S2E9: Matt Prigge & Meghan Elizabeth TauckIn the season 2 finale of MyMacDLife, David Wolf joins as a guest host. David Wolf is the CEO and founder of Audivita Studios, the producers of this podcast series. David is joined by Matt Prigge, lead casting director at Audivita Studios, and Meghan Elizabeth Tauck, co-author with William Douglas Horton of Living in a Time of Dying: Cries of Grief, Rage, Love, and Hope.
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In this episode…
In the season 2 finale of MyMacDLife, David Wolf joins as a guest host. David Wolf is the CEO and founder of Audivita Studios, the producers of this podcast series. David is joined by Matt Prigge, lead casting director at Audivita Studios, and Meghan Elizabeth Tauck, co-author with William Douglas Horton of Living in a Time of Dying: Cries of Grief, Rage, Love, and Hope.
In this segment, you’ll get an inside look into the world of audiobooks as our guests explore the profound impact of audio storytelling, for you and others living with macular degeneration, including Meghan’s co-author, William, who was recently diagnosed with MacD.
To begin this episode, Meghan speaks about her writing process, how she started her writing career and what she intended to accomplish. She recalls how her work stemmed from a series of conversations with William in 2020 that evolved into a book.
Presenting their ideas as a dialectic, Meghan organized their separately written chapters in relation to one another. The audiobook was intended to mirror this structure. To maintain the two authors’ distinct voice quality, Audivita Studios produced the Living in a Time of Dying audiobook as a hybrid model, combining author narration with the performance of a professional voice actor, cast by Matt Prigge.
Next, Matt walks us through the key considerations factored into casting any audiobook project: tone of voice, personality, and certain “intangible qualities.” Namely, the right person for the role comes down to the project and what the author finds important.
Next, David, Meghan, and Matt discuss the impact of audiobooks on accessibility, especially for the low-vision community. Meghan presents a philosophical perspective, saying different ways of perceiving contribute to a better world. Accessibility means more people get to participate in this collective world-building experience. Branching from this, Matt contemplates the power of the spoken word, from primeval storytelling to the new, digital age.
Next, David and Matt return to the topic of audiobook casting for non-fiction versus fiction books. It all comes down to an actor’s particular skill set. Whether casting a single voice or multiple actors, both approaches come with creative challenges and exciting opportunities. Meghan shares her experience with the audition cycle.
As the conversation unfolds, Meghan shares a letter from William addressed to our audience. The 70-year-old philosopher was recently diagnosed with wet macular degeneration. In addition, his mother had MacD, and unfortunately, without treatment she became functionally blind. His open letter is a reflection on writing and the power of the spoken word to connect people. This leads to a conversation about its deep history and the intimacy inherent to audio.
Meghan closes the podcast encouraging us to reexamine and challenge disability labels. For those who are struggling with MacD and grappling with vision loss, she underscores the gifts brought through the myriad ways of perceiving and participating together in this world.
Did you do this, did you do that?
Transcription excerpts from this episode
Welcome to MyMacDLife and powered by The SupportSight Foundation. This podcast is about macular degeneration and the devastating impact it has on millions of people and their families every single day, 365 days a year. Our mission is simple to bring hope, optimism, perspective and education to our listeners. So tune in, buckle up and put your listening ears on.
Hi, I’m Dawn Prall. Founder and Executive Director of The SupportSight Foundation. MyMacDLife, the podcast you’re listening to and tuning into right now is empowered by The SupportSight Foundation. We are a voice you can trust. My back to life is the first podcast series about how to live your best life with macular degeneration.
MyMacDLife podcast is generously supported by Regeneron.
Hi, I’m David Wolf, and I’m the CEO of Audivita Studios. We’re by the way, the production company for this podcast MyMacDLife. In this segment we’ll explore the profound impact of audiobooks for people living with low vision or macular degeneration or any of the diseases of the eye that have caused vision loss. And we’ll be looking at all of this from behind-the-scenes through the lens of both an author and a casting director. And they are on Meghan Tauck. She’s the co-author with William Douglas Horton of Living in a Time of Dying. And we’re also here with Matthew Prigge, who’s Audivita’s lead casting director. Welcome to you both.
Thank you so much, David. Good to be here.
Absolutely great to be with both of you. So start with Meghan, how did you start your writing career? I just wanted to kind of peel back your background and kind of launch into the conversation that way, tell us a little bit about what you set out to accomplish with Living in a Time of Dying?
