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Friday December 3rd

“The Allusionist” podcast live show acts as a platform for gender equality

<p>Helen Zaltzman (left) and Martin Austwick (right) performing at SF Sketchfest in January 2019, at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Baranduin Briggs.</p>
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Helen Zaltzman (left) and Martin Austwick (right) performing at SF Sketchfest in January 2019, at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Baranduin Briggs.

Helen Zaltzman will bring her podcast, "The Allusionist" to life and challenge the gender binary at Durham MotorCo Music Hall on Oct. 23.

“The Allusionist” is an entertainment podcast that discusses language and how and why people use it. Zaltzman said she thinks of topics she wants to learn more about and figures out entertaining ways to present them. She created the show in 2015 under the podcast network Radiotopia.

The live show Zaltzman will be staging at MotorCo, booked through Cat’s Cradle, is called “No Title.” With her husband as the house band and the only other performer, Zaltzman will discuss gender in language and topics like the history of singular "they."

"I think for some people it's dangerous for them to talk about gender neutrality," Zaltzman said. "So, I feel like I have a platform, and I have some duty to talk about it. It is really important to me, as well. Gender equality and also the gender binary — not something that I think society should be structured around."

Zaltzman said she approaches her live shows from the angle of theatrical performances because she has stage experience from before she was a podcaster. Her performance will be longer than recorded podcasts of “The Allusionist” and will have visual and musical elements.

"I decided what I wanted to do was a stage event designed to be seen in that room and not recorded,” Zaltzman said. "It's like the podcast, but it's everything that only works if we're all there together watching it." 

Almost all of the podcasts under Radiotopia do live shows to some extent, Audrey Mardavich, managing producer of Radiotopia, said. 

"Since our shows are more sound-designed, more storytelling focused, they're a little bit more like theater," Mardavich said. "It's taking a nonfiction story and translating it to the stage." 

Mardavich said she thinks Zaltzman does a good job of making complex issues easier to understand in a fun way.

"I think that when people think of linguistics they think of something that might be kind of dry, but there's so much heart in what Helen is doing and there's also tons of humor,” Mardavich said.

Lauren Spohrer, the co-creator of podcasts “Criminal” and “This is Love,” has also done live event tours and has seen Zaltzman perform.

"I think what Helen does so remarkably well is teach you so much that you don't know while making you laugh,” Spohrer said. "I think she has this really effortless way of cramming so much knowledge into really funny jokes."

Zaltzman hopes her performance will cause event attendees to believe they can make a difference in the world with the language they use and that they will use language more kindly and passionately. Additionally, she thinks the show will challenge UNC students to learn and approach information differently than they are used to.

Marketing director of Cat’s Cradle, Eva Simakas, said booking live performances of podcasters and YouTubers has only become increasingly popular in the past few years.

"I mean, it's kind of the same thing as when I go to a concert and see live music. Sometimes I just come away with a new perspective on something or an appreciation for a certain kind of music that I didn't have before,” Simakas said. “Similar to that, if you go and see a live podcast, you come away having learned something new that you'll take with you for the rest of your days."


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