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Career Spotlight: Felix Trench, Wooden Overcoats and Quid Pro Euro

One thing I find endlessly fascinating about the podcast industry today is digging into how we all ended up here — I find that there are as many routes to the audio world as there are people in it. With that in mind, this week I was delighted to trade emails with Felix Trench, a British actor and writer who is known for his work on the comic fiction podcast Wooden Overcoats. Felix shared some details about his acting training, the international fiction podcast community, and the origins of his comedy.

Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation.

Felix Trench: I’m an actor. I work for stage, screen and audio, mostly in comedy, and over the past few years podcasting has massively increased the percentage of my work that has microphones. I also write. I play one of the leads in a podcast sitcom called Wooden Overcoats. It’s about rival funeral directors. Just this weekend we were performing an extended version of the first episode at the Underbelly Festival in London. We’re doing it again at the Latitude Festival as well.

I launched Quid Pro Euro on 9 May (to coincide with Europe Day), a short form monthly fiction podcast. I write and narrate it and Zachary Fortais-Gomm produces it. The show is presented as a series of documentaries about the European Union made in 1995, except that this EU is one drawn from an absurdist universe. It plays with bureaucracy and the 90s and what it means to be European. It’s very silly. I grew up in Brussels so ultimately it’s about that.

Outside of podcasting, I spend a lot of time thinking about my job, about why people work in the entertainment industry and how to keep doing so in a way that is both enjoyable to me and useful to everyone else, as well as reading and learning as much as I can to try to get a handle on the different theories of acting (and hopefully get better at it). At the minute I’m reading Michael Chekhov, Gaulier, and the UCB Comedy manual.

HP: What has your career been like?

FT: I left drama school in 2010 where they taught me how to hold a sword, how to eat a scone, and how to dance the pavane. My current professional count is Scones: 0, Pavanes: 0, Swords: 3. I’m hoping to balance that score sheet one day. There was also a lot of radio drama which I’ve drawn on loads in recent years.

My very first job was playing a French student for ten seconds of film time who had no lines but did have a scarf (so that we knew he was French) in a video advertising London’s bid to host the 2017 Athletics World Championships. London won the bid. Since then, there have been a couple of adverts, a couple of soaps, and a fair amount of theatre.

In 2012, I joined the running game/app Zombies, Run! as a regular cast member and every six months or so I get to go back and play in that world. That team anticipated the move toward audio storytelling before the big podcast boom in an incredible way.

I joined a co-operative agency for a few years which meant that once a week I was an agent to other actors. That’s where I learned just how complicated this industry is and why it’s so difficult for any one person to be noticed. Around the same time, I attended a play-writing course at the Royal Court Theatre where I met my good friend, the actor and comedian Tom Crowley. We bonded over finding ourselves in pretty much the same place in our careers. The two of us came up with a plan to create a sitcom and release it as a podcast without going via any gatekeepers (I’d been knocking on the BBC’s door with pitches for a while). We enlisted my then flatmate, the incredibly talented playwright David K. Barnes, as the head writer of our show, and from there the team grew and grew, as has the show. I sometimes compare our download figures with the bums-on-seats I was trying to get into the theatre and it’s just staggering. We’re at multiple Wembleys.

Since then, Overcoats has allowed me to work on a number of other podcast comedies and podcast dramas, and most importantly to meet the people who make them. That is one of the greatest joys of my life. I was in LA in February where the podcast drama community is so engaged and warm and enthusiastic and generous. And sometimes fiction podcasters from other countries come to London and get in touch, people from as far away Norway or New York, so we go for a cup of tea or meet at the pub and trade stories. It’s all just great.

HP: What does ‘career’ mean to you?

FT: I once went to that Derren Brown show where he talks about life being a piece of music ie you focus on the tune, not the final note. He got me up on stage, did some coin tricks with me, and stole my watch. It had a big impact. The industry people I admire most are the ones who never stopped learning, sharing what they learned, and creating. When I grow up, I want to be like them. I would like to reach a point where I can add to the conversation, not just parrot what I’ve heard, so I try to think critically about my own craft. I love what’s happening in the podcast space and hope I can continue to be a part of that in whatever shape it takes next. If not, I’m slowly learning to trust that there will be other doors.

HP: When you first started out being a human, what did you think you wanted to do?

FT: I wanted to be a vet. My friends told me not to want to be a vet because I’d have to see the animals suffer and I accepted this logic without question. I still like animals.

HP: What are you listening to right now?

FT: An unhealthy number of current affairs podcasts. But let’s talk about some great fiction podcasts instead? Victoriocity finished their second series this year; they have some of the best writing in the space and they brought me in to play an incredibly fun character. It’s a 19th century comic detective series in a world where Queen Victoria is mechanised.

I love The Far Meridian which is about a woman in a travelling lighthouse, Red Rhino which is a superhero show with a parallel universes twist, The Orphans which is a sprawling space opera about clones, The Amelia Project which is a multi-country comedy about having people disappeared, Crowley Time and No Planet B which are excellent sketch comedy podcasts with different approaches, and I’m midway through Have You Heard George’s Podcast and The Fitzroy Diaries after their wins at the British and Australian Podcast Awards. Both brilliant.

HP: What’s the most unusual thing working in audio has lead you to?

FT: I once ran a workshop on public speaking for a group of economists. I should have realised it wasn’t quite the touchy-feely arts community I’m used to when the organisers introduced me with several slides about Margaret Thatcher. I got everyone to stretch and warm up their voices because that’s the only way I know to approach voice. I later got feedback that it was “not right and more like a yoga class”. I also told people to focus more on connecting to their breath and audience than on trying to speak in any one accent, despite (as I later learned) the organisers offering accent classes.

I have not been asked back.

You can find Felix on Twitter @felixtrench, the Wooden Overcoats podcast as @OvercoatsWooden, and Quid Pro Euro as @quidproeuro