Enter the Meta-Cast
Ashlee Waldbauer is a New York City-based actress, singer, and writer who began producing and collaborating on podcasts in 2020. I sat down with Ashlee to discuss her projects, the podcast revolution, and the nature of satire.
The HUB Art Collective’s podcast the (musical) Memoirs of a Murder is a layered and meta original satire of the true crime genre. A ragtag group of aspiring true crime podcasters set out to go viral within the popular yet grim brand, whilst their own characters encounter conflict, interpersonal drama, and perhaps become victims of their own real-life crimes. The audience is treated to actual crimes, spectacles, and murders, whilst the interconnected plot of the three protagonists expands in the background. In the midst of all of this, multiple times an episode, well-produced musical-theater-style interludes croon on the day’s crime subject. Heartfelt ballads centered on news-worthy subjects, such as Baby Jessica, add a strange and darkly humorous element to the show that makes the entire experience uniquely surreal and interesting.
Ashlee Waldbauer–aside from hosting her own podcast entitled, Nevertheless, Shlee Persisted–is a writer and actress for the (musical) Memoirs of a Murder. Playing the character of Charlotte, a stiff and intellectual crime scene investigator with career issues and a less-than-enthusiastic commitment to the show-within-the-show, she brings not only her acting chops to the table, but also a beautiful singing voice.
“Your set of talents is such an interesting mix for podcasts,” I said. “How’d you get into them originally?”
“My good friend Isaiah reached out to me [in 2020],” she said. “He said that he and Melissa were starting an artist collective called the Hub and their main project was doing this podcast audio drama and that he wanted me to write for it.”
“With this kind of complex world-building,” I said. “It makes sense that this started with a group of writers who all know each other. Can you describe the writing process?”
“We have a writers team of 6,” she explained. “Each kind of took on an episode of their own and we send each other our work, edit [it], and collaborate. After we finalized each of the scripts, we took some time to record all of the songs.”
“Tell us about the other actors you’re working with,” I said.
“The main three actors are me and two other actors, Jim and Lauren,” she said. “They’re incredible. It’s been so fun to act alongside them too, especially because a lot of us are from the theater world. Playing around with just our voices has been a whole lot of fun.”
“The show has a pretty meta, complicated, and interesting concept behind it,” I said. “Do you wanna describe the concept in your own words?”
“Yeah, it’s true!” she said, laughing. “There’s a lot of layers, the (musical) Memoirs of a Murder follows 3 podcasters that have a true crime podcast who tell these stories. Then, in a sense, it comes to life and all of the characters from these real crimes that occurred sing about their experiences. And so it goes back and forth between songs plus what’s happening to the podcasters. What’s interesting about our podcast is that you’re not just listening to a normal true crime podcast, you also get a kind of behind the scenes look into what’s happening in these three podcasters’ lives. True crime podcasts have become so incredibly popular, which is kind of funny because they’re so incredibly morbid. We’re choosing to spend our time listening to crimes and these crazy morbid things that happen. So we definitely comment a lot on that. [How removed people are from the real pain and suffering they’re consuming]. That is why I think we chose to connect the music to it. Because music [really connects us to our emotions].”
“So you said that the music helps connect us to the real emotions of the events,” I said. “But, there’s also something a little bit dark and humorous about pairing them with the music too, right? Is that something that you guys strive for or is that kind of just an inevitable byproduct of combining those two mediums?”
“I think it’s an inevitable byproduct for sure,” she said. “ I think when we started this project we weren’t really sure what would come out of it, but it’s definitely something that we have found throughout the process.”
“Where do you think this societal appetite for true crime comes from?” I asked.
“It’s kind of the thrill of it all. It’s kind of like why people watch scary movies. I think it’s just an added element that it happened to someone in real life. That’s one of the things that we comment on, is that it’s just kind of crazy how in this day and age we are able to separate ourselves from it so much that we enjoy it.”
“There also must be something a little bit therapeutic,” I said. “If we think about the demographics of true crime listeners and then compare it with the demographics of the victims being discussed… they’re both 21 to 45-year-old white women.”
“It’s true,” she said. “I think it makes sense with women in general. There’s always a constant fear for our lives, which is just so incredibly unfortunate. But we have really made an effort to, in our podcast, explore so many different cases that have a diverse background of victims and people that are involved in the crimes. There’s an episode coming up, a little sneak peek that we do, where we dive into more of the satire. There’s an episode break-off where we switch between another podcast that’s run by two white men. [We explore] how different the tellings of the story are compared to ours.
“We have really made an effort to, in our podcast, explore so many different cases that have a diverse background of victims and people that are involved in the crimes.”
“Ohh, interesting,” I said. “I’m guessing they’re gonna be a little bit more reveling in the gruesome details of things?”
“Yeah, 100%,” she said. “Just, you know, a little less considerate.”
“With these building underlining plots, it seems like new listeners should start from episode one?” I asked.
“Definitely,” she said. “The first episode is really important to listen to first. The entire series is best listened to chronologically because you miss so much and there’s so much groundwork and world-building that we set up in the first episode. And there are so many things that you learn about these characters that really follow through till the end.
“Out of the three characters, I know that yours is considered the least likable,” I said. “Can you speak on that?”
“[The characters] Connor and Alex in the podcast have always been pretty likable and we wanted the audience to really be able to connect with them. But we went back and forth with my character because she just read as extremely unlikable. But I don’t know, I mean I’m a little biased because I play Charlotte, but there are things that I like about her.”
“How would you describe Charlotte?” I asked.
“Charlotte is just an all around intellectual,” she explained. “She is an introvert. She is incredibly committed to her work and is very career focused and she’s in the world of forensics. That’s the reason that Connor and Alex have brought her into this podcast, because they both like true crime, but that’s kind of all they know. That’s the extent of their knowledge. So they really wanted to bring someone who knew the other side of the table. And one of the things about Charlotte is that she doesn’t want to be there and that she’s really just doing this to help out her friends. We just kind of needed that extra conflict that boils throughout the entire podcast.”
“I think a podcast feels more real than a tv show,” I said. “Do you ever worry that people will think you are unlikable in real life?”
“I don’t know if I’ve thought about that,” she said. “At least for me personally, it’s so easy to disassociate myself from the character, mostly because we’re very different [people]. I think if you were to ask Jim and Lauren, I think they would probably tell you a different story because I think they have a lot of themselves in those characters. But I think because mine is so vastly different from myself, it’s been easy to be like that is my ‘character.’”
“What’s been the most rewarding aspect of this process?”
“Working with my friends on this project has truly been an amazing experience,” she said. “Especially because this project started in the pandemic, which was a really lonely period for a lot of us. Our industry was completely put on hold, so coming together and collaborating gave us all something to look forward to in such a dark time. We really leaned on each other to look at the good in the world and focus on gratitude.”