Liza McLean, Amber McMahon, and Gillian Cosgriff talk IN ALL HONESTY, the new podcast from The Twelve

In All Honesty is a non-fiction verbatim theatre-based podcast which explores experiences and stories from all parts of life. The topics are often the more taboo, stigmatised, or lesser discussed, and the show aims to break down these barriers allowing more open discourse around them. It handles and discusses each topic ‘in all honesty,’ hoping to provide a more free and open dialogue around what were once difficult topics.

The podcast is the first project from The Twelve, a new collective of creatives dedicated to producing new work. Made up of a combination of actors, producers, composers, writers, directors, dramaturgs, and more, the powerhouse team are committed to telling authentic and new stories, and are open to exploring new means of doing so. Season one of the podcast focuses on the true and heartbreaking story of stillbirth, drawn from the experiences of actors Bert and Amanda LaBonté.

Liza McLean, Amber McMahon, and Gillian Cosgriff

With the first season of In All Honesty now available for streaming, I spoke with three members of The Twelve – Liza McLean, Amber McMahon, and Gillian Cosgriff – about working on the project during lockdown.

How did The Twelve all come together?

Liza: At the start of lockdown, I rang my associate and I just had this crazy idea. And I didn’t know whether we should do it or not, but we had a financially good start to the year because we did a show that was commercially successful, but there’s no point surviving on our own, so I thought why don’t we think about what we could allocate in a budget, you know, to still be conservative and keep ourselves safe from going under, that we could put back into the community; maybe do a creative development with some of us that I would never be available and definitely would never be available all together. And what let’s see what that could look like, with really no expectation of a final result other than that. I knew creatively it would sustain us over a period of time that was going to be incredibly challenging, and that even though all that we could offer was not anything like what any of the people that we worked with would usually get paid, it was respectable enough that it was going to help people put food on the table and pay their rent. So we kind of put a wish-list together of different people from the industry across different areas that we kind of looked at. We made sure we had a director, dramaturg, people that had good skill both in music and composition. We put some actors in there, we had writers so we could actually develop work. I had key creatives from a marketing company that we worked really closely with on the development of a new work, because I felt like if we were going to create something during this time, while we didn’t know what it was that we were going to create, it was really important to have people involved that not only were creative, but that also would work with us in the future on how we would sell and market that those opportunities and who the audience would be. So we just kind of got together 12 people, some who I’d worked with before, others who I’ve had interactions with and had a desire to work with.

Gillian: So I am still technically in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, and we got stood down in mid-March when everything shut down. And I was a bit like, “oh god, what is happening? The whole industry is gone. What am I going to do?” And then I had this email and then a phone call with Liza, who I think I had maybe only met once or twice saying that she wanted to kind of put together this group of of people to meet up just on Wednesday nights on Zoom to just kind of make things in this time, just to work up some ideas. And it was just an absolute lifeline to have this regular meeting every week in a time where kind of time stopped existing, you know. And it was really wonderful. We just started workshopping ideas and just this absence of any parameters, just to be able to kind of take whatever we were talking about. Or for me, the only thing I came into it with in mind was this idea of using verbatim speech to create lyrics and music as a form. So that’s kind of all I had in my back pocket that I knew was something I wanted to explore for a little while, but I hadn’t had an avenue for it.

Amber: I really do think it came out of this space of utter vulnerability. And so and I think working in main-stage theatre is sort of like you’re part of a machine, really, and you kind of you take your place in in that in that process. But you’re not really autonomous as an artist. You’re very much at the behest of structure, basically. And so when COVID hit, the only people in that train that were us. I think everyone felt really isolated and alone and frightened because we were like, “oh, well, the only way that we’ve been making works through other companies,” and so we don’t even have our own work to draw upon. We don’t own our work really unless we make it ourselves. And in this ‘no arts’ climate, that’s very, very hard to do. So I think I think it was sort of like this combination of everyone feeling really terrified, sad… sad for the industry, sad for the sick, sad for a country that can’t see that culture is a valuable contribution.

In All Honesty draws on anecdotal experiences – could you tell me how you transformed the concept into a podcast?

