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Spark & Fire: Fuel Your Creativity

Spark & Fire: Fuel Your Creativity

Every creative work you?ve ever loved has a hero?s journey behind it. On Spark & Fire, you'll hear creators tell the story of bringing one beloved work to life. 

Iconic creatives ? like Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz, Pixar director Domee Shi, comedian Patton Oswald, musician Wynton Marsalis, and novelist Isabel Allende ? share the endless iterations, the inevitable setbacks, and the breakthrough ideas along the epic process of creation. But this isn?t an interview show. It?s a story ? told entirely in the artist's own words.

Spark & Fire is a WaitWhat original series in partnership with the BBC. Season 2 out now.

With host June Cohen, cofounder of WaitWhat and the former executive producer of TED Talks.

Transcripts and images for every episode are available at sparkandfire.com

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Episodes

Commit to your best work (always!): Novelist Ann Patchett on ?The Dutch House?

When Ann Patchett sat down to read through her first draft of The Dutch House, she realized she had made a terrible mistake. A wrong turn, on page 36, sent the entire rest of the novel careening down the wrong path. So what?d she do? Deleted it and started over. Sometimes, committing to doing your very best work means destroying it and going again. In her own words, novelist Ann Patchett shares the story of writing her award-winning novel ? from the prolonged period of preparation, and the active defense against distractions, to the advice from friends that she took without a second thought. Plus: hear how she recruited Tom Hanks to read the audiobook.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/annpatchett

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2022-11-30
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How to recover your creative voice: Comedian Patton Oswalt on ?Annihilation? & ?I Love Everything?

What do you do when you fear you?ve lost touch with your creative voice? You let yourself feel it, and then open yourself up to inspiration. 

When comedian Patton Oswalt suddenly lost his wife, he also feared he would lose himself. As he processes his grief, Patton takes us on the journey of finding his voice again, through the making of two very different comedy specials: ?Annihilation? and ?I Love Everything.? You?ll hear how grief can give way to creativity ? and creativity can forge a path through grief. With grace and humor, Patton recovers his voice by, first, opening his eyes to the world around him, and then, making himself available for the inspiration to come to him.

Patton Oswalt has been a stand-up comedian since the ?90s, coming up in the alt-comedy scene. He?s starred in feature films and beloved TV shows like Ratatouille, Parks and Recreation, AP Bio, and King of Queens. His latest Netflix comedy special (and Grammy-nominated album) is We All Scream.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com.

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2022-11-21
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Cultivate a child's sense of wonder: "Knives Out" director Rian Johnson

How do you create deeply imaginative work? There?s a method behind the magic. As Rian Johnson (Last Jedi, Looper, Brick) takes us on the journey of joyfully reinventing the murder-mystery, you?ll hear the way he draws on childhood memories (like watching Agatha Christie movies in his grandparents' rambling old house) to inspire his work. You?ll also hear he rigorously structures his creative process ? including when, where and how he writes ? in order to be playful and present when he shows up on set. Within this story, you'll hear tactics (and lots of creative techniques) you can borrow to fuel your own creative journey, whatever your field.

Rian Johnson is a director and screenwriter, the creator of "Knives Out" and the director of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Follow him on Twitter at @RianJohnson.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at http://sparkandfire.com/knivesout/

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2022-11-18
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5 ways to get creatively unstuck

You hit a creative dead end. You?re lost in the forest of thought. Let?s face it: you?re stuck. But getting stuck is part of the creative journey. 

We hear it in every story on this show. So today, we?ve chosen our 5 favorite strategies on how to regain your creative momentum, and get unstuck. 

Featuring Jurassic Park book designer Chip Kidd, Apollo Theatre?s Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes, Soul filmmaker Kemp Powers, as well as a sneak peek into Season 2 with comedian Patton Oswalt and Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com.

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

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2022-11-14
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Season 2 ? Coming Soon

Every creative work you?ve ever loved has a story behind it. On Season 2 of Spark & Fire, we will hear what really happens on the road to success ? the moments of inspiration, setbacks, collaboration, pivots, and breakthroughs until something new is brought into the world. Regardless of your creative field, there are endless discoveries in each story that could transform the way you approach your own creative practice. 

