By John Moore, Senior Arts Journalist
Edith Weiss doesn’t like to hyperbolize. So when her friend Christy Montour-Larson suggested they start a gardening podcast as a way of keeping their creative roots hydrated during the pandemic, Weiss doesn’t want to say that it saved her life, exactly.
“But it did save my days,” the award-winning Denver director, playwright and comic said. “Now my days were filled with work, with writing, with research, with purpose. And when we did it in concurrence with our actual gardens growing, that just added another wonderful layer to it. Suddenly, I wasn’t just growing food for me and my neighbors. I was growing a way of connecting with other gardeners or would-be gardeners around the globe.”
What’s funny about that sweet sentiment is that when Montour-Larson first approached her pal with the idea for "Upside Down Tulips" last June, Weiss had no intention of following through with it.
“I said yes, but I didn’t really mean it,” she said with a laugh. “But the next thing I knew, Christy and her husband had bought all this podcasting equipment. That’s when I said, ‘Oh, no, now we’re completely committed.’ I’d have to be a total (bleep) not to do it.”
The concept was simple: Montour-Larson and Weiss, two of the biggest of the big-time theatremakers in the Colorado theatre community, are also recreational gardeners. “Upside Down Tulips” would be chance for the pair to share their epic garden failures and offer troubleshooting advice based on what they learned – like when Montour-Larson planted her tulip bulbs, yes, upside down.
Side note: These two are much better gardeners than they let on. And they do their homework. So they do impart legit gardening tips. More important, these old friends share an undeniably warm chemistry that makes just about anyone listening want to throw on the gardening kneepads and sidle up next to them in the backyard dirt. Each episode is imbued with great conversation, surprisingly good gardening jokes, totally made-up comic commercials – and big bursts of laughter.
Like when Weiss asked her co-host: “What do priests and Christmas trees have in common?”
(Answer: Their balls are ornamental!)
Since launching on July 15, there have been 22 episodes of "Upside Down Tulips," with an average of 250 listeners a week. The podcast pulls listeners from 47 states and the District of Columbia. And in 28 countries on five continents, including Brazil, South Africa, Singapore, Ireland and Germany.
(The missing U.S. states: Alaska, North Dakota and Maine. Montour-Larson's theory: "We don't have any relatives there.")
For their efforts and impact, “Upside Down Tulips” was named “Best New Podcast of 2020” last week by the Colorado Podcast Awards – otherwise known as “The Hoppys.”
While many creative industries have taken a hit in 2020, podcast consumption is on the rise. According to Edison Research, more than 100 million Americans have listened to a podcast in 2020 – that’s 37 percent of the population over age 12, and up 5 percent over 2019.
“Colorado’s podcast community has grown by leaps and bounds,” said Becca Mendoza Nunziato, producer of House of Pod, which administers the Hoppy Awards. “In the past two years, we have counted more than 350 podcasts produced out of Colorado, and that number grows every day.”
Weiss takes particular pride in the award because, for the most part, podcasting is a young person’s game. “I think we were the only ones over 35 at the (virtual) awards,” she said. “It makes me so proud to be at this stage of my life and starting something new that people are appreciating.”
It was shocking for Montour-Larson to see essentially the entire performing-arts industry stop when the COVID shutdown came in March. Like thousands of other artists, all of her jobs (and income) dried up with it. But she found both creative and human renewal in her garden.
“COVID has taken so much control out of our lives,” she said. “But this podcast has afforded Edith and me the chance to use all of our theatre skills at once: Acting, directing, producing, writing and marketing.”
They also have spread the opportunity by writing a series of silly skits and fake gardening-themed “commercials” that have featured some of the biggest names in the Colorado theatre community, including Benjamin Bonenfant, Paul Borrillo, LuAnn Buckstein, Abner Genece, Drew Horwitz, Brian Kusic, Billie McBride, Emma Messenger, Michael Morgan, Leslie O’Carroll, Jessica Robblee, Jamie Ann Romero, Michael Shalhoub, Matt Schneck and Karen Slack.
In an otherwise awful year, Weiss and Montour-Larson have found something special in podcasting’s ability to connect people in isolation.
"You say these things into a mic and off it goes into the void,” Montour-Larson said. “And every once in a while, you find out how it is affecting people."
