Behind the Scenes – StoryCorps
Support StoryCorps and help preserve the stories of our time in America Donate

Life on the Road: Adventures with StoryCorps’ Mobile Tour Staff (July 17 – July 20, 2022)

Quincy, WA-July 17, 2022

Hello from Quincy Valley! We are in this lovely city for some field recordings. A field recording is when we pack up our equipment and set up at a nearby organization to record with their community members.  In the past, we’ve gone to homeless shelters, women’s homes, and small community libraries. We will spend three days at the Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum (QVHS&M) in partnership with the Initiative for Rural Innovation & Stewardship (IRIS). QVHS&M is the heritage and cultural hub of the Quincy Valley community and IRIS works to foster sustainable, rural communities by gathering and sharing success stories that enhance a sense of belonging, inspire action, and build community. We are excited to see these two organizations in collaboration with each other through these recordings.

Besides being in a new location, these recordings are really special because they have been coordinated by our partner organizations. So far, we have gotten lots of powerful stories about agriculture and immigration here at the museum. For me, field recordings are such a personally moving way to learn more about the communities we are spending time in.

Here are a few pictures of our sweet set-up:

We are thrilled to be here! Each field recording day brings new themes to the space and is rewarding in its own way. Maybe we’ll come visit you someday! 

Quincy, WA-July 18, 2022

Today I wanted to introduce you to Harriet and Nancy, who are making these field recording days possible!

Left: Harriet Weber (director of operations Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum); Right: Nancy Warner (IRIS Archive Program Manager.)

In addition to recruiting so many community members to come out and record, they’ve also been acting as fabulous interviewers for some of our participants. They were kind enough to let me interview them on the process in the midst of our recording days together.

S: So, IRIS is based in Wenatchee, WA and serves many communities. Why did you want StoryCorps to record voices from the Quincy community?

N: Well, a lot of people drive through towns like Quincy and it doesn’t look like that much until you know some of the stories. And then when you know some of the stories and you have some relationships with the people it looks completely different! You just see it with new eyes! I think we all need to be a little bit more cognizant of where we live and our connections with people. 

S: I’ve definitely been feeling that as we hear the stories from this community! Before we finish up, I wanted to switch gears and ask you one of the StoryCorps Great Questions: What are you most proud of?

N: Well, I guess I would say that I’m proud of having had this idea in the 1980s…I’m proud that I actually helped turn the idea into reality and created an online archive. It’s been a lot of hard work!

Before we head into Harriet’s interview, here are a couple of visuals of the beautiful Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum that she directs. Have I mentioned that we love recording here?

S: What made you want to form a community partnership between StoryCorps and the Quincy Valley Historical Society & Museum?

H: Well I think it’s been a multi-year mission of ours to collect oral histories, and I’ve been doing that on my own for probably 15 years…and a quote I’ve always loved is “in the end we’ll all be stories”.

S: I love that! I’ll have to look up who said it! (Update: it’s Margaret Atwood). So, what does having StoryCorps here in Quincy bring to you and your community?

H: It brings a level of professional recording here and nationwide archive of people’s stories, and people who are familiar with StoryCorps, that’s really special to them too because they’ve heard snippets on the radio and they understand the importance of it. This work is really close to my heart and so this has been wonderful because it’s allowed us to have some support and help in making this happen. 

S: Before we head out, in the spirit of StoryCorps recordings, I’d love to ask you one question from the StoryCorps Great Questions List: What are you most proud of?

H: I’m most proud of the fine human beings my children turned out to be.

Quincy, WA-July 21, 2022

While Teriyana and I spend time on the ground with participants and the partner organizations we work with, our outreach manager, Lea Zikmund, coordinates with them from our Brooklyn office. Well, usually she does…she’s actually on the ground with us in Moses Lake right now for a surprise visit! I spoke to her about the value of partnering with organizations like Nancy and Harriet’s.

S: What is the purpose of outreach on the Mobile Team?

L: In order to ensure that we are connecting fully with each community we visit, we conduct community outreach. Prior to arriving in a location, we research local organizations that are doing good work in that area and ask them to be involved. Through this model, we bring in unique voices and stories that add to the fantastic mixture of voices in our archive. Our goal is to uplift all of the voices everywhere we go as much as we can.

S: What is the purpose of field recordings?

L: Sometimes when we form partnerships, it’s easier for a community partner to have us come to them. Rather than record at our regular location for the entirety of a stop, our team will take a day trip to another organization and set up there to record. 

That’s all for this week, friends! I’ll catch you next week for more updates on our adventure!

