By Julia Shapero
When the United States started to feel the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Lara Lightbody reached out to her friends in Asia who had already been dealing with the virus for several months.
“I think a lot of us were quite fearful of what was happening,” said Lightbody, a British expatriate who moved from China to Pasadena in 2018. “And the first thing I did was pick up the phone to all my friends in Asia and just said, ‘How are you guys doing? How does this play out?’”
She said the conversations she had with her friends when the lockdowns began in March were particularly comforting.
“I thought to myself … what would happen if you didn’t know anyone who was going through this already and had no one to talk to?” she said.
These experiences led Lightbody to create and produce her podcast “Coexisting,” a collection of audio stories about people sheltering at home around the world. Since she began interviewing in March, Lightbody has talked to people from 32 countries about their experiences with lockdown.
“Instead of the stories that I think a lot of us are hearing about people on the front lines, I was quite interested in hearing about what people are all doing as they sit at home,” she said.
The episodes, which are released twice a week on Apple Podcasts, each feature an interview centered around the same eight questions.
A lawyer by training, Lightbody said she hadn’t produced a podcast before but had always been interested in it.
“I’ve kind of learned it on the job, almost everything I’ve done,” she said. “I’ve learnt as I go along.”
She added that she had been working on preproduction for a podcast about working mothers before the pandemic. However, due to COVID-19, most of the women she was set to interview were unable to speak with her and she changed her focus.
Michelle Gardiner, who met Lightbody through an expatriate group in Los Angeles, said she helped Lightbody get the message out about the podcast.
“When Lara started to bring it all together having produced it all remotely from her apartment down in Pasadena, (with) my background within the entertainment, marketing and media arena, I just offered my help.”
The podcast has been ranked a Top 10 Documentary Podcast in Hong Kong; and Singapore, Top 40 in the United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina, Sweden and Norway; and Top 50 in France and Germany, according to the press release.
Lightbody said she thinks the podcast has resonated with people because of its positive focus.
“I think we are all in dire need of some positive news, even in the midst of this,” she said. “People are really having a hard time in lots of ways, but actually there is a certain joy that comes out of living differently for a short period of time, and there’s comfort that people are finding.”
Gardiner added that the podcast is also comforting because it reminds people that they are not alone during this time.
“Hearing those stories, I suppose in a strange way, it’s a sound to say, it’s not just me that is feeling this,” Gardiner said. “It’s not just my community that’s affected and … knowing that everyone else is going through similar versions creates a feeling of peace.”
By editing each episode to about 15 minutes, Lightbody said she hopes to keep the podcasts from becoming too long.
“I want it to be like a little bright interlude in your day, so you can listen to it very quickly while you’re washing the dishes or playing with kids or something,” she said. “And it’s just something to lift you up a little bit.”
She added she plans to do a second series, talking to people in industries that have completely changed their practices in order to deal with COVID-19, such as the theater, film and restaurant industries.
“I think it’s a really fascinating thing how things are pivoting, things that never change and haven’t changed for decades, like the airline industry, overnight is changing,” she said.
She said she also plans to talk to people who have changed what they’re doing in life as a result of COVID-19 in a positive way, such as starting new businesses or leaving their homes, going on the road and traveling with their families.
“One thing I really want to do with a podcast is to make it positive,” she said. “I know that sounds really glib to say this when people are really suffering and losing their jobs and all this, but the truth is, I think we all need that injection of positivity.”