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Spark & Fire

A podcast that unlocks creativity and innovation. In each episode, a legendary creator shares the story behind an iconic work — with techniques and takeaways for your own work.

Spark & Fire is a WaitWhat original in partnership with the BBC.

(Novel: 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.

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(Comedy specials: Annihilation and I Love Everything)

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.

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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’re sharing 5 strategies to regain your creative momentum, featuring Jurassic Park book designer Chip Kidd, Apollo Theater executive producer Kamilah Forbes, Soul filmmaker Kemp Powers, as well as a sneak peek at Season 2 with comedian Patton Oswalt and Wicked composer Stephen Schwartz.

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(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 story about the choices – and pressures – that keep you honest.

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(Work: The Silk Road Project)

The Silk Road Project was an ambitious idea: to not only create a category of music that had never been heard before, but 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. With clarinetist Kinan Azmeh; percussionist Joseph Gramley; Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato; and pipa player Wu Man.

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(Series: The Queen’s Gambit)

When screenwriter Allan Scott acquired the film rights to the “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 — and what they’ve learned about staying the course.

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(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. His story of creating this album with Willie Colón is a testament to three words: Trust your instinct.

Named one of the top 5 podcast episodes, Arts & Culture, by the 2022 Webby Awards!

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(Film: Always Be My Maybe)

How do you create something an audience will love? Start with everything you authentically love. Writer/actor Randall Park tells the story of a passion project: the 2019 Netflix movie he made with Ali Wong, Always Be My Maybe. Learn from his story how you can take what authentically matters to you – culture, music, relationships – and create work that will resonate for others too.

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(Novel: Transcendent Kingdom)

To make a creative leap, get to know your creative self. Novelist Yaa Gyasi shares the creation process of her acclaimed new novel Transcendent Kingdom: how she found space, how she gave herself permission to pause – and how to get the feedback she needed.

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(Album: The Democracy! Suite)

“Everything that you do in the arts is you giving meaning to your way of life.” In a year of pandemic, racial reckoning and threats to democracy, bandleader Wynton Marsalis created a seven-song cycle that imagines how artists can respond to their own time. As he talks us through “The Democracy! Suite,” he teaches unforgettable lessons about collaboration, preparation, and the costs and rewards of a creative life — lessons that can help you endure as a creative person, no matter your field.

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(Film: Knives Out)

As Rian Johnson takes us on his journey of joyfully reinventing the murder mystery, his childlike playfulness is in full effect. But you’ll also hear how he structures his creative process to turn ideas into realities — and how he prepares ahead of time to be fully present in the creative moment. You’ll hear lots of creative hacks that you can borrow to fuel your own creative journey.

Named one of the top 5 individual podcast episodes of the year by the 2022 Webby Awards!

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(Body of work: the Day to Night series)

Photographer Stephen Wilkes developed his Day to Night photo series to explore his passion for how time passes. Learn the story behind his image of the 2021 Inauguration as he explains how he developed his signature style – and where to start as you develop your own.

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(Production: Between the World and Me)

What do you do with an idea so big it kind of scares you? Follow Kamilah Forbes’ journey in bringing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me to the stage of the legendary Apollo Theater (and then to HBO) in a story of collaboration and trust, joy and challenge.

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(Building: The Vessel)

How do you change the creative brief? You start with play. Follow the journey of designer Thomas Heatherwick and “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.

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(Production: Afterwardsness, his pandemic masterpiece)

When faced with a crisis, how do you move forward? First, look backward. Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones tells a powerful story of creative grit, love of art and reckoning with legacy — in his own fierce, fiery, funny words. With Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong, they offer inspiration to fuel your own creative journey.

Named one of the top 5 individual podcast episodes by the 2021 Webby Awards.

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(Novel: The House of the Spirits)

Isabel Allende was 39, a refugee looking for a lost sense of connection to her home. So she started writing a letter to her grandfather back in Chile. To tell him that the family stories he’d told her – of love, tradition, loss, magic – were safe with her. This letter, page by page, became the beloved epic The House of the Spirits. On Spark & Fire, hear how Isabel found the time and space to write.

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(Book cover: Jurassic Park)

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. Chip share how he got started and how he got unstuck — over and over — with lots of smart, actionable advice for anyone setting out on their own creative quest.

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(Book: The Orchid Thief)

How do you move past a creative crisis? Apply pressure. From the moment she heard about it, Susan Orlean knew she had to tell the story of The Orchid Thief – a wild tale of obsession set in the swamps of Florida. But somewhere deep in the telling, she lost her own footing.

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(Film: Pixar’s Soul)

How do you make an authentic character? Start with your authentic self. When screenwriter Kemp Powers joined the writers’ room at Pixar, he found a story waiting to be told  … anchored within his own story. In his story, listen for the spark of your own creative journey.

Named one of the top 5 podcast episodes, Diversity & Inclusion category, by the 2021 Webby Awards.

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