by Nicolette Good '07
Jack Newman ’13 is the driving force behind seven Trinity graduates who podcast about all-things media—from movie reviews to watch-along series to Dungeons & Dragons adventures—and they’ve done it all without ever being in the same room.
“Podcasting was mostly an excuse to stay in contact with friends,” say Newman, who hails from Durham, N.C. “People appreciate having a reason to stay friends over a long period of time.”
But this particular mashup of podcasting pals didn’t take shape until a couple years after graduation. Newman messaged friends and classmates he thought might be interested in podcasting together—people he knew from TigerTV, from the media communications lab, or from mingling in residence hall common rooms late at night.
“A lot of us were media lovers doing projects like media storytelling in Professor Patrick Keating’s courses,” Newman says. “Trinity had a nice way of putting people together and giving you the opportunity to meet different people.” Today Newman is a simulation technology and media specialist in the Department of Anesthesiology at the Duke University School of Medicine.
A handful of friends responded, and now the crew has created six podcast shows under the network name Tuscan Shed Media Network (an inside-joke reference to kitschy wineries). After all, they do dub themselves “a podcasting company with a little heart and a lot of wine.” Each series is marked by witty, friendly banter along with reviews of new films, TV shows, games, and anything media.
“I want every episode to feel how it felt when I was at Trinity,” says Newman, who was an executive producer of TigerTV’s Newswave. “You got back to your dorm room after watching a movie, you sat back with friends, and you just had a good conversation.”
Podcasting offered Newman’s group an outlet to continue their great conversations, but with a lighter production load than a video series. Best of all, podcasting meant they did not have to be together in the same space to make an episode: None of the seven Trinity podcasters live in the same city.
“Video provides something scripted, concise, and driven,” says Ben Haworth ’12, who majored in communication with a minor in film studies. “But podcasting is more free-flowing and conversational, and Jack wanted to recreate the discussions we had back in college.” Haworth was a host and producer of TigerTV’s Studio 21, an arts, entertainment, and pop culture show.
Tuscan Shed’s first series was Movie Gang Podcast, a panel of rotating hosts who analyze a newly released movie each week, from popular releases to contentious franchise entries. The Movie Gang Podcast released its inaugural episode in February 2016, in which they discussed and rated Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Now, they’ve released more than 120 episodes of the show.
“It gets me to see movies I might not see normally,” says Sarah Becker ’13, a music major from Ft. Worth, Texas, who minored in psychology. In addition to being a key member of the Tuscan Shed team, Becker is a church organist as well as a staff accompanist at a community college in Dallas.
The team applied a similar format to another podcast show, Animania, in which Newman, Becker, and Trevor Flynn ’14 review and analyze their favorite anime. “The anime community is expansive,” says Flynn, a theatre major who is immersed in performance, dance, and poetry. “One contentious issue among anime aficionados is ‘subs vs. dubs’: Should non-Japanese speaking fans watch anime with overdubbed dialogue, or with subtitles?” he says.
Tuscan Shed’s independent status lends artistic freedom to embrace niche topics, as it did with its show Geek Space Nine, a watchalong series in which the hosts watch all seven seasons of the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. “It’s a small, devoted topic,” Haworth says. “Either you watch it, or you don’t.”
Co-hosts Haworth, Becker, and Peter Dancy ’14 were only acquaintances before the show kicked off, though they were longtime Star Trek fans. “We all got super invested in it,” says Dancy, who majored in communication and minored in business administration.
Now they’ve podcasted more than 170 episodes of Geek Space Nine together. “I got to be a lot closer with Ben and Peter, who I didn’t know very well during my time at Trinity,” Becker says. “We’ve created a bond over being Star Trek nerds.”
Tuscan Shed takes a dive from deep space into deep forensics with audio crime drama podcasts. Bobbye Pyke ’13, a communication major and former TigerTV lead anchor who is currently a law student at the University of Houston Law Center, is drawn to this genre. “Bobbye has a passion for podcasts like Serial and Black Tapes,” Newman says. “Tuscan Shed Media Network gives her access to editors, to voice talent, and to people with acting backgrounds,” without which Pyke might not be able to explore producing crime podcasts further.
So Haworth, Becker, and Dancy pine for Star Trek, while Pyke harbors a passion for crime podcasts. But that’s the beauty of Tuscan Shed—similar to what their alma mater taught them, exploring a diverse array of interests makes for interesting—and well-rounded—shows.
Newman’s biography at tuscanshed.com calls the team a “menagerie of misfits… ranging from music nerds to hardcore newsies to drama geeks and lawyers,” and likens them to a second family. Many of the podcasters remarked Newman has a gift of rallying the group, and that they would not have embarked on this venture if not for his influence.
“His enthusiasm is infectious. It gets us on board and keeps us on board,” Becker says.
Enthusiasm is just one key to successfully creating podcasts separately together—each from respective hometowns, the hosts have a live conversation using Skype or Google Hangouts, and each person records only their own audio. The audio files are then compiled and edited. “Microphones are important,” Haworth says. “There are times you lose entire projects because one microphone ruins the entire recording.”
“Everyone has a dog, and they bark sometimes,” he laughs. “But we just keep going.”
The team releases its podcasts on a podcatcher—an application such as iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or Spotify that lets listeners subscribe to podcasts—so as episodes are posted, they are downloaded to your device.
“Each of us has applied our own experiences, interests, and perspectives to the podcasts,” says Dancy, whose full-time job in Houston is with 2nd MD, where he monitors and troubleshoots video conferences between doctors and patients seeking a second opinion. “I know for me, if we are reviewing a Marvel superhero movie, I’m going to have a lot to say. Someone else may have more to say about the movie’s pacing, storytelling, or music scoring.”
Haworth suggests the least appreciated aspect of podcasting is finding natural chemistry among co-hosts. “You can be best friends in real life, but then you record yourself and it can sound like three strangers,” he says. “We are learning how to drop some of that formality and sound genuine, entertaining, enjoyable. You can hear Jack Googling things, fact-checking in the background. As long as we had a good conversation, it’s an easy-going process.”
Tuscan Shed’s raison d’être has been maintaining friendships, but the team is still excited by the idea of creating a runaway series, such as 2014’s Serial. A true-crime podcast from the creators of This American Life, Serial captured the attention of many first-time podcast listeners.
“We always are looking to make the podcast that will take off and bring in that million-person audience, because it will help keep this group together,” Newman says. “We’ve brought creative Trinity grads together, and a lot of good things have happened.”
Check out the latest episodes on www.tuscanshed.com.
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