Intro from Jay Allison: This piece comes from the Transom Story Workshop Spring 2014. The students came from all over to spend two months with us on Cape Cod. Rob Rosenthal and Audrey Quinn led the class and were joined by all of us at Transom, plus Robert Krulwich, Nancy Updike, and a lot of other great producers who happened by. Check out their work. If these are beginners, look out.
About “Just Keep Playing”
Making this piece was an incredibly useful lesson in narrative — finding a storyline and crafting a narrative arc that does the subject justice. I knew I had a wonderful piece of tape with Anne’s description of her disastrous first gig: it’s dramatic, surprising, and has emotional resonance. But it took me several drafts to build from that moment a satisfying, compact story of Anne’s journey to find her voice as an artist. The nugget of a story was there, but that’s just the start; first, you have to recognize its value.
Early drafts were focused on other interesting, but less central facets of the story I was telling — particular hardships she’s suffered, the scene of a local performance, and more on the difficulties of busking and making it as a local artist. I essentially had a collection of scenes and ideas that interested me, but held little narrative movement.
Most importantly, though, my earlier drafts were sad, and lacked energy. I was interested in how hard Anne’s life can be, how she hasn’t exactly “made it” in some big, conventional, American Idol sense — but the thing is, she’s really happy, and she has made it on her own terms. I would have liked to include a bit more in there about how tough things can be sometimes (and would have in a longer piece).
Anne is not sad, she is full of life — and I feel like the final piece I made is too. It maintains a forward motion and is filled with scenes of what drives her. I was reminded of a key lesson about storytelling — interesting scenes and ideas do not make a story, and your preconceptions about what will be interesting can hold you back. Sometimes you just need to get out of your way and look to the subject and its energy to guide you.
I also wish I had recognized the kernel of a story in that moment earlier on — I would have focused on building the scaffolding around it much more than I did. Instead I wandered around in my questions to other areas I felt obligated to discuss — songwriting techniques, process, etc. — rather than recognizing the story I had in front of me. That’s an instinct this helped me develop.
You can find out more about Anne Stott here.
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Nathan’s Sonic ID
The soul of a 1920’s blues player lives in the body of Will Harrington, a teenage white kid from Cape Cod. He belts it out and plays his piano on the streets of Provincetown. How he found his voice is a story for another time — I caught this tidbit of a story about the sometimes-dangerous realities of busking while I hung out with him at his piano workshop.
I was initially worried that his intermittent piano playing during the interview would be a problem. It turned out to be maybe my favorite thing about the piece.