Young, Scrappy, & Hungry: Connor & Dylan MacDowell
Drammaaaaa! Meet Connor and Dylan MacDowell, hosts of the DRAMA Podcast - an audio show that covers theatre, pop culture, love, and life in New York City (and now beyond! #ThanksCOVID). I sat down with these two giggly guys and chatted with them about their journey: taking this project from a teeming seed of an idea to an actual, fully-realized, established brand. Take a look!
What was the impetus for starting the DRAMA! podcast?
Dylan: Connor and I are twins, and we lived together in New York City in an apartment uptown in Harlem. Every time we’d be on the subway going home from seeing shows, we would just talk (obviously, I mean you don’t have cell phone service). We would sit there and we would gossip and we would giggle and we would dissect things and we would dream cast things and we would laugh and think: gosh, these conversations are so funny...we should just start a podcast. We ruminated over this idea for the next year and we knew it was something we wanted to do because the idea didn’t die. You know how sometimes as creatives you can have a big idea and if you don’t have the passion for it, it’ll just sort of sit on the shelf? This one just kept reemerging every time we would take the subway home. “DRAMA!” has always been a catchphrase of ours (and so many others) and it’s multi-faceted. It refers to the artform that we’re mostly commenting on which is theatre, pop culture, love and life in New York City (and entertainment), and it just stuck!
Connor: We also love actors and talking to actors. And what we liked even more was when we got to have conversations with actors and the content went beyond their worst audition story or these sort of canned answers you can find anywhere. We like when we get the real, authentic vibe.
One thing that I love about the podcast is that part of the focus is on the work and the craft, but I do think you do a good job of portraying the full humanity of people, because we are SO much more than what we do. Unlike the majority of theatre-related content, you really get the 360-degree perspective of who someone is on DRAMA!
Connor: Thank you for saying that! This has been said to death in the age of social media, but it really is a curated glimpse into who someone is. Looking at their perfectly-filtered Insta story of their brunch before their two-show day that they’re posting with their dressing roommate, that’s just a very small part of who they are. That’s also why I love that it’s just an audio format because you can’t see what anyone looks like. There aren’t appearances being upheld, there’s nothing being edited together, it truly is just a conversation you’re listening to.
Connor and Dylan's first official DRAMA polaroid announcing the podcast on Instagram.
Dylan, you kind of touched on this earlier, but at what point did you take this idea off the shelf and pull the trigger on it, formally?
Dylan: I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which required daily journaling for 15 minutes, and it consisted of different prompts like “write about your passion,” or “in five years what do you hope to accomplish?” or “by the end of this year, what would you like to accomplish?” And all I could think about was the podcast...
Connor: Once I moved back to New York in September of 2018, we were together again. And once we were together, the idea of this podcast was more like well, why haven’t we done it yet? At the time I was interning and working at SoulCycle, so I was always really busy making excuses. Then the Christmas season came around and we saw a lot of friends when we went home who’d be like ...well, when is it coming out?
We decided to put our money where our mouths were and order the equipment. We tested it out and then started making lists of who we wanted on the show. We had ideas of who we wanted to talk to long before we even knew what the structure of the podcast was. We were also really, really insistent on making values for the podcast. We had taken so many classes in college on business models and leadership and organization and we had established: we’re twins, we’re best friends, we’re working together, but we also want to make sure we don’t lose sight of this vision. We honestly resort back to it all the time. It’s the way we want to come across. We want the podcast to be a positive space, a comfortable space, a safe space, we’ll edit out anything our guests don’t want in later, we really made a push for being as diverse as possible, we wanted half of our guests per month to be people of color, we really didn’t just want it to be white, gay men. Were we able to stick by it all the time? No, but having all of that laid out was amazing framework.
