In addition to being able to attend, I was provided interpretation services by two wonderful interpreters that shared my enthusiasm for the podcasts I was “listening” to.
Below, is my mini-analysis of each of the podcasts that I attended.
From their website: “Nancy is a critically-acclaimed podcast featuring queer stories and conversations, and hosted by two best friends, neither of whom is named Nancy. It’s a podcast about how we define ourselves, and the journey it takes to get there.” This is the podcast that would appeal to our typical readers, and, in fact, I could imagine some of our columnists making good guests on the podcast!
At the festival, both hosts, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, engaged in witty banter and played games with the audience. First was a competition between a straight and gay officiant to see who was the best at officiating straight weddings (gay people are apparently better at this sort of thing).
Next, was an X-rated rendition of the classic Canadian story The Hockey Sweater, which involved four scantily-clad lads of the group Boylesque horsing around on stage (see, this is why it’s good to see podcast tapings – you never know what you are missing!). I wasn’t able to follow along completely as my ASL is still a bit rusty, but the gist was that there were lots of sexual shenanigans by virtue of having the wrong hockey sweater (thanks, Grandma) – and, I do believe the clergy was involved. Hopefully, this rendition of the Canadian classic will be put in bookstores with full-size photos.
The burlesque group, Boylesque
The next segment was a quiz where we had to guess which “Gay Ellen” was being discussed: Page or DeGeneres. Alas, I was wrong most of the time, so my gay ticket is probably expired. I had facts they didn’t ask about though, so I may still be good for a game of trivia. Did you know that both Ellens are Vegan?
Finally, we were graced with a story by Kaitlin Prest, who finds ways to innovate sound design (including, on this day, a lamp turning on and off) with her storytelling. (Unfortunately, I could not find transcripts for her work.)
Nancy publishes transcripts of its episodes that are released to the public. You can listen to the podcast or review the transcript here. Unfortunately, Nancy does not publish transcripts of audio that are not released as episodes of Nancy. Not all live performances are used as episodes of Nancy.
LeVar Burton Reads LIVE!
The following day, I was excited to see LeVar Burton do a reading of the short story “Four Stations in His Circle,” by Austin Clarke. I was able to read the short story (do a Google search) prior to attending the reading, and was able to follow along with the ASL interpretation at this time.
The short story is about an immigrant who tries to “make good” in Toronto, but ends up alienating his friends and family in the process. Burton’s voice was powerful, and the musical score accompanying the story, as well as the interpreters’ dramatic renderings of the story in ASL helped convey the subtle nuances of this immigrant’s experience.
I was able to ask Burton if his podcast has transcripts – and he said no, unfortunately they do not, but that he would work on it.
I grew up with Reading Rainbow, so I trust him.
The website is here.
For the last day, I watched a live show of the Criminal podcast, co-hosted by Phoebe Judge, with a special segment from her other podcast, called This is Love.
I was able to read the transcript beforehand, so knew what to expect from the ASL. It may seem like this would be redundant, but there is something special about being part of a crowd and understanding what is going on, and also – the transcript does not give me the visuals or every detail I will get from the overall experience, which I am then able to soak in live.
A protest against “rape marriage” laws in Beirut (Abbas)
A remarkable segment detailed women advocating for change to “rape marriage” laws through a haunting bridal gown exhibit (In some countries, rape charges can be dropped and women’s ‘honour’ can be ‘protected’ if the rapist and the victim marry.). The This is Love segment featured the sexual adventures of unique snails that happen to be coiled differently than normal snails (much cuter than it sounds, I promise). From watching this podcast, it is evident that Judge is looking for interesting ways to address the ideas of “crime” and “love” – and it is important to remember that homosexuality is still considered a crime in some areas of the world today.
Upon visiting the website, I see no podcast transcripts available, but have reached out for comment.
Here is the website for Criminal – you can see This is Love at the top as well.
Podcasts are a fresh, new and open medium that anyone can explore. However, it is important to consider those who are not able to listen or hear the awesome stories being told (and spun). Hopefully, there will be a world someday in which all podcasts are readable for those like myself. I look forward to catching up on Nancy, and the others when they become accessible.
About the Author
Michael McNeely law student graduate, entertainment and accessibility critic; filmmaker; and aspiring actor. He enjoys meaningful representations of LGBT folks and those with disabilities in the popular media, and is waiting for the day where nuance, instead of stereotype and prejudice, is the norm. Michael is deaf-blind, meaning that he enjoys the presence of subtitles and other accessibility features.