Podcasts can be incredibly niche affairs, allowing creators to indulge in their obsessions without chasing mass market appeal. Case in point is comedian Tim Ross' latest, House Stories; a short run series on the rarely seen tapestries of the Sydney Opera House.
When I mentioned how niche the subject matter was, Ross laughed and pointed to the recently wildly successful Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, as evidence that "a great story is a great story, despite what it’s about."
Tim Ross in front of a tapestry designed by Jorn Utzon, architect of the Sydney Opera House, entitled Homage to C.P.E. Bach. Credit:Daniel Boud
The tapestries were commissioned by the Sydney Opera House, and were an immediate hit with the public, Ross said, yet these incredible artworks were taken down after just two years on display.
"Everyone loved them. The explosion of colour, when you come into the theatre, to get you ready for a performance…" They were possibly too popular. Rumour has it the tapestries were removed after theatre companies complained they were overshadowing the performances on stage.
The tapestries frame each episode, giving Ross an excuse to explore Australia's modern history, and our sometimes cavalier attitude toward art, architecture and design. It also becomes a fascinating oral history of the Sydney Opera House.
"A million years ago, in the very early days of podcasting, I was fascinated by the opportunity as a broadcaster to do something a little more niche. I had a quite bonkers podcast called Original Pirate Material… I understood its potential right away," he said
But until now, Ross' main focus has been on his stage show, Man About The House, which has toured modern architecture venues around the world.
"I love working live, after spending too much of my life behind a microphone. But this year changed all that… It happened pretty quickly, all the plans for a national tour and other things just disappeared."
Ross began looking for new projects with a "digital bias", and remembered an event he attended at the Sydney Opera House a year earlier.
"I'd been invited to the Opera House when they put on display the John Coburn tapestry. It was a one day only thing. I own a John Coburn tapestry myself, and as a nutty modernist, the connection was there.
"I’m obsessed with the Opera House. You can’t get sick of it, you can’t get bored with it. There’s something about the building that stirs up controversy. And it disappoints people associated with it in some ways, and it’s broken a bunch of people's hearts. But of course, it’s also made a bunch of people really, really happy."
Peter Wells interviews Australia's best podcasters every week on his podcast, Meta. Subscribe in Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.