It’s time for the show with Nikka and Mo Broadway from the inside out Things you never knew about Giving perspective Highly effective Upstage, downstage, it’s all the rage You can’t resist The Ensemblist.
That’s the oh-so-catchy theme song to The Ensemblist, a fun and fresh podcast discussing showbiz, addressing new Broadway trends and productions, and interviewing ensemble guests—it’s “Broadway from the inside out.” And that adorable jingle is literally just the beginning. Each of The Ensemblist’s 25-minute episodes gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look at Broadway just as if you were sitting on the couch chatting with the quirky and cool hosts, Nikka Graff Lanzarone and Mo Brady.
Nikka and Mo are Broadway veterans themselves. Nikka started ballet at 2 years old and eventually realized she could combine her love for singing and dancing in musical theatre. She’s starred on Broadway in Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Marissa) and Chicago (Velma Kelly). Mo, however, didn’t catch the dance bug until college, despite growing up doing musical theatre. “But,” says Mo, “I think I fell in love with dance so quickly because I’m truly an ‘ensemblist’ at heart. My favorite part of being a performer is working with other people to tell a story.” Mo performed in Broadway’s The Addams Family and also worked on NBC’s SMASH.
“Mo and I have the same agents and we kept crossing paths,” Nikka recalls. “We started following each other on Twitter, discovered that we shared a lot of common interests (like listening to NPR podcasts), and wanted to be friends.”
The idea of starting a podcast came about back when Mo was in the ensemble of The Addams Family. After he’d settled into the show, Mo began looking for another creative outlet. And being in an ensemble himself, he wanted to help share the stories of the other “ensemblists.”
“I think that the Broadway press does a really great job of highlighting the names above the title of a show,” Mo describes, “but there are equally talented people with fascinating stories who are in the ensemble.” Once Mo came up with this idea, he reached out to his podcast-loving friend, Nikka, and the duo sketched out the format that they still use today.
So, was it really that easy? The answer is yes.
“How does one start a podcast?” asks Nikka. “Well, if you’re us, you Google ‘How to start a podcast!’ There is so much information online that helped us get up and running.” And in terms of expenses, Nikka and Mo pay for web and podcast-hosting, sound equipment, and an ASCAP license for their interstitial music so they can use music that they love while making sure that those artists get paid.
The Ensemblist releases a new main podcast every two weeks. These are full 25-minute podcasts where Nikka and Mo take a theme, speak to about 3 guests who are “experts” on that theme, and tie it all together by noting their similarities or differences in experiences. Some examples of topics are “Being a Swing” and “Performing in Summer Stock.” And then they’ve started an alternate series called “Unedited” which ranges from more focused conversations with past guests or really great tangential stories that didn’t make it into an episode. Since launching in summer of 2013, The Ensemblist has reached about 175,000 lifetime downloads for their fifty-three episodes.
Along with coming up with topics, choosing guests, creating questions, and interviewing, The Ensemblist team splits up the more technical duties of the podcast. Nikka works as Webmaster, making sure everything is online for people to listen and subscribe, while Mo does much of the post-production editing of the podcasts using the software, Garage Band.
However, the more creative part of Nikka and Mo’s job is thinking about how they can showcase a different part of the Broadway community. “It’s all about storytelling,” explains Mo, “just like writing a play or choreographing a musical.”
“We think about the podcast a lot in terms of brainstorming themes and guests and narration techniques,” he notes. “But we really only spend 4-5 hours on it each week.” Still, The Ensemblist is definitely a labor of love—they don’t make any money from the podcasts. “We enjoy it a lot and it keeps us engaged with the Broadway community,” Mo emphasizes. “It doesn’t feel like we do our podcast instead of our performing careers…because they both really enhance each other.”
The Ensemblist also staffs four interns who help edit podcasts and manage social media. Having the podcast has been a great way for Nikka and Mo to connect with Broadway fans—They actually found all of their interns through a Twitter call!
“The biggest challenge,” says Mo, “is making this insider idea of being an ensemble actor on Broadway into something that anybody can relate to.” But it’s an exciting challenge for Nikka and Mo. Channeling their creativity and understanding of “the biz,” The Ensemblist addresses more universal themes while sharing knowledge nuggets that only an insider would know. The Ensemblist is the niche podcast for the performer, director/choreographer, teacher, parent, and theatergoer.
“I think aspiring dancers would want to listen to the podcast to find out a little bit more about everything it takes to be on Broadway,” says Nikka.
“You hear the phrase ‘triple threat’ a lot,” adds Mo. “Being a talented actor, singer, and dancer is important. And, definitely, dance technique can really get your foot in the door. There are so many opportunities for great dancers on Broadway: On the Town, An American in Paris, and Dames at Sea.”
“But, acting is equally important for a dancer,” stresses Nikka. “You really need to be a dancing, singing actor. You have to be a storyteller.”
“I think there’s a falsity in this business that you can only be one thing: an actor,” concludes Mo. “This is something that we really try to dissemble through the podcast. We think you’re the best kind of artist when you have a lot of things that fulfill you.”
You can listen to The Ensemblist on their website, through the iTunes store, or on podcast platforms like Stitcher radio, Tune In, and Pod Bean.