-Sarah

Click here to read the first installment of the Mobile Tour series.

Click here to read the second installment of the Mobile Tour series.

Life on the Road: Adventures with StoryCorps’ Mobile Tour Staff (July 13, 2022)

Moses Lake, WA – July 13, 2022

Hi again from Moses Lake! Sarah here. Today, I’m going to show you what a recording day looks like!

Our schedule runs 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM in whichever time zone we find ourselves. Two of us facilitate per day, and we usually have a total of six recordings (three each). However, today we only have 5, which will give me a bit of wiggle room to write to you all!

10:00 AM – When we arrive at the recording space, we set up our equipment, review our schedule notes about each recording, and wait for our first participants. 

10:00 AM – While Teriyana is facilitating the first recording, I catch up on databasing previous conversations. For every public recording, we input locations, descriptions, log notes, and keywords, amongst other information, so that archive visitors can use it as a resource. It looks like this:

For me, databasing is a great way to process what happened in a recording. After hearing so many meaningful conversations, it’s easy to feel oversaturated with emotion every now and again. Putting conversation topics into words really helps. Sometimes I also fear that I’ll forget some of the impactful moments to which I’ve had the privilege of bearing witness. However, writing down summaries etches stories a bit more deeply into my memory, and participants’ wisdom always pops back into my mind at the randomest of times–for example, this morning I was working out when I remembered the advice of 10-year-old Sebastian: “You should be helpful to yourself and say, ‘You can do this! Can’t give up!’”

11:00 AM – Time to prepare for my first recording of the day! Teriyana and I hang out here while we wait for participants. 

When participants arrive, we walk them through the required paperwork so that we can get to the fun part–recording! After letting participants know how the process is going to look, I adjust their microphones.

Here’s me adjusting the mic for an extra sweet participant in Pensacola:

Next, we do a sound check. I usually ask, “What’s your favorite thing to do in [insert current city]?” and get some ideas of what I should do around town as I adjust their sound levels.  

Then, we hit record!

Recordings are 40 minutes long. While participants talk, I take notes for our archive, keep time, check sound levels, and, of course, listen. While I also jump in with a question or two every so often, I try to keep the majority of the conversation between participants, as they know one another’s narratives better than I do, and it’s often their relationship dynamic that makes a story special.

Note: We wear masks while facilitating (this photo is staged).

After recording, participants can choose whether they want to keep their conversation private or share it publicly. There are so many places where StoryCorps conversations can be shared, depending on participants’ preferences and life experiences, but I won’t dive into the details for now (unless, of course, you write on our survey that you’re particularly interested in this)!

Finally, it’s time for photos! It might seem counterintuitive to take photos of people after an experience that often evokes both laughter and tears–people might not look like their most polished selves. However, there is something special about documenting what people look like after sharing a deeply meaningful conversation. Unlike the nerves that so often precede recordings, there seems to be a kind of post-recording euphoria. I didn’t realize the full extent of this feeling until I participated in a StoryCorps signature recording myself. If you take a peek at our online archive, you might notice the glow people seem to carry with them after recording. 

This is what our photo backdrop looks like. This picture is from when the new backdrop first arrived in the mail and, if you can’t tell, we were excited!!

And here is what our backdrop looks like in photos: 

Left: Eunice Cho, Participant Relations Associate (former Mobile Tour Site Manager).

Of course, before leaving participants can feel free to make a donation or grab a StoryCorps pin!

12:30 PM – What a joyful recording! Margaret, the interviewee, both has a fascinating family history and has done so much volunteer work in the Moses Lake area. I always find it so inspiring to hear about how others engage with their communities! Now, it’s time to database while Teriyana facilitates the next recording.

1:00 PM – Lunch time! There’s a sweet park outside of the Civic Center where I like to catch some sun while I eat. 

2:00 PM – Time to prepare for my next recording!

3:30 PM – My participants are heading out to take pictures of the StoryCorps airstream. I really adore conversations that remember loved ones. In this one, Chelan and Michael talked about Paul Lauzier, who created the foundation for which they both work. There was a lot of laughter and a few tears too.

…Aaand back to databasing!

4:15 PM – I’m all done archiving both conversations, and this is around the time I’d be ready for my third recording of the day. However, there were only five recordings today, so, instead, I’ll leave you with a few sneak peeks of today’s conversations:

Margaret Schiffner (84) and Ann Schempp (45)

Michael Rex Tabler (76) and Chelan Kleyn (48)

Click here to read our previous installment of the Mobile Tour series.

Click here to read our next installment of the Mobile Tour series.