Sure. Well, it’s really William’s fault. This book is the beginning of my writing career. And William for several years has been kind of pushing me to, to write and to put out a book. And it was the fall of late summer of 2020. And we all remember what was going on, then, still kind of going on now. And he said, you know, let’s work on a project together. And we didn’t really know what the project was going to be. We started out just having some conversations and getting our thoughts out there and starting to just put thoughts on paper. And it turned into this book, Living in a Time of Dying: Cries of Grief, Rage, Love and Hope.
We talked about it offline. It’s actually a hybrid combination of you doing some of the narration. And also, we did some casting with the help of Matt, who’s with us today. When you’re writing a book like this, do you actually hear the voices of the characters in your own mind’s ear? Is that something that you experienced while you’re writing?
Yes, well, so the way that we wrote it, we really wrote it kind of separately, I wrote my pieces, he wrote his pieces, and then we put them together. And he kind of said, You know what, this is your project. Now, this is my piece, and you run with it. And so I organized his chapters relative to mine, and it goes in kind of a back and forth dialectic. He has a chapter, I have a chapter, he has a chapter, I have a chapter. And you know, the way that these things work out, it actually flows really beautifully. But we have two very distinct voices. And I really wanted to keep that distinct voice quality in the audiobook. So that’s why I am reading my own. I’m narrating my own chapters for the book. And then we had Matt bring in someone else to read Williams because William is not doing that at this point in his life.
Matt, let’s take it over to you for a minute. So you’re a casting director for audiobooks among other amazing things that you do in your life. Working with us at Audivita, what are some of the key considerations that you’re concerned with when you go to cast any project?
Sure, casting for any project, I think really, in particular for an audiobook, is dependent on the particulars of the project itself, right? If you imagine any of your favorite movies, or any of your favorite film actors, you might for instance, love Robert De Niro in this role, he might not be the right guy for this role over here, right. Incredible actor, one of the best of his generation, but he’s not always the right guy. So it is a detailed process in terms of figuring out what that particular project needs, in terms of tone, in terms of the abilities of the actor, and also in terms of the kind of intangible qualities that an actor possesses and that in our case, a voice possesses.
What are sort of the yeah, the fundamental characteristics that on an almost unconscious level a voice portrays just through their manner of speaking their tone, all of those sorts of things. So when we are casting an audiobook, for Audivita, we are really trying to personalize that process to the author trying to get the author’s perspective on what they feel is important, what they, how they want their listener to feel while hearing the book, what kind of personality they’re hoping to get across. And then we kind of put that through our filters of speaking to actors, understanding actors language, and also just knowing a lot of actors out there and kind of knowing their personalities and their vibe, so to speak, and then trying to hunt down the right person for that particular project. It’s very particular from book to book. Yeah.
Absolutely. And you know, in a very real way, that is the author, and the casting director and any ancillary actors are painting a picture of visual or a sound picture, if you like, for someone, certainly with low vision, or with MacD who is, this is the only way they can experience the content. It’s so profoundly important for them to be able to read in air quotes, right, so we’re really providing a way for them to access material that they really couldn’t access in any other way. It’s so beautiful.
MyMacDLife podcast is a national award winner of the STEP program for innovative macular degeneration, patient education, and for demonstrating a commitment to addressing the daily needs of people with age related macular degeneration.
Have you thought about the impact of audiobooks? As an author? I mean, is this something that’s before we started talking about it together? Is it something that you even thought about?
Oh, absolutely. And that’s part of why I’ve ended up here. You know, obviously, part of why I wanted to do an audiobook is that a lot of people listen, you know, we’re in a very, like, multitasking society now. And so a lot of people like to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while they’re doing other things. But more than that, I think, is the issue of accessibility. And, you know, I’m a philosopher, I’m gonna get a little philosophical here, right? If I may, I really consider that the realities that we know are co-creative. We co-create reality together, and we co create reality through our perceptions, and our perceptual apparatuses. And we co-create reality by our participation with one another in this thing called, what we consider the real world, our life experience. And if what we’re doing here together on this planet is a project of worlds making of reality building. And I believe that it is then you know, the more people with the more and different perspectives that we can include, in that process, the richer and fuller, and not only more representative, but more iterative and more response able, our world project is going to be
So beautifully said. Oh, my goodness, Matt, have you in the course of working with us? In the case of audiobook casting? I mean, have you contemplated the impact that we’re making? And do you have any reflections about that,
You know, just as you were saying that, Meghan, I was kind of thinking back on the spoken word, as opposed to the written word is just about the oldest art form that exists, right? The very beginning of storytelling and communication, were people sitting in caves or gathering around fires, telling each other ancestral stories that were passed down from generation to generation, right. And I think that there is something profound and as you said, profoundly accessible about the ability to take that most kind of ancient, primeval form of storytelling and bring it into this new and digital age. I think that’s very exciting. It kind of gets back to basics in a way that is really cool. And that also Yeah, kind of removes all different kinds of barriers, from people’s ability to enjoy these stories and contribute to these stories and interact with these stories. So it really is profound in that way to be sure.