Liza: So every Wednesday night we met for two to three hours. And then outside of that, the idea was, is that you’ve got 15 hours to fill during that week together or independently. So a lot of it was done independently, a lot of the creative development was done outside of that zone. We would do this catch up every week and checking on everybody. So we sort of had this open forum where we were constantly sort of dropping things in during the week and everyone in the group was making comments. And so we know before we got to the Wednesday what had been developed and where we were at and who sort of want it to happen. Bert [LaBonté] wrote a Facebook post in the very beginning of COVID, and in one of our first sessions when we were talking about the project, we were talking about maybe using it because we had all obviously read and been incredibly moved, and it had opened a conversation. And then at the end of the development, we were like, “Okay, we’ve got this thing.” And it’s really not a play, it’s a podcast. And it stands alone, quite independently from any other podcasting market because it’s not interview based. And while it delivers, we think, really beautifully on a theatrical level, it’s the opposite to see it because it’s, you know, it’s almost confessional.

Amber: People just sort of opened up about all sorts of things. And and then, like, someone might tell an anecdote and then another artist in the group might go, “oh, I think I might know what to do with that.” And not even thinking that it would be a thing, but just sort of like mucking around with something and then all of a sudden it turned into work. It was a really beautiful process. I just have to kind of reiterate how incredible Liza is as a facilitator like that, because that sort of absolute trust and generosity is remarkable.

Gillian: So initially what I started doing is just taking away any stories that someone had told that kind of tickled my fancy and just setting them to music. And then the first one that I ended up with was that Facebook status about [Bert’s] daughter. And that was kind of the beginning of the podcast for us. So to have this opportunity for it to be just telling this story was really something that we would never have considered. So it’s been it’s been really cool. It was nice to not have any parameters around our roles, as well as nothing around the content either.

What has been a benefit of working as a collective?

Liza: I think most of the time we’re most creative when we’re our busiest. And this idea of having time was kind of confronting. So but I think because we sort of compartmentalized and we only had one session a week, we were kind of limited to we do the stuff outside of that. But in that time, it really was a great kind of creative outlet for everyone. I mean, COVID’s kind of forced everyone to pivot slightly out of their comfort zone and adapt and change and, I think especially for arts, it’s a good choice. But yeah, I thought this group would be able to support each other in the sense that we come from different aspects of the industry, and had the hope that something good would come of it. I just felt like this is going to be a great thing to and to see what comes of it. And what it ultimately ended up being was kind of a lifeline, you know, like there was a massive amount of vulnerability in all of us at that time.

Amber: If we’re going to take something away from COVID, I think it’s to try and make new connections and reach out and connect with other artists, and have the confidence to approach people and pursue these ideas. Because at the end of the day, everyone just wants to work. If you’ve got passion behind something, just really go for it and get the people that you love and respect together, because chances are they’re going to say yes. And it will empower artists, so that we’re not reliant on superstructures that just can’t help us when things go pear shaped – I think the industry has sort of we’ve forgotten there are other ways of working, and COVID has reminded us. And if we can kind of continue to connect with that, I think it’s there really interesting ways of working, truthful ways of working, honorable ways of working, and very quick ways of working, because there’s nothing there’s nothing in the way of it. Like that’s what I think has been incredible about this. The sheer amount of work that was able to be put out during those weeks is incredible. Absolutely incredible.

Gillian: I just wrote a lot of songs and music it in a way that I hadn’t really before. And I think what it does, as well as giving you that kind of platform to create all different kinds of work, is it also just gives you a brains trust and gives you that kind of collective to be like “here’s a group of people that I have a shared experience with that I can use as a sounding board for new work, for new ideas, for workshops, for development,” which is just one of the most helpful things. You’ll have very different experiences and backgrounds. So it gets just it’s just really helpful to suddenly have a creative family of sorts, which you build anyway, a career in the industry. You know, like there are certain people that when I’m making a new show, I’m like, well, I’ll get these people to come and have a look at it and give me notes. And this is just sort of come as a ready-made unit in that regard, which is really nice. So it’s lovely to know that there’s just a future within that group. It’s collaboration as well.

For more information and streaming links, visit the Tinderbox Productions website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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