2016 StoryCorps Gala

StoryCorps participants, supporters, and staff celebrated a series of remarkable stories and storytellers at our annual gala Wednesday at Capitale in New York City. The evening, themed “Who We Are: A Celebration of American Stories,” explored our shared and positive humanity through animated shorts and personal stories.

“Who We Are is a little ripple of hope to remind us of our best and truest selves,” said StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay, in his remarks to the crowd of more than 300 guests. Through the outstanding leadership and generosity of our supporters, the event raised more than $750,000 for StoryCorps’ continuing work preserving and sharing humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people, and create a more just and compassionate world.

Hosted by two-time Tony Award-winning actor, singer, and musician, Michael Cerveris (pictured above), the program featured recent StoryCorps participants whose personal stories defy intolerance and hate. Among the featured participants were Alex Landau, whose encounter with Denver police in 2009 was the subject of the animated short, “Traffic Stop,” which has been viewed more than 20 million times and received a 2016 Emmy Award.

“StoryCorps creates a platform for narratives that exist in our communities and gives us opportunities to be heard and provides us with the ability to make change,” said Alex Landau, in remarks from the stage following a screening of “Traffic Stop.” He was joined at the event by his mother, Patsy Hathaway.

unspecified2Chris and Gabe López (pictured above) spoke about the importance of their StoryCorps conversation, in which 8-year-old Gabe discussed coming out as transgender to his mom. Albert Sykes also reflected on the conversation with his son, Aidan, and the opportunity that StoryCorps provided for him to share his hopes and dreams for his son as a Black boy growing up in Mississippi. Mussarut Jabeen talked about being able to share what it means to be a Muslim American and to honor her students who were killed in February 2015 in what has become known as the Chapel Hill shooting.

unspecified5The event also recognized two honorees: the Ford Foundation, one of StoryCorps’ longest-running and most generous supporters (represented by chair of the Ford Foundation Board of Trustees Kofi Appenteng,pictured above left with his wife, Stephanie), and StoryCorps’ Board of Directors Secretary, Dane E. Homes, and his wife, Barbara (pictured below), who together provide outstanding support and leadership for StoryCorps.unspecified5

As has become a tradition at StoryCorps events, each table was equipped with a generous supply of tissues, which came in handy as guests listened to heartfelt personal testimonials and viewed animations throughout the evening.

Sid Radner’s Final Halloween Séance

StoryCorps producer Jasmyn Belcher Morris met Sidney Radner in 2010 while working on a Halloween story. Sid, 91, was an amateur magician from Massachusetts who was once the owner of one of the world’s largest collections of Harry Houdini memorabilia.

radner_lg3-209x300Harry Houdini, the great illusionist and escape artist, died on October 31, 1926 at the age of 52. Famously, Houdini told his wife Bess that he would attempt to contact her from “the other side,” and for a decade after his death, she marked the anniversary with a Halloween séance. In 1936 Bess gave up trying to get in touch.

Others continued to carry on the tradition (without success) and in the 1940s, Sid, a protégé of Houdini’s brother Hardeen, picked up the torch. He eventually christened the yearly event The Official Houdini Séance™, and they continued until his death in 2011 more than 70 years later.

In early-October 2010, Jasmyn traveled to Holyoke to record for StoryCorps (hear their interview below). Sid welcomed Jasmyn into his home, but before beginning the interview, he took her down a flight of stairs to his basement revealing a trove of Houdini artifacts that included boxes filled with old rusty handcuffs and keys, books, posters, and photographs—all having once belonged to Houdini.

Weeks later, after the story aired on NPR, Sid invited Jasmyn (seen below wearing a set of Houdini’s handcuffs) to attend The Official Houdini Séance™ in New York City. JBMHoudiniSid, the séance director, sat at a round table along with several honored guests making up the group’s inner circle. Spectators filled the seats around the table but before the séance could start they realized that the inner circle was one person short. The medium (a conduit between the physical world and the spiritual world) pointed directly at Jasmyn and asked her to join them at the table. According to him she was, “young, fresh blood,”—just what the group needed. She joined hands with the others and asked Houdini to appear (or at least show some sign that he was present). Unfortunately Houdini was not heard from, and sadly, this would be Sid’s last séance.

While honored to have had such an integral part in trying to communicate with one of history’s great performers, Jasmyn, a skeptical journalist, may not have been the ideal person to include among Sid’s inner circle. And although he never had another opportunity to reach out to Houdini from the physical world, we hope that Sid, Harry, and Bess have been spending a lot of time together in the spiritual world.

Happy Halloween from StoryCorps.SeanceJBM3