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 “The Texture of Glass”
This piece was definitely a learning experience. I came into Transom inspired to create pieces on visual arts and artists. So I used our first assignment, which was a “Creative Life” profile, as an opportunity to pursue this interest. And this is where the struggle began. A struggle to find, a struggle to develop and a struggle to structure.
First, I had a hard time finding a subject. To be honest I did leave calling people I was interested in profiling to the last minute, mainly because I was scared and felt like I was imposing on them. Initially I wanted to do a story about the intersection of art and science. But after a week of fruitless conversations with artists who were scientists and scientists who were artists — who inevitably lived in another state or were on sabbatical — I finally found M.J. Levy Dickson, a glass and installation artist based on Nantucket. Luckily M.J. was available to speak with me — she was actually in the midst of preparing an installation for the 2014 edition of Appearances, an eco-arts festival in Provincetown. The timing could not have been better. I went with M.J. to her glassworks studio, did a one-on-one interview in her car, and shadowed her during the install. The interviews went really well. I enjoyed talking to her about art, ideas about perception and sustainability, and aesthetic value. Ideas that, I soon found out, would be very difficult to translate into a cohesive narrative.
I initially approached my scriptwriting as though I were writing an essay. You know, thesis and three supporting arguments — the whole academic thing. Well, this sort of structure did not exactly translate into compelling radio. And I struggled. And I struggled to break free. I must have gone through nine drafts with three different opening scenes — all of which felt disjointed and (to be honest) boring. In the midst of this my computer got water damage and died. Luckily my hard-drive was not damaged, so my tape was saved. But this added a whole other layer of stress to the process.
Finally, the night before I was supposed to voice my script I figured out how to make it work. I had just gone to my room to try to nap and (of course) could not sleep. My mind was racing. Eventually, I started thinking about radically changing the existing structure and starting with the end. I grabbed some scraps of paper and wrote my new script freehand — in margins and scribbles — in about 20 minutes. This worked. The piece fell together and finally felt resolved. No more struggle with thesis and arguments and scenes. The narrative dictated everything. Ultimately, I learned to trust the flow. Not procrastinate on contacting sources. And, roll with the punches — when you’re working with technology anything can happen. It was a difficult, but very instructive process.
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