Stories from comedian Patton Oswalt, "Wicked" composer Stephen Schwartz, actor & producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt, best-selling author Ann Patchett, "Frozen" composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez, Pixar director Domee Shi, and many more.

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2022-10-20
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Be utterly honest: Ben Folds on his breakout album ?Whatever and Ever Amen?

Capturing an honest moment is one of the riskiest ways to create, but the results are real, and they stand the test of time. As musician Ben Folds tells the story of creating his breakout album ?Whatever and Ever Amen? with the Ben Folds Five, you'll hear a very specific story about a rock band recording an album in a house, instead of a studio, with piano instead of guitar, with lyrics drawn from newspaper clippings. But it?s also a universal story for any creative in any field at any time, about the choices ? and pressures ? that keep you honest.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/benfolds.

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

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2021-07-01
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How to spark others: Yo-Yo Ma on the Silk Road Project

The Silk Road Project was an impossibly ambitious, creatively expansive idea to not only create a category of music that had never been heard before, but also create ensembles to perform it, and audiences who were hungry to hear it. How did Yo-Yo Ma build this vision? He knew from the beginning that it wasn?t about him.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/silkroad

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2021-06-24
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Stick with it: "The Queen's Gambit" producers Allan Scott and Bill Horberg

When you fall in love with a project, stay with it ? for as many years as necessary. Its time will come. When screenwriter Allan Scott acquired the film rights to the Walter Tevis novel ?The Queen?s Gambit,? he couldn?t have imagined it would take almost 30 years to get that movie made. Allan, along with executive producer Bill Horberg, talk about their long road to turning the cult-favorite book into a Netflix phenomenon; the creative insights (and the key partner) that unblocked the path; and what they?ve learned about staying the course when the world is telling you no.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/QueensGambit

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2021-06-10
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Trust your instinct: Salsa legend Rubén Blades on the iconic song ?Pedro Navaja?

?It?s too long. It?s too sad. It?s not danceable.? Just some of the feedback salsa legend Rubén Blades got from DJs and record labels about his iconic song "Pedro Navaja" on the album "Siembra," which went on to sell 25m copies. That?s more than the Beatles' "White Album." And his story of creating this album with Willie Colón is a testament to three words: Trust your instinct. Don?t let anyone throw you off a creative vision you believe in. But also don?t assume that instinct is innate. You hone your instinct through a lifetime of reading, listening, looking, doing. And don?t believe anyone does it alone. Trusted collaborators are always a powerful, sometimes invisible force driving any creative vision, in any field.

Congratulations to Ruben for being named "Person of the Year" by the 2021 Latin Grammys!

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/rubenblades

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2021-06-01
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Stay authentic to yourself: Randall Park on making "Always Be My Maybe"

How do you create something an audience will love? Start with everything YOU love. Actor Randall Park ("Veep," "Fresh Off the Boat," "WandaVision"?) tells the story of a passion project that's become a beloved repeat-watch: the 2019 Netflix movie "Always Be My Maybe." It all started as a tossed-off remark by his friend Ali Wong: What if we made a romcom together? As Randall and Ali wrote the movie, they celebrated what mattered to them: family traditions, the food and music they love, even their favorite movie stars. Learn how you can take what authentically matters to you ? and create work that will resonate for others too.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at sparkandfire.com/randallpark

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2021-05-25
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Create the conditions for your own creativity: Yaa Gyasi on "Transcendent Kingdom"

To make a creative leap, get to know your creative self. After publishing a blockbuster first novel, "Homegoing," followed by a year of touring (and trying to write in hotel rooms), author Yaa Gyasi realized she needed two things to reconnect with her next story: space and time. She shares the creation process of "Transcendent Kingdom" : how she got started, how she gave herself permission to pause ? and how to get the feedback she needed.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at listen.sparkandfire.com/kingdom

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2021-05-18
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Play to an elevated purpose: Wynton Marsalis on "The Democracy! Suite"

?Everything you do in the arts gives meaning to your way of life." In a year of pandemic, racial reckoning, and threats to democracy, Wynton Marsalis creates a seven-song cycle that imagines how artists can shape the times we live in. As he tells us the story of creating "The Democracy! Suite," he teaches unforgettable lessons about collaboration, preparation, and the rewards ? and costs ? of a creative life. When you?re playing to an elevated purpose, it opens possibilities and broadens your impact. And these are lessons that help you endure as a creative, no matter your field.

