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Podcast spotlight: Sisteria

Launched in 2016, Sisteria is a Melbourne-based podcast about ‘women’s experiences as creators and consumers of arts and culture’. Hosted by Stephanie Van Schilt and Veronica Sullivan, and produced by Jessica Lukjanow, the podcast is now in its second season. It includes mini-episodes with a new ‘Arrogant Aunt’ segment, as well as longer interview-based episodes. ‘Sisteria is about empowerment for guests and audiences: we want women and non-binary people to know that their experiences, and they as people, matter,’ says co-host Van Schilt. She spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘podcast spotlight’ series.

For new or uninitiated listeners, describe your podcast in under 50 words.

Each episode of Sisteria shines a spotlight on the work of a different Australian woman or non-binary creative, delving into how gender and culture influence their creative practice and engagement with the arts.

What makes your podcast unique?

Sisteria is a platform for marginalised peoples—women, non-binary creatives, POC, people with disability—to share their experiences in an open and comfortable way. It’s important to us that the guest feels relaxed and valued when we’re recording and I think this comes across in the episodes.

So often, women and non-binary creatives are plagued by crises of confidence, a sense of isolation, or mental health issues—we nut all this out in a room together making for some very valuable, powerful, and often surprisingly funny conversations. Sisteria is about empowerment for guests and audiences: we want women and non-binary people to know that their experiences, and they as people, matter.

When and how did you get started in podcasting?

In 2014 I joined the Rereaders podcast as a co-host. I met so many excellent women during that time who helped build my confidence as a critic and audio creator.

Sisteria’s producer, Jessica Lukjanow has studied audio production and currently works at the ABC.

And me and my co-host Ronnie Sullivan both have hosted a stack of panels or in-conversations for places like the Wheeler Centre (where Ronnie currently works) or ACMI, which has definitely helped shape our ability to sit confidently behind a mic.

Where and how is your podcast recorded (and how big is your team)?

We’re lucky enough to have a partnership with Melbourne Library Services, so we record at the excellent Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre in Naarm, on the sovereign land of the Kulin Nation. We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, the Wurundjeri people, and pay respects to Indigenous elders past and present.

Our team is currently three people—me (Steph Van Schilt), Veronica Sullivan (co-host) and producer Jessica Lukjanow (producer). We work pretty darn hard to make this happen and we’re so grateful for our dedicated listeners, incredible guests and, of course, each other.

What kind of listeners does your podcast reach?

Sisteria is made by women for anyone who wants to listen. Most of our listeners are based locally (particularly in Melbourne and Sydney) but we’ve also got quite a few listeners in the USA and UK, which is super exciting. It’s always great to spread the good word about Australian creatives!

What have been your most popular guests or most memorable episodes?

Our episode with satirist Julie Koh has the most listens so far, closely followed by our debut episode with the amazing Hannah Kent. Our most recent episode with Jess Knight is truly remarkable—her insight into religion, sex and creativity are moving and funny. And we had an excellent time discussing everything from Beyonce to the Simpsons writing room with Michelle Law for our season two premiere.

What recent trends have you noticed in podcasting? (Do you have any predictions for this format in the future?)

I wrote a piece for VICE last year about how women are revolutionising podcasts. There’s more to podcasts than Ira Glass or Marc Maron, people! I think women of colour have been producing some really excellent podcasts over the last little while (Another Round, 2 Dope Queens, ABC’s It’s Not A Race). We should continue to promote shows like this so women and non-binary people are heard!

Why do you think people are drawn to this format? 

People are drawn to podcasts because they’re intimate and elastic. As a listener, I can fit my weekly podcast consumption around all the other things I’m doing during the week (from taking my dogs for a walk to doing the dishes or data entry, etc).

Also, podcasts are so varied they can fit my (also varied) moods. Depending on the day, I can tune into shows that make me laugh or cry, that teach me about contemporary politics or why pizza isn’t on the menu at McDonald’s anymore. And it’s all made for me and you: the listener. That’s what we try to keep in mind while making Sisteria—we want every episode to be a valuable experience for the audience because their time is precious.

How do you fund your podcast? Do you have plans to explore other funding options?

Season two of Sisteria is supported by the City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program, and we’re super grateful. We’re always on the lookout for opportunities, partnerships or collaborative relationships—watch this space (or get in touch!)

What plans do you have for your podcast going forward?

We’re in the middle of recording and releasing season two of Sisteria, which is lots of work but great fun. We’ve got a long list of incredible guests from a range of different backgrounds still to come and we can’t wait to share the episodes with you. We’re also in the process of trying to grow Sisteria, with some new recruits to the team and a bunch of spin-offs on the horizon. It’s a super exciting time.

What other bookish podcasts (or podcasts for people who love reading, writing and sharing ideas) should we be listening to, Australian or otherwise?

One of my all-time favourite podcasts is By the Book. It’s part reality show, part self-help podcast and all-around incredible. Friends Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer spend each episode living by the rules of a self-help book then critique their experience. I’ve been moved to tears several times by this podcast. It’s hilarious, heartbreaking and confessional—and just an excellent conceit.

Call Your Girlfriend is also a Sisteria fave. It’s a conversational podcast co-hosted by writer geniuses and long distance besties Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman.

And I can’t do a podcast recommendation without a shout out to the ultimate guide on how not to write erotica: My Dad Wrote a Porno. This is an adults-only LOL-fest where a man reads amateur erotica written by his father and critiques it with his two friends. Honestly one of the best and biggest (*wink*) podcasts for very good reason.

(Photo credit: Leah Jing McIntosh)