Absolutely. So yeah, and all things audio, in this day and age. I mean, there is a profound explosion of people listening to audio even outside of the low vision population, which has been a fascinating thing to watch and observe, just as in terms of the market, but then when you when you superimpose this accessibility piece of this low vision piece, and bring in a whole new audience, and we now like to say, Oh, you’ll unlock an audience that wouldn’t otherwise experience your content. We’re also now unlocking an audience that actually has no choice other than to listen, in order to ingest this content. You know, whether you’re dealing with nonfiction and/or fiction? Those are different types of problems. Oh, then that reminds me, Matt, I was gonna ask you. So yeah, in terms of approaching fiction versus nonfiction, is how do you differentiate that in terms of how you do your casting thing? Is there a way to think about that?
So I will say that right off the bat, there are different skill sets that actors possess. I’m sure that you can imagine how, let’s say someone who is narrating a high fantasy novel with a cast of 200 different characters, all of whom are from different regions and have different dialects. That is one very particular skill set that an actor needs to possess.
On the other hand, I would say with nonfiction, and in particular, with things that come from a personal perspective and autobiographical perspective, or kind of a memoir place, we are often trying to not necessarily find someone who sounds exactly like the author when they’re speaking, but someone that can capture the essence of the author’s personality as it translates onto the page. That’s actually something that Meghan and I have kind of corresponded a little bit over email in terms of finding the right person to capture the essence of your collaborator.
MyMacDLife podcast is generously supported by Regeneron.
No, I love that. And you know, as you were speaking about that, it struck me that because folks with low vision, or symptoms of eye disease MacD and what have you are unable to get visual cues from people in the world in ways that many of the rest of us can. The animation of the voice. The actors are good at this, we’ve all seen, I think behind the scenes footage of people that do animated voices, carrying on visually in order to channel that energy into their voice to help them channel it. I mean, it seems to me that that that’s the work of a great narrator, is to take what could be visual and channel it into this focused vocal thing, into a microphone, so that it can hit the ear and actually create a visualization in some way or a deeper understanding of character’s motivation, or we’re emotion. Does that make sense?
It does, yeah, it’s kind of a, it’s one of a, one of the great actors superpowers is the ability to communicate an image and make it come to life in your own mind, right. And that’s something that any great storyteller can do. But it’s hard to teach it. It’s one of those things that when you find an actor who’s capable of it, that’s really what you’re looking for, for an audiobook. In particular, I think the ability to take sights, sounds and implant them in the listeners head so that they can then visualize, hear, smell all of the things that are being described, it’s a pretty powerful thing. For sure.
So I know, in some instances, Matt, we are faced with having to cast a single narrator for multiple parts. Talk a little bit about how you approach that and what are some of the challenges the narrators might be facing? And how far should they go? I mean, there’s some parameters there, aren’t there?
Right, yeah. There are a lot of I would say stylistic parameters there, depending on the genre of the book that we’re working with. I think a good rule of thumb is that we are always aiming if we are having one narrator who’s narrating the entire book, let’s say but they’re going to have to cover a wide breadth of different characters, we are first going to think about who is the central character in the piece, and what is the perspective of the narrator.
So an obvious example would be if we have a fictional story that is told from a first person perspective, our first priority is going to be to find a narrator who reflects the likely vocal type of that first person narrator. If the story is narrated by a 10 year old girl from Massachusetts, let’s say, it’s kind of a specific example. But you know, that would guide our choice in terms of what actors should then encompass all of these other roles. And it does create some interesting challenges and opportunities where, let’s say we have a novel where the protagonist and the narrator is a 40 year old man that’s described as having kind of a deep baritone voice. How does that actor then tackle voicing that man’s five year old daughter, right, and that can create some really interesting creative challenges and also opportunities. So that I would say is one approach that we would use in these instances, which is to find an actor that captures the most important character and then build out from there.