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at https://sparkandfire.com/wynton

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2021-05-11
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How to build your creative vision: Photographer Stephen Wilkes on the 2021 Inauguration Photo

Making art is a distillation of all your life experiences ? from the half-remembered images from your childhood to your fascination with what's happening around you right now. Photographer Stephen Wilkes developed his signature Day to Night images to share his passion for how time passes ? and soon found that they also helped him explore everything else that interested him: nature, city life, even politics. Learn the backstory behind his famous photo of the 2021 Inauguration as he explains how he developed his signature style ? and where to start as you develop your own.

Legendary photographer Stephen Wilkes is known for his Day to Night photo series as well as his pioneering images of Ellis Island. Learn more about him at stephenwilkes.com ? and listen to his beautiful Meditative Story, ?What?s vital is right in front of me.?

See images from this episode and a full transcript at sparkandfire.com/daytonight

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2021-02-23
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Great collabs start with trust: Apollo Theater?s Kamilah Forbes on ?Between the World and Me?

"I want to make this into theater, in a way that?s never been done before." When Kamilah Forbes first reads "Between the World and Me," by her friend Ta-Nehisi Coates, she's moved, shaken, gutted by its truth and beauty. She dreams of presenting it at Harlem's Apollo Theater, a legendary space for Black art and excellence. First step: convince Ta-Nehisi. Spark & Fire follows the journey from book to stage to HBO ? during a pandemic ? in a story of collaboration and trust, joy and challenge.

Kamilah Forbes is the executive producer at the Apollo Theater, where she produced the legendary staging of Ta-Nehisi Coates? Between the World and Me. In her diverse body of work, Forbes is noted for having a strong commitment to the development of creative works by, for, and about the Hip-Hop Generation. Follow @ApolloTheater on Instagram.

Follow along (with transcript and amazing photos) at https://sparkandfire.com/apollo

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

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2021-02-09
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Creativity starts with play: Designer Thomas Heatherwick on NYC's The Vessel

How do you change the creative brief? You start with play. The designer Thomas Heatherwick was asked to create a monumental public work for the plaza of vast new development in the heart of Manhattan. The expected route would be to copy what?s worked before on other plazas in other cities ? a statue, a fountain. But Heatherwick knew he had to push past what was expected. Spark & Fire follows the journey of ?Vessel,? a massive piece of public art, from its roots in traditional Indian forms, to its sophisticated construction and multi-year assembly, to its reception by the public ? a complicated story that is still unfolding. It?s a story of creative bravery, play, and persistence ? at the drawing board and in the meeting room.

Thomas Heatherwick is the principal of Heatherwick Studio, based in central London. The studio is known equally for bravura projects like the Seed Cathedral, Vessel, and the new Little Island over the Hudson, and for thoughtful, human-scaled commercial and residential developments small and large, like the delightful, award-winning Maggie?s Leeds.

Follow along (with transcript and amazing photos) at https://sparkandfire.com/vessel

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2021-02-02
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Turn crisis into art: Choreographer Bill T. Jones on ?Afterwardsness," his pandemic masterpiece

When faced with a crisis, how do you move forward? Sometimes, you look backward first. It?s March 2020, and legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones is weeks away from a world premiere, when his company is forced into lockdown. All seems lost. But what comes next paves the way for a transcendent performance at the Park Avenue Armory called ?Afterwardsness? ? one of the only large-scale performances held anywhere during the pandemic. On Spark & Fire, the larger-than-life Bill T. Jones tells this powerful story of creative grit, love of art and reckoning with legacy ? in his own fierce, fiery, funny words. He?s joined at times by his Associate Artistic Director, Janet Wong, and together they offer inspiration and ideas to fuel your own creative journey.

In 1982, Bill T. Jones co-founded the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with his partner Arnie Zane. Jones is the company?s artistic director and choreographer; he?s also won two Tony awards for work on Broadway. He is a 1994 MacArthur Fellow and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2013. Follow on Instagram at @billtjonesarniezaneco

Follow along (with transcript and amazing photos) at https://sparkandfire.com/billtjones/

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

This episode was shortlisted for a 2021 Webby for Best Individual Episode. Of any podcast. Do you know how many individual podcast episodes were made in the past 12 months? Conservatively, one zillion. Yes it's that good.

