Tribeca Festival’s Audio Storytelling Curator Talks Scripted Audio

The Tribeca Festival returns to New York City this week June 8th to June 19th and for the first time, the festival’s audio programming section is entirely devoted to scripted content. The new vertical for 2022 is called “Audio Storytelling” and is a mix of live world premieres, live recordings, and panel discussions.

For the second year in a row, Audible is the official audio sponsor of Tribeca Festival’s audio program and along with their tagline “sound of imagination” they anchor the festival with their star-studded live event The Big Lie premiering Friday June 10th and starring Jon Hamm, Kate Mara, John Slattery, Giancarlo Esposito, Ana De Le Reguera, Bradley Whitford, and David Strathairn. Note: The Big Lie is about the federal government’s active interference in a 1950 pro-union film The Salt of the Earth and is not directly about the events of January 6th 2020.

Other major premieres include Mirage Diner from Lauren Shippen (Bright Sessions, Passenger List), Mother Country Radicals from Crooked Media telling the tale of what it was like growing up with parents who were on the run from the FBI as part of the Weather Underground, and My Mother Made Me from NY Times Bestselling author Jason Reynolds who will be in conversation with Jad Abumrad, creator of Radiolab.

There are more than a dozen events overall in the Audio Storytelling category, including a live recording of the popular podcast Oprahdemics.


I spoke with Audio Storytelling Curator Davy Gardner, a writer/creator of The Truth, a scripted fiction storytelling podcast, about audio storytelling.

“Audio Storytelling” is quite the name change from last year when podcasts at the Tribeca Festival were just called “Tribeca Podcasts.”

Davy Gardner: Leah Sarbib started the Tribeca audio program last year, and wanted to bring podcasts into the fold. After she left, I was hired as Curator of Audio Storytelling, which is what we’ve renamed our audio program.

Did that have anything to do with the name change last year from Tribeca Film Festival to just the Tribeca Festival?

Davy: I think it was a signal that we’re embracing new media and it’s very cool that a major international film festival is highlighting podcasts.

I see that Audible is the official sponsor for podcasts, however Audible doesn’t use the term “podcasts” and calls their audio fiction programs “Audible Originals”.

Davy: We’re so happy to be working with Audible and as far as podcasts go, there’s actually a debate right now about the nomenclature to call audio. Some people find the term “podcasts” to be diminutive in some way. I like audio storytelling because it’s a broader term and Tribeca is all about expanding into new and interdisciplinary types of work. Say for instance, it would be possible for us to do audio storytelling in a medium that isn’t a podcast, like say an interactive walking and listening tour.

What do you see for the future of scripted entertainment in audio?

Davy: Traditionally the scripted field is very reliant on sci-fi and its worked because it plays to the strength of audio, which would take a very high budget in video. What I am excited about is that people are expanding into other genres and integrating other media into their work, like I could visualize an immersive audio drama where the main character is running and we could organize a live event where you run with the character.

What are some characteristics you look for in an audio drama to be featured at Tribeca?

Davy: I look for audio forward pieces. We get a lot of submissions and you can tell the difference between those that are making it for audio as the final product versus audio that is sort of a script for tv. I prefer audio that leans into the strengths of the medium and I think those are the ones that most often get adapted for tv. Directing, acting, and producing a podcast is its own art form.

Do you see your position as your responsibility of pushing the medium forward to greater acceptance? Some companies still don’t see audio drama as a money maker because they take more time to make.

Davy: I think the future of podcasting will have a greater emphasis on scripted work. As for making money, there’s lots of different ways for companies to make money and investing in quality is always good.

This gets back to the old art vs commerce argument.

Davy: My goal for the festival has been to celebrate audio-forward podcasting with the high level of recognition that people give to film and television. Scripted audio is an art form that hasn’t yet achieved that high level of recognition, maybe because of the sea of millions of talk show style podcasts, but it’s important for the industry as a whole.

Does audio drama need to be celebrity driven at this point to breakout?

Davy: I think it’s how networks have tried to lure audiences into scripted audio, but indie audio dramas are some of the best out there, and at Tribeca what we are trying to do is to bring together both established and emerging artists to showcase great storytelling.

In fact, we have a panel for emerging audio artists hosted by Zola Mashiriki, and I have plans to expand indie audio dramas further both in live events and in the competition.

What have been some reasons that audio storytelling has yet to really break out?

Davy: I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that when people hear the word podcast, they think Marc Maron, and when people hear audio storytelling, they might think of an audio book or wonder what it is. Hopefully, the Tribeca Festival will bring audio storytelling more into the mainstream conversation.

A full Lineup of the Audio Storytelling program is here and audio events run the entire length of the festival.

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