Dylan: We've always known one thing: our synergy as twins is special. We knew what we had was good, so we always thought: we just have to keep going. Even when we had guests cancel on us the night before when the episode had to go live the next day, we still found a way to make it happen, and that’s the scrappiness of it all. To quote one of my favorite drag queens Alyssa Edwards, “The struggle is real, but the hustle is deep.” And it’s true!
Dylan in the studio.
In terms of back-of-house stuff, what are your specific roles in the podcast and can you name all the other people who have had a hand in it as well?
Dylan: Well, we would not be anything without our editor Maggie Montalto. She is unbelievably generous and talented and makes us sound so good every week. She’s also our sounding board as well for a lot of things. Of course, the logo was designed by Robbie Rozelle from Broadway Records. Current graphics are done by Preston Burford who edits our photos onto the polaroid. Our theme song was written by Hunter Minor and performed by us, but guitar is done by Eric Thompson. And then we have some creative consultants including Jimmy Kinderdine...
Connor: Merchandise was designed by Adrian Karnani, Matt Janes, and Grace Benini. People who are a huge, HUGE help with our guest bookings are Jen Sandler, Hayley Podschun, Shoshana Feinstein, Amy Sapp, Andrew Barth Feldman, Tyler Hanes...
Dylan: A lot of the scheduling has been made possible because people will connect us with their friends.
Connor: I will say that it’s a huge effort from all of those people to help us. With Dylan and I, we have very specific roles we perform, but we always switch around. We both will email guests to book them, we both will set up Zoom calls with the pre-recording notes. We send our guests a couple things ahead of time in terms of what to expect (like bring headphones, here’s a couple questions we’ll ask you etc). But in the episode itself, we alternate who reads the intro and I read the segment questions, Dylan counts us down and counts us out, I take episode notes after, Dylan uploads the episode once it’s ready to go online. On the day-of-launch Dylan posts the Instagram, the Instagram story, I post the Tweet and email the guest the episode links, and then we both will respond to comments on Instagram. Dylan does more than I do, but it truly is a team effort.
Dylan: I would say I do more front-loaded work and Connor does more episode work and beyond. We just learned as we went because there was no time. We just had to get everything done.
Connor: It was also hard because I had just started a new job. I was working from 9-5:30 at my day job, then running to the train to start my SoulCycle shift from 6-9. Thankfully Dylan was able to handle a lot in those days, but now I’d say that the work is pretty evenly split.
Maggie (DRAMA sound editor), Dylan, & Connor.
I imagine that it was a lot to balance then with full-time and part-time jobs. Can you take me through a day-in-the-life NOW?
Connor: A day in the life of DRAMA! is best captured by Wednesdays, which is our launch day with a new episode each week:
8am: Wake up and work out! I work with Built for the Stage, and Dylan takes online spin classes.
9:30am: Dylan gets Starbucks for us!
10am: Social media time! I handle Twitter, Dylan Instagram. We share all the info about the episode, and I'll alert the guest via email with best practices for sharing as well.
12pm: Send a few emails to upcoming guests, and if it's the first Wednesday of the month, we do a mass "ask" of potential guests for future episodes.
2-4pm: Lunchtime/Break! Squeeze in an episode of Real Housewives of Potomac, or whatever is sitting in our queue.
4pm: Prep for the following day's interview. We almost always record on Tuesdays and Thursdays - just works out that way.
5pm: Prepare a press release to send out on Thursday morning about the new episode
6pm: Attempt to be done for the day, if we're lucky! In reality, the podcast work happens at all hours of the day.
6-midnight: Unwind, catch up with friends, try to avoid looking at screens to rest our eyes, and spend time with family.
So for either or both of you, is there a favorite or "pinch-me" moment that has happened?
Connor: I would say the first moment I realized we had a podcast, was in our premiere episode with Krysta Rodriguez. Dylan and I did our little intro, we brought her in, and the first thing she said was, “Drammaaaaa!” I have chills right now thinking about it. I remember in that moment thinking: oh my god this is our show and it’s happening and we have a huge star here who’s playing along with us right now.
