Spilling The Tea with Podcast DRAMA WITH CONNOR AND DYLAN MACDOWELL
Do you love listening to podcasts? We at Theatrely do too, and we sat down with one of our favorite podcasts Drama with Connor and Dylan MacDowell to spill the tea on how they got started and their favorite moments in the last year of the podcast.
Theatrely: Tell me a little bit about your podcast in general, how would you describe it in your own words?
Connor MacDowell: So the podcast is called Drama with Connor and Dylan MacDowell. And it's a weekly podcast about theater, pop culture, love and life in New York City and the world. Basically it's a casual sit down conversation with mostly theater performers, but also directors, drag queens and other theater professionals. We aim to have people feel like they're just hanging out with the three of us and getting to know the guest on a level that they wouldn't exactly get from like Broadway.com. Instead of "tell me your favorite or your worst audition story" or "what's your favorite backstage ritual" it's more "what have you been binge watching" or "tell some behind the scenes tea," that kind of stuff.
Dylan MacDowell: And the conversation is built around some keystone questions that we ask. The biggest one being, "what is your 'Ring of Keys' moment" which is taken from Fun Home. It pays tribute to one of the best musicals of all time. It's a moment in the show when Small Allison, the youngest character, finds identity in another person and we kind of have taken that and made it "when did you first identify with a life in the arts?" We kind of build out the conversation with all of our guests through that. We talk about things from Disney movies to Annie or even just like singing in church or Jonathan Taylor Thomas, like the gambit is wide.
T: You have been doing this for over a year now. When did the idea for a podcast first come into your head? And at what point did you guys say "this is something we can make happen?"
CM: Oh, my God, we got into podcasts in 2016 and then summer 2017, we were both thinking "how can we take our talents and mesh them with our passion for the arts?" And that's when we were like, "well, why don't we start a podcast?" We listened to so many of them, we love the long form opportunities it offers for these extended conversations, but it literally took from 2017 up until fall of 2019 for us to get it off the ground because we really need to build our confidence. But we also wanted to make sure we had great equipment so the sound quality would be good, and we wanted to make sure that we were able to deliver on a product we were promising. So every Wednesday we're coming out with an episode, and we really wanted to build our roster in advance so that we wouldn't fall short and accidentally skip a couple of weeks because we wanted to be consistent and just keep the momentum flowing.
T: What is the first episode you remember where you said, "this is going to be big?"
DM: We hit the ground running with Krysta Rodriguez, and we knew that we wanted to debut with a really popular guest who was like right in the pocket of our demographic. And I would say it was sort of a slow build through those first two months of the podcast. And we ended the year with Matt Doyle and Jackie Burns at the end of 2019. And both of those episodes completely introduced us to a huge amount of new listeners. And it was when we were walking down 8th Avenue late one night and we ran into Antonio Cipriano who is in Jagged Little Pill, and he was one of our early guests and we hadn't seen him since we'd recorded our episode. And he said, "you guys, I had no idea what your podcast was going to be when we sat down to record. But I have had so many times over the last couple of weeks telling me that it's people's favorite podcast, that they love it so much, they've listened to it multiple times." And so I think it was in that moment when it was something that was tangible and I was like, "people think our podcast is their favorite. Like that is so surreal."
T: Who are some of your favorite people to interview? I mean, you have such a wide breadth of talented people.
CM: Honestly my favorites are when it's somebody that I'm surprised by. Like perhaps a press rep or, you know, a manager reaches out and they're like, "oh, can you interview this person? They have a new EP dropping or they want to promote this." And it's not someone that I had been dreaming about, but I love being totally surprised by the guest and completely hitting it off and being like, "oh, my God, I knew of them before, but now I am such a fan and, you know, friends perhaps too."
DM: So I agree with that. And I think some examples of that are Aaron Lazar and Michael James Scott. We ultimately discovered we're fraternity brothers with Aaron Lazar and just like cool things like that. But I would say mine are more of the long gestating dreams of guests. So Rory O'Malley was a huge role model for me just getting to sit with him. Keala Settle, we celebrated our one year anniversary in November 2020 with Keala. And then I would also have to say Derek Klena, who you see the sheen of like, "oh, he's like this dreamboat Broadway leading man," but he's actually just like a really chill and nice guy. What I'm surprised by with all of these guests and what's really been actually beneficial from the Zoom format is it's not like they only have 45 minutes and then have to be out. A lot of the guests will stay for an hour even after we finish the recording just to chit chat with us. And it's been really cool just to see how the community is so strong, even when there's no shows currently running.
T: How would you say your content has had to change during the pandemic? Because pre-pandemic I'm sure everyone could come in and promote their current show that you could go see. But that's not a thing anymore.
CM: It's interesting because I almost think that our podcast became more prescient in the pandemic because in a way we felt like we were keeping theater alive in at least the ears of so many people. And I cannot tell you how many times we've had a guest who said to us, "I am so happy that I got to talk about Broadway for a few minutes," because it's one of the only industries that has almost disappeared in the last year. I mean, the sports industry, the television industry, film, they were uniquely positioned to keep going. But theater is one of those things that has dissipated. And it's unfortunate, but interestingly enough, a lot of these huge stars have been available to chat with us now. I'm thinking specifically of like almost every Tony nominee from Jagged Little Pill has been on. We've had cast members from Slave Play, from Tina, from Moulin Rouge. And I don't know if they would have been available to talk with us for as long as they would have had they been doing eight shows a week. So it's been to our benefit in that sense. But in terms of how much the podcast has changed, I would agree with Dylan that without the New York minute hustle bustle and the rush of we might only have like 30 minutes with a guest we've really been able to dive deep into hearing more.
