How do you turn a popular kids’ podcast that’s equal parts silly and scientific into a live stage show? Fans of “Wow in the World” will see for themselves this Saturday, when Mindy Thomas and Guy Raz host two Wow in the World Pop Up Party shows at the Music Center at Strathmore.
We talked to Thomas, co-creator of “Wow in the World,” about turning scientific discoveries into kid-friendly stories, the unpredictable nature of live performances and whether Reggie the pigeon will be flying into North Bethesda this weekend for the two Strathmore shows.
How do you and Guy Raz come up with episode ideas for the podcast?
All of our stories come from peer reviewed scientific journals, and then we try to break those down. We have to contact scientists quite often to help break them down even further. We look for stories that are really interesting, stories that might relate somehow to a kid’s world, but also stories that will lend themselves to fun narratives.
So for example, the rat race episode … Scientists had rats driving these little makeshift cars, and as soon as I saw that they had rats driving cars, I thought, “Oh my gosh, rat race! We can make a whole Indy 500 Motor Speedway and then also tell the science story.” So we’re just constantly on the lookout for new innovations in science, new discoveries. I love looking for these stories and seeing what we can weave around them.
What has been your favorite episode so far?
Well, we did a musical episode for our 100th episode, and that was one of my favorites because it was something that pushed both Guy and I completely out of our comfort zone. Neither one of us are singers, and we sang in this episode! That was something new, and we were able to take this new discovery in science about the way animals interpret music and turn it into a musical—that was really fun.
In our new season, I really loved the Static-man episode. It was all about static electricity, and in that episode, you’re waiting to find out who this Static-man is running through the neighborhood. I talked to a lot of kids after listening to that episode and so many of them thought they knew who it was and some were surprised, and I thought that was a really fun episode. But I think our musical one’s my new favorite in terms of one that I feel pretty proud of.
Meet Angie Goff, a Fox 5 DC anchor and podcast host
How do you turn a storytelling science-based podcast into a live stage event? Where did the idea come from and what was that process like?
We had been invited to a kids’ podcasting festival back in the spring of 2018, and we said, “Sure we’ll do that!” but we didn’t have a show at that time. And we thought, “Well, how are we going to turn this podcast into a stage show?” And part of it was like … we couldn’t. The podcast itself is so imaginative and so adventurous that it would be really hard to translate the show itself into a stage show.
So we have taken elements from the podcast and turned it into a variety show. So it’s more of a celebration of science, and it features Guy and I, and we have live music from the Pop Ups. They are three-time Grammy nominees who wrote the theme song and performed the same song for “Wow in the World.” It’s sort of like an old-school variety show. We have some experimentation and social experiments—a game show for science. It has the same spirit as “Wow in the World,” but we are not recreating an episode because we feel like the episodes themselves visually belonged to the kids listening. I feel like visually, what’s in their imagination, we could not possibly try to create onstage.
Since it’s a variety show-style performance, how much of it is scripted versus improv?
I would say it’s loosely scripted, but there’s a lot of improvisation. We also bring kids up on stage, so we have lots of opportunities for kids to participate. It’s interactive that way, it’s interactive with the audience. So there’s a lot of things that will happen on Saturday that I could not forecast. We just roll with it, whatever happens! And I love that live element of bringing kids on because you really have no idea what’s going to happen. And I think that keeps us on our toes, it keeps the audience on our toes. It’s lot of fun.
In addition to the podcast, you host a children’s morning show on Sirius XM, and your listeners know your voice really well. But they don’t necessarily know what you look like or who you are in person. So what’s it like to perform on stage in front of all your fans instead of talking to them through the radio?
I like to think when we meet in person at these live events that we are each other’s best imaginary friends and then we’re meeting for the first time. A kid wrote in last week and said that they saw a picture of me, and they were disappointed because they thought I would look like ice cream. And I love that! I love that I could be anything.
So it might be disappointing for some kids to see that I am a real human in real life, but I get just as excited when I see them. When I walk out there and I see all of these people in the theater, I think, “There’s no way I’ll ever know this many people in my personal life.” And somehow, they all give us the time of day. They all let us in their car, they let us in their ears. That is such a huge honor—to have any place in their lives, both kids and the parents.
Do you ever get stage fright?
Oh yeah, I always get nervous before a show. I spent my entire career sitting behind a microphone in a room or studio by myself, and so I feel very nervous before I go out. But my nerves wash away quickly when I realize, “Oh, this audience, they’re here with me. We’re all in this together!” and I just start having so much fun that I forget that I was ever nervous.
What do your kids think about your job?
They love it. We have a little studio set up in my basement, so I work from home. I broadcast my morning show down there every morning. They listen in the kitchen upstairs while it’s happening, and then they come down and give me a kiss before they leave for school. It’s all they’ve ever known … They just want to be part of it. My son wants to announce the show when he can. Last year when we did the Lincoln Theatre, he got up there and he was like the hype man before the show to get everyone pumped up. My daughter, she’s really into doing funny characters. I feel like my Grandma G-Force character is based on her. She’s only nine years old but she’s like this funny little crazy grandma.
I think they’re really proud. It’s really special to be able to do something like this and share it with them. Part of the reason why we started this is that our kids are inundated with screens all the time—that’s a primary way to relax after school—and we wanted to create something that would be just as visual and compelling as something they can watch on a screen but that requires some imagination.
Will Guy Raz or Reggie be making an appearance this Saturday?
Guy Raz will be making an appearance, and we might get to hear from Reggie by phone.
Oh, well I’m sure he’s very busy.
Yeah. You know, all that Taekwondo and getting his Ph.D. … He’s a busy bird!
Portions of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity and space. For more information about the two Wow in the World Pop Up Party shows at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, visit strathmore.org.