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2021-01-26
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Turn memory into art: Isabel Allende on ?The House of the Spirits?

How do you write the stories of your life? Any time, any place, any order. Isabel Allende was 39, and a refugee from her native Chile, when she started writing a letter to her dying grandfather ? recounting the family stories he'd told her ? of love, loss, memory, magic. This letter evolved into her first novel, the beloved epic "The House of the Spirits.? With her trademark warmth and wit, Isabel shares how she found the time and space to write as she rebuilt her life ? and how her 500-page typed manuscript, heavy with correction fluid and coffee stains, found its way to the agent in Madrid who made it an instant international sensation. Throughout the story ? told entirely in Isabel's brilliantly chosen words ? you'll hear never-before-told details about her creative process and journey, including ideas on story structure and writing rituals; first readers and family politics ? all of which can fuel your own story-telling.

A novelist, storyteller and social activist, Isabel Allende is the author of The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna among many other novels; her nonfiction works include the powerful double autobiography Paula. Follow her at @IsabelAllende

Follow along (transcript and amazing photos) at https://sparkandfire.com/isabelallende/

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2021-01-19
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How to find inspiration: Chip Kidd on the "Jurassic Park" book cover

What do you do when you?re stuck? Something else. Designer Chip Kidd got a dream assignment: Create the book cover for a soon-to-be-blockbuster: Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Oh, and make it iconic. When the pressure to perform is that high, it's easy to get creatively paralyzed. Chip recounts exactly how he got started and how he got unstuck ? over and over ? on the journey to create one of the best-known book covers of the 20th century. He tells the story in his own fast-paced, funny, pointed words, with lots of smart, actionable advice for anyone setting out on their own creative quest.

A longtime book designer for Knopf, where he designed the cover for Jurassic Park and hundreds more books, Chip Kidd is the author of two novels, two nonfiction titles and a study of Batman. Follow him at @ChipKidd

Follow along (transcript and lots of pictures) at sparkandfire.com/chipkidd

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

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2021-01-12
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How to begin: Susan Orlean on "The Orchid Thief"

How do you move past that "wobbly moment" in your creative journey? Just move. From the moment she heard about it, Susan Orlean knew she had to tell the story of "The Orchid Thief" ? a wild, true story of obsession set in the swamps of Florida. But somewhere deep in the telling, she risks losing her own footing. Spark & Fire follows Susan as she pursues the story that "set her brain on fire," pushing past a creative crisis to write the magazine article and then book that in turn inspired the film "Adaptation." She tells her story in her own incisive, honest and very funny words ? with insider details you haven?t heard, and actionable advice for anyone at any stage of their creative journey.

Susan Orlean is a journalist and nonfiction writer who became a staff writer at the New Yorker in 1992. Her works of literary nonfiction include The Orchid Thief and The Library Book. She has a wildly entertaining Twitter feed: @susanorlean

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at http://sparkandfire.com/orchidthief/

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2021-01-05
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Oscar winner Pixar's Kemp Powers on "Soul": The best person for the project

How do you create an authentic character? Start with your authentic self. When Kemp Powers joined the writers' room at Pixar, he found a story waiting to be told ... anchored within his own story. Spark & Fire follows Kemp on his own hero's journey of co-writing and co-directing Soul, Pixar's first film with a Black protagonist, from his first trip to the Pixar campus to his development of the main character ? and his passionate pitch for the beloved barbershop scene that nearly got cut from the film. Hear Kemp tell the story in his own frank and funny words, with creative insights for anyone trying to choose the projects that will matter most.

Kemp Powers is a screenwriter, playwright (One Night in Miami), director and veteran journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @Powerkeni

Follow along (with transcript and photos) at http://sparkandfire.com/soul/

Subscribe to the Spark & Fire weekly newsletter for images, stories and creative prompts: http://eepurl.com/hkmyMr

This episode was shortlisted for a 2021 Webby for Best Individual Episode, Diversity & Inclusion category!

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2021-01-04
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