Stream 15 Audio Drama Podcasts & Get Through COVID-19: Features Rami Malek, Catherine Keener, Tim Robbins & More

At my home now, we con­stant­ly tell sto­ries: to dis­tract, soothe, entertain—telling and retelling, col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly author­ing over meals, lis­ten­ing to a ton of sto­ry pod­casts. These activ­i­ties took up a good part of the day before all hell broke loose and schools shut down. Now they guide us from morn­ing to night as we try to imag­ine oth­er worlds, bet­ter worlds, than the one we’re liv­ing in at present. We are paint­ing on the walls of our cave, so to speak, with brave and fear­ful images, while out­side, con­fu­sion sets in.

Lest any­one think this is kid stuff, it most assured­ly is not. Nar­ra­tive coher­ence seems par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant for healthy human func­tion­ing. We may grow to appre­ci­ate greater lev­els of com­plex­i­ty and moral ambi­gu­i­ty, it’s true. But the desire to expe­ri­ence real­i­ty as some­thing with arcs, rather than errat­ic and dis­turb­ing non-sequiturs, remains strong. Exper­i­men­tal fic­tion proves so unset­tling because it defies accept­able notions of cause and con­se­quence.

From the tales told by plague-dis­placed aris­to­crats in Boccaccio’s Decameron to the radio dra­mas that enter­tained fam­i­lies shel­ter­ing in place dur­ing the Blitz to our own pod­cast-sat­u­rat­ed coro­n­avirus media land­scape…. Sto­ries told well and often have a heal­ing effect on the dis­tressed psy­ches of those trapped in world-his­tor­i­cal dra­mas. “While sto­ries might not pro­tect you from a virus,” writes Andre Spicer at New States­man, “they can pro­tect you from the ill feel­ings which epi­demics gen­er­ate.”

In addi­tion to advice offered through­out history—by many of Boccaccio’s con­tem­po­raries, for exam­ple, who urged sto­ry and song to lift plague-weary spirits—“dozens of stud­ies” by psy­chol­o­gists have shown “the impact sto­ry­telling has on our health.” Telling and hear­ing sto­ries gives us lan­guage we may lack to describe expe­ri­ence. We can com­mu­ni­cate and ana­lyze painful emo­tions through metaphors and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, rather than too-per­son­al con­fes­sion. We can expe­ri­ence a sense of kin­ship with those who have felt sim­i­lar­ly.

Per­haps this last func­tion is most impor­tant in the midst of cat­a­stro­phes that iso­late peo­ple from each oth­er. As real­i­ty refus­es to con­form to a sense of appro­pri­ate scope, as car­toon­ish vil­lains destroy all pro­por­tion and prob­a­bil­i­ty, empa­thy fatigue can start to set in. Through the art of sto­ry­telling, we might learn we don’t have to share oth­er peo­ple’s back­grounds, beliefs, and inter­ests to under­stand their moti­va­tions and care about what hap­pens to them.

We can also learn to start small, with just a few peo­ple, instead of the whole world. Short fic­tion brings unthink­able abstractions—the death tolls in wars and plagues—to a man­age­able emo­tion­al scale. Rather than show­ing us how we might defeat, avoid, or escape invis­i­ble antag­o­nists like viral pan­demics, sto­ries illus­trate how peo­ple can behave well or bad­ly in extreme, inhu­man cir­cum­stances.

Below, find a series of audio dra­mas, both fic­tion and non, in pod­cast form—many fea­tur­ing celebri­ty voic­es, includ­ing Rami Malek, Cather­ine Keen­er, Tim Rob­bins & more—to help you in your jour­ney through our nar­ra­tive­ly exhaust­ing times. Par­ents and care­givers like­ly already find them­selves immersed in sto­ries much of the day. Yet adults, whether they’re rais­ing kids or not, need sto­ry­time too—maybe espe­cial­ly when the sto­ries we believed about the world stop mak­ing sense.

Alice Isn’t DeadAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — A truck dri­ver search­es across Amer­i­ca for the wife she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her search, she will encounter not-quite-human ser­i­al mur­der­ers, towns lit­er­al­ly lost in time, and a con­spir­a­cy that goes way beyond one miss­ing woman.

Black­outAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — Acad­e­my Award win­ner Rami Malek stars in this apoc­a­lyp­tic thriller as a small-town radio DJ fight­ing to pro­tect his fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty after the pow­er grid goes down nation­wide, upend­ing mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion.

LifeAfter/The Mes­sageAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — The Mes­sage and its sequel, LifeAfter, take lis­ten­ers on jour­neys to the lim­its of tech­nol­o­gy. n The Mes­sage, an alien trans­mis­sion from decades ago becomes an urgent puz­zle with life or death con­se­quences. In LifeAfter, Ross, a low lev­el employ­ee at the FBI, spends his days con­vers­ing online with his wife Char­lie – who died eight months ago. But the tech­nol­o­gy behind this dig­i­tal res­ur­rec­tion leads Ross down a dan­ger­ous path that threat­ens his job, his own life, and maybe even the world. Win­ner of the Cannes Gold Lion.

Home­com­ingAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — Home­com­ing cen­ters on a case­work­er at an exper­i­men­tal facil­i­ty, her ambi­tious super­vi­sor, and a sol­dier eager to rejoin civil­ian life — pre­sent­ed in an enig­mat­ic col­lage of tele­phone calls, ther­a­py ses­sions, and over­heard con­ver­sa­tions. Star­ring Cather­ine Keen­er, Oscar Isaac, David Schwim­mer, David Cross, Amy Sedaris, Michael Cera, Mer­cedes Ruehl, Alia Shawkat, Chris Geth­ard, and Spike Jonze.