Dylan: You know how in the Apple Podcast app, all of your new podcasts download and you can see the most recents ones? I’ll never forget the Wednesday morning that our first episode came out, and it loaded next to all my other podcasts that come out on Wednesdays, and I just thought: this is crazy. We’re all part of this community. I took a screenshot.
Screenshot from Dylan's phone of the DRAMA podcast alongside his other favs.
We talked about the hardest part of the podcast, but is there one singular experience that’s been your biggest lesson learned?
Dylan: Oh gosh...the first one that comes to mind is when we interviewed Jeff Calhoun, who is a Tony-winning director. He directed Newsies, Bonnie & Clyde, Jekyll & Hyde - he has choreographed a million things, and he’s just so legit and legendary. And I...wasn’t myself. I don’t know if I was nervous or what, but I just remember ending that interview thinking: oh my god, was I just unprepared? Why am I doubting myself so much?
Never before have we received such positive feedback about a guest, RAVING about how amazing it was. And the lesson in that for me was I cannot doubt myself. I need to just be myself and trust in what this is. And it’s so funny because at one point I thought to myself: he must think we’re SO silly. But then we got a lovely email from him afterwards saying how nice it was to meet us and what a great time he had. It reminds me of when I was in high school and I would pretend to not like something because I wanted to impress someone popular. Like, why am I pretending like I’m not interested in my own podcast right now? The big lesson was to just TRUST, because the minute we say 3, 2, 1, Drammaaa! and it begins, we see the guest’s face light up when they’re about to come on and I know we’re about to go on a joyride.
Connor: It’s true. Because if we don’t believe in the product that we’re putting out, why should other people? I think you have to believe that what you’re doing is as special as it is, and you can’t forget that.
I would say that being extremely, extremely, extremely, extremely prepared is great, but ultimately not necessary. Because when you’re having a conversation with someone, being able to just listen and talk on the fly is the most important thing. Yes, you can know all these things about their careers, you can watch all these videos of them singing their dream roles (and we do all that), but the best thing you can do in a conversation is just listen intentionally and not be thinking ten steps ahead. I think sometimes our nerves take over and we freak out about a moment of silence, but sometimes the silence is just a breath before they share something else they were just thinking about.
Connor in the studio.
So, looking towards the future, we’re on the precipice of 2021 - what are your goals for the podcast for next year and beyond?
Connor: I want us to be on the frontlines of getting people excited when Broadway is back on the stages. I want us to be the go-to correspondents for getting the word out about hearing from performers, creatives, directors, sharing the experience of what it’s like getting back on Broadway and back to the city, bringing the arts back to the country again. I feel strongly about us being leading voices and being a platform for people to share their experiences during that time.
Dylan: A goal that I have is for us to join a network. We’ve been doing this for over a year now, and it’s really hard to always be the person advocating for yourself. To have other people in our corner to back us up would be really nice. Especially because we know the way things are going won’t be how they always are. We might not always have our sound editor, Maggie, we might not always be living in the same city and things like that, so having a network would really help.
We also want to continue to diversify our guest list. We’ve had tv, film, and Broadway actors, and we’ve had to rely on the guests having a certain amount of clout to help us get established, but as we continue to get more popular, we’d love to have people who are behind-the-scenes more so. Kelli, you’ve worked with a lot of amazing stage managers in your experience, you know, there’s more to Broadway than just the people singing and dancing, and I want to be a resource in that way. Another thing I’d love to do is have a sort of round-table conversation with former guests, bring them back and talk to them again, and to bring people on who are friends and see their dynamic would be cool as well.
Connor: I’ve always said pre-pandemic that I want us to be on the red carpet at the Tony Awards talking to people. I think that would be so fun.
Dylan: I think that’s THE dream.
I totally see that. I also see some sort of DRAMA LIVE recording happening at BroadwayCon or some booth meet-and-greet. I think it would be amazing. Maybe in 2022!
