Podcast News

The Heart breaks new ground for intimate audio storytelling with an exploration of sisterhood

Award-winning podcast artist Kaitlin Prest and her newest collaborator, her sister Natalie Prest, talk about the process of working together for the newest season of the critically acclaimed series, The Heart.

The Heart: Sisters is available wherever you get your podcasts

Two women in dresses and curly hair dance against a flowery background. There is a gauzy effect on logo. The title Sisters is in lime green across the tile.
Artwork for The Heart: Sisters, a new narrative series from creator Kaitlin Prest featuring her relationship with her sister, Natalie. (The Heart)

Award-winning podcast artist Kaitlin Prest is back with a brand new season of the popular, critically-acclaimed series The Heart and this time the mic is turned to those closest to her — her family.

In the first part of the season, Sisters, Prest explores her relationship with her younger sister Natalie. Interspersed with decades-old archival tape from their childhood, Sisters documents a changing dynamic between two sisters who love each other deeply. When faced with a mental health crisis — and the start of the pandemic — the duo have to go deep to salvage their precious bond. The second half of the season, which focuses on their father, comes out in June. 

The Heart has always explored questions of intimacy and love — including the widely lauded "NO" series and Peabody Finalist "Silent Evidence" among others — but not quite in this way before, Kaitlin says. 

"I'm a maker that focuses on romantic relationships and intimacy and asking big questions about love and what does love look like," Kaitlin said. 

"[We're] helping people to see the beauty of sisterhood and the ways that a love story about two sisters can be just as dramatic and just as heart wrenching and just as romantic as any love story."

A co-creation 

The Prest sisters, who grew up in Ontario, are two years apart (Kaitlin is the oldest). Like many siblings, they were slotted into archetypes in their family dynamic — Kaitlin the troublemaker and Natalie the angel. To their surprise, the duo came to see each other differently in their adult lives and became very close, so much so that Kaitlin hired Natalie to work for her company, Mermaid Palace.

That coincided with the start of the pandemic and the start of this collaborative documentary — something Kaitlin says was a dream project. 

"In all the projects that I've done, my hope and dream was always to co-create with the people who I'm talking about in the story," said Kaitlin.

"It's not just a story about sisters, it's also a co-creation that was made by the sisters who are trying to tell this story."

Kaitlin (with long, brown hair) sits with Natalie (short cropped blonde hair) at the piano.
A childhood photo of Kaitlin (front) and Natalie (back, in the Roots sweater) Prest. (Photo taken from Prest Family album, submitted by Nancy Prest )

Having it be a co-creation, she said, led to a more honest depiction of their relationship. 

"It's also another level of truth telling because the people who architected the story are the people who lived it. And so there's all these moments where we had to kind of really battle over what truth we were telling and we were coming up against these limitations," Kaitlin said.

A therapeutic process 

For Natalie Prest, who is an artist and jazz musician, there were more practical considerations. Sisters was the very first radio series she's worked on. Getting to the point of both living and recording one's life was a revealing experience.

"It felt like a weird superpower that had unknown effects," she said, laughing. "What are the repercussions of this ability to go back to an argument we had and hear exactly how I said these horrible statements?"

Like other creators who make their lives the subject of their art, Natalie also had to decide just how intimate she would want to be in the series for all to hear and whether she would take her big sister's lead where recording has been a constant companion. 

"There was a moment where I had to figure out where I wanted to draw my line because this is not the thing that I'm used to doing," she said.

Two women are wearing brightly coloured clothing and wigs. Both are carrying keytars.
Natalie and Kaitlin Prest are dressed up as characters from the 80s cartoon show, Jem and the Holograms, as they attend JemCon, a convention for fans of the beloved Jem and the Holograms franchise. (Photo submitted by T.C at JEMCON 2014 Truly Outrageous in Toronto)

Both say the process has been therapeutic as they battled difficulties along the way. 

"These past two years have been the hardest period of me and Natalie's relationship for a lot of different reasons," Kaitlin said. 

"But because the difficult period was in service of something bigger, somehow it made it easier to go through."

Kaitlin said the microphone opened up spaces for conversations that never would have happened otherwise.

"I felt safer talking to my sister," said Natalie. "I hit the recorder so that I could bring it up and know that it was, yeah, possibly going to be used in a story about our lives, you know, and that this might be important for someone."

The miracle of love

Ultimately that's what the sisters hope listeners take away from their series.

"I just hope the people are able to see our story and take that time to engage with their siblings in an honest and authentic way," said Natalie. "[If] people can give their siblings a chance to air those resentments, put them all out on the table and maybe they won't, like, hate you forever."

Kaitlin and Natalie Prest embrace on a warm summer day. They stand in front of many green trees on a sunny day. There is a city scape in the distance. They are wearing very flowery costumes.
Kaitlin and Natalie Prest embrace on a warm summer day. (Tharanga Ramanayake)

Kaitlin added she's trying to appreciate the miracle of the different kinds of love that she has in her life.

"Your family are people and sometimes you forget that It's like you just treat them like your punching bag and maybe it's worth it to take a step back and be like, actually, maybe it's not fair for me to take my anger out on my family and my closest people."

This season of The Heart is a production of CBC Podcasts, Radiotopia and Mermaid Palace.