The other approach, which I guess we could describe as sort of the radio play approach would be to gather a small cast of actors and divvy up the roles such that all women over 20 are voiced by this actor here, and et cetera, et cetera, to kind of build out the cast. It creates a different feeling for the listeners experience, as I kind of described more of a, perhaps more of a radio play feel as opposed to that feeling of someone intimately reading you a story. But that’s kind of a stylistic choice. And it does create on a case-by-case basis with these different books, some exciting opportunities to kind of, to to interpret the text and to find some interesting ways to bring it to life.
Thanks, Matt. Yeah, no, and Meghan you had some insights as well, didn’t you about this?
Well, you know, our book has really two characters, myself, and William, as were the two narrators of our kind of own chapters in the book. And so of course, I have been narrating my own sections, and we’ve been trying to find somebody to narrate his. And, you know, Matt has sent me a bunch of auditions. And some of them were just clearly not, there was one who was a really very beautiful reader and had a beautiful voice, clearly very talented at voice acting, but he was British. And William is from Iowa, you know, so it just was not going to work for this story. And so, you know, I also have been thinking as I’ve been listening to different voice actors about the experience of sitting with William and who I know, William to be, and I knew that if I was trying to find somebody who sounded like William, I would never find an actor that would match that right. But so I’m trying to find the quality and in my experience of knowing William and sitting with him, I think about the elements and I think, you know, I am, I am have the quality of a warm, cackling fire. Sometimes it’s a bit raging, sometimes it’s cheery and warm. It can range, William has more of the quality of a stream, a babbling brook, it’s a little slower, it’s a little quieter, it’s a little bit more meditative. And so looking for that quality to juxtapose to my more fiery quality for the listeners experience, I think is one of the things that I’ve been going for
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So fascinating. I love that contrast.
Yeah. And that actually speaks to one of the aspects of this process that can be so fun and kind of an iterative way, is the process of, you know, the author providing their input to us, the casting team about what they’re picturing. We go out into the world based on what actors we know that might be a good fit, and bring back an initial set of selections. And that allows us to kind of step by step, what I would describe as getting our ears on the same page, right to make sure that we are both hearing the same thing. And it can be a really fun and kind of exploratory process to you know, go back to Megan or to whoever the author might be, and go, Hey, here’s a few to help tell me what you think. And what you tell me will inform the next batch that I go out and find. It’s an organic process, and it can be a lot of fun.
Meghan as an author other instances where something you write reads really well, but it may not sound well if it’s read from an audio perspective?
Absolutely. And that they speak more to me as a writer. I am the queen of long sentences. I learned a lot from James Baldwin, who is famous for using commas and the em dash and just making it work, which can be read, but spoken it can get very clunky. And as a reader and as a narrator, I can get lost in my own sentences. So yeah, I did, I had to go back through the book and change little things, you know, some sentence here some word there, just to make it flow a little bit better, and just to feel more relatable, because I think sometimes particularly, you know, I write fairly abstract philosophical stuff a lot of the time and it can feel very abstract and philosophical and it just doesn’t hit quite the right way to the to the ears and to the felt, emotional, aesthetic experience. I think as a writer so far, maybe this will change. Since I’ve now done an audiobook, I might actually start to think about audio as I’m writing. But I didn’t for this first book, and it was a learning experience for sure.
One thing that we talked about is the fact that your co-author William Douglas Horton actually has a recent diagnosis with macular degeneration, doesn’t he?
Yes, he is. He was diagnosed, I think in January or February of this year. So it’s a really recent diagnosis and what he has, you know, he’s in his early 70s at this point, and so I think and apparently his mom also had this condition and refused treatment and basically went functionally blind. He has what is known as wet macular degeneration, which I’m sure a lot of your listeners are familiar with. And he is, you know, receiving regular injections, which, to my understanding, will halt the progression of the degeneration, but it’s not going to get any better. So he has some vision loss at this point. And you know, he’s been a prolific writer for quite a long time for any listeners who want to look him up. He’s got many, many books out on Barnes and Noble and Amazon. And particularly in his old age, I think he’s just been and during the pandemic, just pumping these books out. He’s taking everything that’s in him, his 70 years of experience, and he is a Taoist, Toltec iChing master. He has amazing wisdom and stories to impart. And so he’s basically been trying to put this down in the written word, and it’s really changed his relationship to both reading and to his ability to write. And if it would be okay, he wrote a piece, he wrote something to me, and since he’s not able to be here, I’d love to read it for you.
Absolutely. Oh, let’s do it.
He says, this is William Douglas Horton.