Connor: We also have dream guests that we want on--
That was my next question! Who are your dream guests? You each get 3.
Dylan: My number 1 dream guest is Aaron Tveit. He’s like my ring-of-keys moment, which is a segment on our show where we talk about the moment you realized that theatre would inextricably be part of your life. I’ve watched him from such a young age and being able to talk to him would just be awesome.
Connor: My first one would definitely be Jonathon Groff. I just think he would get such a kick out of us and we’d have a great conversation. And I think it’d be a great opportunity for him to revisit some of his early theatre experiences too. I’ve never heard him talk candidly about Spring Awakening or Glee ten years down the line. We asked and he passed because he’s filming out of the country, but one day we will get Jonathan Groff!
Dylan: My second is Audra McDonald. She’s a mother and a legend, and I think she would just bring such an interesting perspective to the podcast.
Connor: My second is Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think he would be SO fun.
Dylan: My third, which has been my go-to answer for the last year is Kristin Chenoweth. She is my hero and I am obsessed with her, and I just think we would laugh our asses off for an hour...and maybe cry!
Connor: And definitely cry! My last one is Sutton Foster, which is another ring-of-keys moment. She’s the best. I met her once at SoulCycle and she was just so nice.
Connor & Dylan with first-ever DRAMA podcast guest, Krysta Rodriguez.
One question I love asking is, to any creative types who want to start a project or a business or an entity of some sort, what is the one piece of advice you have?
Dylan: ...you’ve stumped the MacDowells.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard you two be this quiet.
Dylan: Here’s what it is. And this is advice that was given to Connor and I by one of our best friends who was a mentor of ours throughout college and his name is Matt Deptola. He always told Connor and I, “You have to believe in yourself, and just jump.”
You can’t wait. We waited so long until the moment felt RIGHT, and that’s why we struggled so hard to give you this answer about what this moment was. It’s almost like we needed to be pushed off the edge of a cliff, because I wasn’t going to do it myself. You just have to be as brave as you can be, and then jump, because it will happen. You will make it happen.
Connor: I agree with that and then I’ll just add: learn how to become your own biggest advocate. Learning how to speak up for yourself, how to promote yourself, how to pitch yourself, it’s so valuable. And I didn’t know how for a long time. Dylan’s talking about being pushed off a cliff and I remember reading something Tina Fey wrote once (to paraphrase her quote): when you’re a little kid and there’s this wonderful slide, are you just going to stand at the top of the slide, or are you going to push yourself down, go for a ride and see where it takes you? The thrill is there, you just have to push yourself and go for it.
I love that. But that top of the slide is VERY intimidating.
Connor: Oh my god, thank god we had each other.
Connor & Dylan in the studio.
So how can people best support you both and the podcast?
Dylan: The most important thing that anyone can do is go on iTunes and give us a 5-star rating and a review because it really helps people find us. Of course they can also follow @thedramapodcast on Twitter and Instagram. We are not annoying on social media, we post fun content, we’re very interactive. And of course listen! Give us a chance!
Connor: Yes, and we do have a bonus content platform on Patreon.com/thedramapodcast. For $5 a month, you get access to 2-4 bonus episodes, some recorded Zoom calls, access to exclusive merchandise offers, access to our Instagram Close Friends, and it does give us the money to pay for the expenses of the podcast - equipment, Zoom, paying our editor, hosting a website (etc). Just search @thedramapodcast wherever you listen to podcasts, and we’re there!
Connor & Dylan promoting their special Holiday edition DRAMA! mug.
I have one last special request...can we take a DRAMA-inspired screenshot of the three of us right now?
Dylan: I thought you’d never ask...
Young, Scrappy, & Hungry is a series on Kelgurk that shines a spotlight on young individuals making a splash in their industry. Do you know someone who should be featured? Shoot me an email or DM!