Lime­townAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — The premise: Ten years ago, over three hun­dred men, women and chil­dren dis­ap­peared from a small town in Ten­nessee, nev­er to be heard from again. In this pod­cast, Amer­i­can Pub­lic Radio reporter Lia Had­dock asks the ques­tion once more, “What hap­pened to the peo­ple of Lime­town?”

Moth­er­hack­erAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — The plot: Bridget’s life is a series of dropped calls. With a gift for gab, an ex-hus­band in rehab, and down to her last dol­lar, Bridget’s life takes a des­per­ate turn when she starts vish­ing over the phone for a shady iden­ti­ty theft ring in order to sup­port her fam­i­ly.

Pas­sen­ger ListAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — Atlantic Flight 702 has dis­ap­peared mid-flight between Lon­don and New York with 256 pas­sen­gers on board. Kaitlin Le (Kel­ly Marie Tran), a col­lege stu­dent whose twin broth­er van­ished with the flight, is deter­mined to uncov­er the truth.

San­draAppleSpo­ti­fy — Web Site — Co-stars Kris­ten Wiig, Alia Shawkat, and Ethan Hawke. Here’s the plot: Helen’s always dreamed of ditch­ing her home­town, so when she lands a job at the com­pa­ny that makes San­dra, every­one’s favorite A.I., she fig­ures it’s the next-best thing. But work­ing behind the cur­tain isn’t quite the escape from real­i­ty that Helen expect­ed.

The Angel of VineAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — A present day jour­nal­ist uncov­ers the audio tapes of a 1950s pri­vate eye who cracked the great­est unsolved mur­der mys­tery Hol­ly­wood has ever known… and didn’t tell a soul. Star­ring Joe Man­ganiel­lo, Alfred Moli­na, Con­stance Zim­mer, Alan Tudyk, Camil­la Lud­ding­ton, and more.

The Bright Ses­sionsAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — A sci­ence fic­tion pod­cast that fol­lows a group of ther­a­py patients. But these are not your typ­i­cal patients — each has a unique super­nat­ur­al abil­i­ty. The show doc­u­ments their strug­gles and dis­cov­er­ies as well as the moti­va­tions of their mys­te­ri­ous ther­a­pist, Dr. Bright.

The Orbit­ing Human Cir­cusAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — Dis­cov­er a won­drous­ly sur­re­al world of mag­ic, music, and mys­tery. This immer­sive, cin­e­mat­ic audio spec­ta­cle fol­lows the adven­tures of a lone­ly, stage-struck jan­i­tor who is drawn into the larg­er-than-life uni­verse of the Orbit­ing Human Cir­cus, a fan­tas­ti­cal, wild­ly pop­u­lar radio show broad­cast from the top of the Eif­fel Tow­er. WNYC Stu­dios presents a spe­cial director’s cut of this joy­ous, mov­ing break from real­i­ty. Star­ring John Cameron Mitchell, Julian Koster, Tim Rob­bins, Drew Callan­der, Susan­nah Flood, and fea­tur­ing Mandy Patinkin and Char­lie Day.

The TruthAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogleWeb Site — The Truth makes movies for your ears. They’re short sto­ries that are some­times dark, some­times fun­ny, and always intrigu­ing. Every sto­ry is dif­fer­ent, but they all take you to unex­pect­ed places using only sound. If you’re new, some good start­ing places are: Sil­vi­a’s Blood, That’s Democ­ra­cy, Moon Graf­fi­ti, Tape Delay, or what­ev­er’s most recent. Lis­ten­ing with head­phones is encour­aged!

The WalkAppleSpo­ti­fy — “Dystopi­an thriller, The Walk, is a tale of mis­tak­en iden­ti­ty, ter­ror­ism, and a life-or-death mis­sion to walk across Scot­land. But the for­mat of this sto­ry is — unusu­al. The Walk is an immer­sive fic­tion pod­cast, and the cre­ators want you to lis­ten to it while walk­ing. It begins with a ter­ror­ist attack at a train sta­tion; you are the pro­tag­o­nist, known only as Walk­er, and the police think you’re a mem­ber of a shad­owy ter­ror group called The Burn.” “Author Nao­mi Alder­man, whose lat­est nov­el was a best­seller called The Pow­er, is the cre­ator of The Walk.”

We’re AliveAppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — An award-win­ing audio dra­ma, orig­i­nal­ly released in pod­cast form. Its sto­ry fol­lows a large group of sur­vivors of a zom­bie apoc­a­lypse in down­town Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia.

Wolf 359AppleSpo­ti­fyGoogle — A sci­ence fic­tion pod­cast cre­at­ed by Gabriel Urbina. Fol­low­ing in the tra­di­tion of Gold­en Age radio dra­mas, Wolf 359 tells the sto­ry of a dys­func­tion­al space sta­tion crew orbit­ing the star Wolf 359 on a deep space sur­vey mis­sion.

These pod­casts can be found in the new col­lec­tion, The 150 Best Pod­casts to Enrich Your Mind.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pan­dem­ic Lit­er­a­ture: A Meta-List of the Books You Should Read in Coro­n­avirus Quar­an­tine

How Can Boccaccio’s 14th Cen­tu­ry Decameron Help Us Live Through COVID-19?

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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