He says, “As a writer, I have long been fascinated by the difference between the written and spoken word. From my perspective, the written word allows the reader to linger over sentences, to double back and reread, and engage the writer’s thoughts in their own way in their own time. But language is far older than the written word. Its origins harken back to the first utterances of people seeking to communicate with one another, by speaking their thoughts and intentions out loud. The first societies everywhere developed the custom of storytelling,” as Matt was speaking about earlier, “making use of the spoken word to carry their listeners along with them as they recounted their common myths and shared memories.
The spoken word then has come to remind me of a deeper commonality that we all share a real time communication that flows like water, as opposed to the static fixed form of the written word. It is an interesting transition in my relationship to language and affects the way I write, which tends now more toward the poetic spoken form of shared experience, made more concrete by hearing words spoken aloud by another human being.”
And I think this really speaks not only to Matt’s point about the history of storytelling, but to the, I think I would call it a more aesthetic experience in the listening experience, you know. Going through the process of recording my audiobook, I think that even for people who have read it, listening will be a different experience. It will be a more embodied experience. It will be a more emotional experience. It will be a more human experience. It’s not as analytic and linear. There’s a whole different experience, I think, to hearing and feeling that intimacy with the narrator.
MyMacDLife podcast is generously supported by Regeneron.
You know, I often talk about intimacy when we’re talking to authors about or even podcasters, when we produce podcasts, about the intimacy of audio and the fact that you’re really speaking to an audience of one, you know, in a very real way. It’s very different then addressing a group of people in a large room, of course, and performing that way. It’s a very one-to-one kind of experience. So, that writing from William, so beautiful, please thank him for us. William Douglas Horton, you can find the works of William, wherever fine books are sold, online, of course and elsewhere.
You also reminded me and sort of triggered this idea that he said it actually in his writing that when we’re reading, we do have the ability to sort of retrace and, and go at our own pace and stop and contemplate and then look back at the page. But among other things that you’ve pointed out, it’s also true that it’s kind of like this flow of language that’s happening. And yes, there’s a pause button but I don’t know how inclined we are to use that pause button or replace something we just heard. That’s a very different thing than looking away from a page and rereading a paragraph or a line isn’t it?
Yeah, it is very different. You know, I’m a big fan. I am a very visual person and I read a lot. I read a lot of nonfiction and I do a lot of research and reading. To me it is very useful to do research because I get more access to the left analytical side of my brain, I can take margin notes and things like that. You know, that has the it’s function. And yet there is this other experience when listening you know, there’s something about reading too that’s very lonely and an almost disembodied you know, I can almost become like just this like, ginormous brain taking in all this information, and I’m alone in a room by myself, whereas when I’m listening to a podcast or listening to an audiobook, I don’t feel alone and it’s like I can be, I can be exercising, I can be working in the garden. I can be making art I can be in my body in ways that I can’t be when I’m just sitting with a book in my hand, you know,
So fascinating. I want to remind our listeners we’re visiting with Meghan Tauck. She’s the co-author with William Douglas Horton, the authors of Living in a Time of Dying. Also joining us is Matthew Prigge. He’s our lead casting director at Audivita.
So another thing that I was thinking about in preparing to be on this podcast, and I sort of alluded to it in my discussion of accessibility, and worlds making, right is really, and I kind of want to underscore how, you know, I think it’s unfortunate that we often think about, you know, vision loss or disability as a disability. And yes, there are struggles that people have, I don’t want to discount that at all. And there are losses. And I think one of the things that we write about in the book, Living in a Time of Dying is how to deal with the experience of loss and suffering and pain. So not to discount that at all. But just to also underline how different ways of perceiving, because our abilities are different, actually creates different ways of knowing and different ways of participating with the world brings different gifts to this world project that we’re building together.
And I just really want to underscore that because I imagine that many of your listeners may be struggling with, you know, a change in their vision, or a diagnosis that feels scary. And all of that is so real and true and important. And just to acknowledge that there is more than what we think it has to be, and that I personally really value. Those other ways of knowing and those other gifts that are brought through the myriad ways of perceiving and participating together in this world. And as you know, I want to invite as many people into the conversation because I think that, particularly right now, it’s very crucial. We really need all hands on deck at this moment in the human project.
So well said. Thank you, Meghan. I think that’s a great note to end on. For this segment. I want to thank you both for being with us. Meghan Tauck, co-author with William Douglas Horton. The book is Living in a Time of Dying. And Matthew Prigge, our lead casting director at Audivita. Thank you both for joining us on the program.
Thank you so much for having us, David.
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