One lockdown gardener wrote to thank the hosts and tell them, "You two make me laugh, learn and find joy in this crazy time of weeds.” And that's everything to Montour-Larson.
"We started the podcast as a way to stay creative, encourage gardening and spread some positive energy in the world," she said. "It is so humbling that people are listening. We feel so blessed in such challenging times."
(P.S: And by all means, plant your tulips butt-side down.)
Note: The original theme music for 'Upside Down Tulips' is by Denise Gentillini; Mark Montour-Larson is the Audio Engineer, Editor and Sound Designer)
About Christy Montour-Larson:
Raised in Minnesota, trained in New Jersey and now based out of Denver, Christy Montour-Larson has directed more than 75 productions from Shakespeare to Pinter to musicals to new plays. She is a multiple winner of Denver Post Ovation Awards, Colorado Theatre Guild Henry Awards and Westword's Best of Denver Awards. She has been a member of the artistic company at Curious Theatre for more than 17 years, most recently having directed "The Secretary." Other credits include "Two Degrees" (Denver Center Theatre Company), "The Diary of Anne Frank" (the Arvada Center) and productions at Creede Repertory Theatre, Town Hall Arts Center, Phamaly, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Colorado Springs Theatreworks, Local Theater, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College and more. Nationally, she sits on the Board of Directors for the Seven Devils Playwright Conference in Idaho. Christy is also a Teaching Artist and Guest Lecturer. She earned her BFA in Theatre from the University of Minnesota Duluth and her MFA in Directing from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Visit her web site
About Edith Weiss:
Edith Weiss is an actor, director and stand-up comic, all of which informs her playwriting. As a comic, Weiss has toured the country and done three overseas tours for NATO and the U.S. military. As a playwright, her plays have been produced on every continent except Antarctica. She is the author of more than 20 youth and family theatre plays that have been published by Anchorage Press, Brooklyn Publishers, Eldridge Publishing, Pioneer Drama Service and Smith & Kraus. Her adult plays have been produced in Denver, Boston, Kansas City, Chicago, Albuquerque and more. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Millersville University in Pennsylvania and a master's degree in educational theatre from New York University, which included one semester of study in Bretton Hall College in England. Visit her web site
• “DanceDad Podcast”: Five funny dads from the Colorado theatre community – Chris Starkey, Paul Dwyer, Klint Rudolph, Brian Smith and Randy St. Pierre – offer up advice to fellow fathers on how to navigate pressing issues regarding (in their own words): “Your kids and the wives who stop us every step of the way.”
• "Twice as Less Not Perfect: A Messy Marriage Podcast”: Married couple Emily Van Fleet and Nathan Jones take an honest look at marriages of all kinds. "Marriage isn’t either perfect or terrible. It’s this constant middle ground," said Van Fleet. "We began to wonder if it would be helpful to use the hard lessons we’ve learned in our relationship to model vulnerability and just let people know that they’re not alone."
• “Required Readcast”: Denver improv comics, actors and fellow book nerds Jessica Austgen and Lauren Bahlman dive into their old schooldays required-reading list to see which books are still awesome … and which ones scarred them for life. (Spoiler: “The Outsiders” is great and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” can suck it.)
• “The Actor's Mind”: Kateri McRae and Anne Penner from the University of Denver explore acting from a psychological perspective and discuss popular acting tools that are commonly used in actor training, rehearsals and performances. They then identify the parallel psychological processes that are likely in play when actors use these techniques. Guests include actors, directors, teachers and psychological scientists.
• "Ghost Lights”: Actor Sam Gilstrap hosts this interview-based podcast centered on members of the Colorado theatre community, most recently married Summit County legends Bob and Wendy Moore.
• “OnStage Colorado Podcast”: Local theatre news and interviews with actors, directors and others from around the Colorado theatre community. Hosted by journalist Alex Miller, former editor of the Summit Daily News in Frisco,.
• “Sustaining Creativity”: “Creativity is something we all use every day, whether we realize it or not,” says Mari Reisberg, who puts her degrees in acting and somatic psychology to work in producing this interview-based podcast exploring different perspectives on the creative experience. Edited by Max Peterson.
Note: Please report any missing Colorado theatre-related podcasts to firstname.lastname@example.org