DM: We used to record in Shetler Studios on 54th between Broadway and 8th, and it was a great experience because we felt that so much of the energy of the podcast was created in the room. We could connect with them as human beings, we could all look at each other. And so we were very cautious about switching to Zoom early on in the pandemic. We also didn't think we were going to have to. And so there was actually a period of six weeks where we just did the podcast, just Connor and I. And it was in that moment we realized what a strong subscriber followership we had and that the people that had been brought in by our huge guests like Zach Adkins and Tyler Haynes and Lily Cooper were actually now interested in us and in the journey we were able to pivot into making it about ourselves at the same time as opposed to like a typical interview type scenario. And then with Zoom, we actually were able to really capitalize on the extra time and opportunity to take an hour and chat with people. Our other content has grown. I mean, we went from 300 followers at the beginning of the pandemic to 2,300 on Instagram, and we've been able to really push out more content, create a merch line, make it a full community experience.
T: What are some of your dream interviews? If you could get anybody on the podcast today who would it be?
CM: Kristin Chenoweth, hands down. She followed us on Twitter after we talked to her friend Tyler Haynes, and we were like, "oh my God, Kristin acknowledged our existence!" And we DMed her to see if she could do it. We haven't heard back. But like Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
DM: I would have to say my dream guest of all time is Aaron Tveit. I mentioned a "Ring of Keys" moment earlier and he is absolutely that for me in many ways. But I would also say, Michelle Visage from RuPaul's Drag Race fame would be a huge guest. And then Jessie Mueller I'll put that one out there. Jessie Mueller's never done a long form podcast interview and we want to be her first!
CM: We had Jackie Cox on last fall, that's also one of my favorites because she's been so generous. And just you ask us to pick favorite interviews and I don't want to! I don't want to leave anybody out because we love every single person who has given an hour of their time to us. Especially the ones who gave an hour of their time when we weren't even up and running. Krysta Rodriguez, Zach Adkins, Allie Trimm, Robbie Rozelle, Matt Doyle, I mean like the list can go on and on and on.
T: Well rather than asking you about your favorite interviews, what are some of your favorite moments that you've had on the podcast?
CM: My favorite moment I think ever was in the first episode of Krysta Rodriguez. Dylan and I, we always talk at the beginning of the episode to kind of warm up the listeners. And then we read an intro and bring the guest in, and we read the intro for Krysta and the first thing she said was, "DRAMA!". And both of us had chills because we were like, "she's playing along with us and this is happening." I think I had chills and they haven't gone away like it was seriously like this “the dream has arrived” moment. It's literally the curtains up and the show's beginning kind of thing, that was so cool.
DM: The first one that comes to mind is we had Alice Ripley on over the summer and Next to Normal is one of my favorite musicals. And she sang throughout the entire interview. She sang "You Don't Know" from Next to Normal, she sang bits of "I Will Never Leave You" from Side Show.And I remember just thinking, "OK, we can just pack up and be done now, like this is like so surreal that this iconic vibrato I've been listening to forever is on here." But I've also loved moments when the guests get a little emotional. We had Alexandra Silber from Fiddler on the Roof on and we talked about the beauty of full circle moments in life. And I'm not ashamed to say there have been tears shed on the podcast before, just hearing some of the stories of resilience and beautiful moments. Keala Settle actually shared for the first time publicly the story of having a stroke before the Oscars when she was performing "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman. And it was public that she had a stroke, but she'd never given the full story in the lead up to what happened. And that was just so cool to feel like we've made our guests comfortable enough that they can just open up their hearts to us. And, of course, also moments where we truly just kiki with our guests and they share their celebrity crushes or maybe even some love life dish from the past. Like don't don't get me wrong, we love the emotions that we also we love to see as well.
T: Do you have anything that we can look forward to seeing that you feel like teasing?
CM: Well in addition to our regular weekly podcast, we also launched a bonus content space on Patreon, where we have extra episodes every week, including exclusive interviews, you get access to the podcast's close friends on Instagram, we we share and spill tea on it, we also give exclusive merch offers and things like that. And it's helped us finally be able to pay our fabulous editor, Maggie Montalto, who's been with us since the beginning. She's the third star of the podcast, like you know at the end of Dreamgirls when Deena goes, "there weren't just three Dreams, there were four." Like that's how I feel about Maggie, because it's not just us. It's also her because she has edited hundreds of hours of us talking. But fun things coming up, we're doing a partnership with Broadway Plus where our listeners can get access to Plus Pass, which is an exclusive monthly subscription for them. We have amazing interviews coming up from cast members from shows such as Hadestown, Hamilton, Be More Chill, as well as some other non-actor interviews with Jennifer Ashley Tepper and with a Broadway tarot card reader.