Between a rock and a fish gap: Two students help turn a podcast into an international sensation


Amid the COVID-19 lockdown, a collection of creatives from Northern Virginia, including Dolly Lebow ‘24 and Ciara Curtin ‘24, banded together to create the chart-topping, mystery-filled, fictional podcast titled “Rockfish Gap.”

The “Rockfish Gap” podcast follows the story of investigative journalist Jessica Matthews as she attempts to uncover the truth surrounding the mysterious disappearance of four teenagers at Shenandoah National Park in the middle of a pandemic.

“Basically, it’s this mystery but also a coming-of-age story about these teenage kids,” Curtin said. “Inspiration was definitely drawn from real stories and actual missing hikers cases, but it totally took on its own spin.”

Lebow added that the podcast was “a quarantine passion project.”

“It was a way for listeners to immerse themselves,” Lebow said. “Even though there was a pandemic in the story, you can kind of live vicariously through the characters on their adventures in the midst of lockdown.”

Before working on “Rockfish Gap”, Lebow and Curtin did not know each other, but through a Zoom call for the podcast, learned that they were both attending the College of William and Mary in fall 2020. They have been friends ever since.

Both ladies joined the project through the recruitment of some mutual friends — Colter Adams and Andrew Nguyen, writers and producers on the podcast. Curtin works as an actress and began doing voiceover work her freshman year of high school. Curtin shared that she and Adams had previously collaborated together in theatrical productions at their high school, so he reached out to her to play the role of Maria.

“I was approached by Colter and he just said, ‘Hey, I’m working on this thing and I know you do acting and voiceover work. Would this be something you would like to be a part of because I think I have a role for you?’” Curtin said. “I just always want to support Colter in his endeavors, and I feel like we have always done that for each other over time. We just share music and art we create, so this kind of just felt like that.”

Lebow served as the head graphic designer on the podcast. She shared that prior to her work with the podcast, she had no background in graphic design and got involved as a favor for Nguyen. “This is the first project I ever did,” Lebow shared. “Andrew put on his Instagram story ‘looking for graphic designers and artists,’ and as a joke I slid up and said ‘sure.’ A couple days later, he said ‘Hey, can you try something?’ and I said ‘Sure, it’s going to take me a little longer because I have to teach myself,’ and I sent them something back and they really liked it.”

The pair expressed that while this was a group collaboration, a majority of the work was done independently then merged together later in production.

“[Production] was very separated into its various components,” Curtin explained. “You had the writers doing multiple meetings with each other where they would write and brainstorm plot. Once they had that they would send the script to the different actors and ask ‘Can you get the lines to us by this day?’ It was three separate facets of creation: production, voice acting and other behind-the-scenes work that just came together.”

Lebow echoed the same sentiment for the process with her graphic design for the show.

“Everything was very organic. It was really enjoyable, no pressure, just kind of doing your thing with guidance from the team,” Lebow said. “They would show me their inspiration and I would make something and they would send back ‘Can you change this?’ — just some back and forth.”

Curtin and Lebow share some of their sources of inspiration for their work on the show. Curtin was inspired by characters on other suspense dramas, such as “Law and Order,” and members of her own family.

“I sort of had in my mind the bystander characters in something like ‘Law and Order’,” Curtin said. “ … Just the drama without being stagey is what I tried to draw on. Also, one of my aunts and her husband are mega backpackers and hikers, and I would also sort of envision her when I was acting.”

Lebow explained that the goal for the logo and other design work for the show was a simplistic nature feel.

“I was heavily inspired for the website background by Patagonia, and there is this t-shirt brand Nature Back that inspired the merchandise for this simplistic nature background,” Lebow said.

Both ladies believe the podcast has allowed them to grow in their respective areas. Curtin stated that “Rockfish Gap” allowed her to practice her craft during quarantine in a fun, relaxed environment.

“Ever since COVID, I haven’t really gotten many jobs or really auditioned for many jobs professionally so it was nice to have something to fill that time,” Curtin said. “It’s a very weird market ‘cause sometimes you’ll go months at a time without any auditions sent to us because nobody needs anything, especially during COVID, so it was nice to have something to do in this realm in a casual way.”

Lebow sees “Rockfish Gap” as a starting point for her future in graphic design, as it has already led to other design opportunities for her.

“‘Rockfish Gap’ was my first ever project and after that I created the merchandise and the logo for my friends Colter and Natalie’s, who are also on the podcast, band called Indigo Boulevard,” Lebow said.

Lebow doesn’t see herself marketing herself for digital design projects in the near future, but is planning to invest in personal endeavors for the time being and gain more technical training.

On the success of the podcast, which charted at number one in Canada and featured in an Apple spotlight, Curtin and Lebow explained that they were surprised yet expectant because of the immense talent and dedication of the cast and crew.

“I was surprised, but part of me when Colter would tell us where we are on the charts I was just like ‘that tracks’,” Curtin said. “We weren’t expecting it to reach this level of success per se, but at the same time because of the people that created it and worked on it, it makes sense because all these people are enormously talented and creative.”

They also emphasized that “Rockfish Gap” is a podcast that can be easily enjoyed across all demographics.

“Not to be cheesy but it’s really for all ages, all audiences,” Lebow explained. “It’s something that is universal.”

On the future of “Rockfish Gap”, Lebow hinted at a potential revival of the podcast over the upcoming winter break once all the cast and crew have returned home from their respective universities.

“All of the main people are in university,” Lebow said. “But be optimistic because I believe we will be working on it over break.”


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