Natasha Johnston is the fabulous new Production Manager at Wireless Theatre Ltd, and has a wealth of audio production experience. Previously production manager for Rusty Quill, Natasha has produced, directed, written and acted her way through a whole host of audio drama productions. And now she’s ours!
How did you first get involved in audio drama?
At my university there was a Drama department in the student-led radio station. I started writing scripts for their soap opera about a sleepy seaside town and later was elected Head of the department. I learned about the process of making a show and spent a lot of time in different booths, recording, editing, producing, hosting and acting.
To be honest, I didn’t think I’d go back to audio after the radio, but my friend from the station was into podcasts (thank you L!) and writing one for the university’s podcast society called “Body of Evidence”. I had edited her radio play script before, so I edited this one too, then I decided I wanted to help with the sound edit as well…and then I realised how much I missed audio dramas and wanted to do ALL THE THINGS!
Which part of the process do you most enjoy? Writing, editing, acting, recording, producing, directing?
I’m someone who enjoys wearing a lot of different hats so I genuinely like to do a bit of everything. Although it’s probably the thing I get to do the least, I really enjoy directing as I love to see the characters be brought to life and helping actors get into their roles.
I helped direct the first few episodes of Hit Replay, they’re out now!
What do you find most enjoyable and most challenging about writing and producing audio?
I think the most enjoyable thing is working as a team, when you have a good team around you I believe it makes a better product. I have been fortunate to work with lovely people, and there’s nothing better than when you’re on a call and it feels like all the gears are in the right place as you solve a problem together.
Most challenging has got to be the shadow that hangs over every creative…deadlines! You never know what will be thrown your way when producing whether it’s tech issues or scheduling issues, but they’re all challenges that are fine to juggle on their own without the dreaded spectre of deadlines. But you’ve got to have them, self-imposed or not, or you know things will never get done. Motivation when doing something more solitary like writing and editing can also be very difficult, so deadlines can be helpful in that respect.
Also maths, so much maths. Both challenging and enjoyable at times!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into audio drama production?
I am mostly self-taught but was lucky to have some facilities and societies to develop my skills, so if you’re still in education that’s a great way to meet people and learn about audio without having to source your own equipment. I think audio drama societies have become a lot more popular recently.
However, I can be a little intimidated by groups and I’m not a social-media butterfly at all, so developing my skills solo or with trusted people has been very important to me. If you have a computer available I’d suggest downloading a free editing software and having a go recording and editing something you or a friend has written.
I think from my experience my most important piece of advice is to be kind to yourself and believe in yourself. Send in a pitch or an audition, or apply for a job where you think your skills can transfer – from experience I can say that you never know where you may succeed!
What are your career highlights so far?
Pretty much every premier day, however stressful it is, when you’ve finally got that first episode out and know it’s good! I remember I was buzzing so much when Chapter and Multiverse was released I could barely sit at my desk. The final campaign episode recording for Chapter was similar, when the big plot moment happened (if you know you know) I was bouncing on my seat and squealing!
I also think seeing people enjoy something you’ve helped produce is a strange but wonderful experience. I remember coming across a blog where someone had given a positive review of To Chart A Well-Trod Course and feeling my heart soar. A fanart of the main characters of Chapter and Multiverse was my phone background for months too!
The BIGGEST highlight is the people I have met. I have made lovely friends, and the people I have met have made my life brighter. I think that’s the glowing-neon-sign highlight of my career.
What are your current podcast or audio drama favourites, as a listener?
I saw the fabulous Welcome to Night Vale tour recently, which was wonderful and had me itching to get back into listening to Night Vale. It was the first long-form podcast I was hooked on.
What has been your biggest challenge so far, and how did you overcome it?
As cheesy as it sounds – it’s imposter syndrome. I am quite young and went from producing podcasts with my friends to a management position in one of the most popular production companies out there, and I have a habit of feeling like a fraud rather than going “this is great!”.
I think the wonderful people I have been very fortunate to work with have helped me overcome it a lot, they encouraged the habit of praising each other’s work and this in turn encouraged us all to accept compliments and believe them. Since then I’ve been a lot more confident in my abilities and when I start to doubt myself again I think of their kind words.
Self-belief is a strange thing and I am certainly no expert, but I think a huge part of it is being comfortable to also ask for help when you don’t feel you understand something. It’s not a sign of incompetence to ask for help, it’s showing your care for whatever you’re working on and how much you want it to succeed.
What has been your favourite project so far?
This feels like choosing my favourite child…I am very proud of everything I have worked on!
As it’s just had its finale I do want to recommend Trice Forgotten for a binge though! It is a very important story with a great cast and crew, it is also incredibly ambitious and like nothing I have heard before. I can’t begin to describe the amount of love and hard work and meticulous detail that’s gone into that show, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of it.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Wireless Theatre?
I miss being part of a team so getting to work with the lovely Wireless Theatre folk and learn from them is the thing I am most looking forward to.
Also I am embarrassingly keen to get back to doing admin. I do love a colour coded spreadsheet!
Photo of Natasha copyright Natasha Johnston 2022, other pictures copyright Exteter Podcast Society 2022, Rusty Quill productions 2022 and Welcome to Night Vale 2022.