Intro from Jay Allison: Each Transom class takes its own self-portrait. Every year they’ve upped the ante. What began as clever snapshots evolved into The Last Supper, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and now: the iconic 1952 3-D glasses photo from LIFE Magazine (see it at the bottom of this post).
The original image hinted at the future—a time of astonishing technological marvels, but also an era where our eyes are appropriated and we look like zombies. (This, arguably, has come to pass.)
In this re-imagined photo, it may be the ears that are compelling the audience, and this Transom Class has made an incredibly vibrant collection of stories for us to hear. All the best stories create images—unique, memorable, and three-dimensional. As Henry Luce memorably wrote in his 1936 mission statement for LIFE, “to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed…” that also describes the power of good public radio.
NOTE TO PUBLIC RADIO STATIONS: All these stories, plus the stories from all the graduating of the Transom Story Workshop, are available on PRX to license for broadcast.
Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor
If you don’t feel confident, if you’re lacking self-assurance, it’s audible in a story. The story will sound meek. And, there’s nothing meek about these stories.
TSW: Class of Spring 2015
“An Ocean Away” by Mark Bramhill
I tried using sound to create…vivid scenes; the sound and sensation of rowing to make you feel like you’re on the ocean with her, the overwhelming sounds and stress of a typhoon…This wasn’t to use sound design as a crutch, but rather to make these moments come alive — to put you in the boat with Sarah as much as possible.
“One Way To Learn About Violence” by Justin Bull
A couple of our high-profile workshop guests were concerned that this idea, while important, fell on too-well-worn ground. That it might be tough to make it original. As a result, I thought the best way to approach the story would be to make it as personal as possible…
“King Of The Rings” by Jonathan Earle
In terms of coming up with story ideas, just hanging around an interesting place and hoping for the best isn’t enough. You have to also be aggressive (in a good way – curious and persistent, but not pushy) about asking questions designed to uncover story-worthy dramas and personalities.
“The Hidden World Of The Cape Cod Homeless” by Lucy Kang
What finally helped me make a decent story structure was the idea of on-tape hand-offs between characters. The cast of people I interviewed all knew each other and referenced each other on tape…And that was the element that allowed me to keep the story moving along!
“Despair, Inherited” by Catarina Martins
This is something I hope to remember if I ever doubt my ability to handle a difficult interview: you’re allowed to be vulnerable. You’re allowed to make mistakes. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to fix it if you mean well.
“I Want To Believe” by Kolin Pope
This concept of “active tape” was stressed in class over and over as a way to give life and interest to our stories. But it can be kind of hard, at first, to wrap your head around how to get that sort of tape from something that’s already happened.
“Bound To This Room” by Carey Scheer
I decided to place an advertisement on Craigslist asking if anyone living in a motel wanted to share their story. Surprisingly, I got more than a dozen responses. This is how I came to meet James and Alissia. As soon as we met, I knew they were the people for my story.
“Big Drums, No Baton, and a Roasting Swan” by Josh Swartz
…interviews were only half the battle here. Figuring out the best way to record rehearsals was by far my biggest challenge. How do you make 150 people on one stage making A LOT of noise sound good?
“Triggers” by Justine Thieriot
While it’s important to start an interview with a sense of what direction it’ll go in, be open to its detours. Essentially: fight for your vision but don’t try to wrestle unwilling material into something it’s not.
TSW Spring 2015: Lead Instructor’s Notes
by Rob Rosenthal
What’s the greatest contribution the Transom Story Workshop can provide to our students?
This question is new to me. I’d never given it much thought before. But, it struck me on graduation night as each of the nine students in the spring 2015 workshop played a story they produced for a crowd of over 125 people at the Community Hall in Woods Hole.
Is it technical know-how? Writing? Voicing? Interviewing technique? Understanding narrative? All of the above?
I think we do a decent job developing these skills — and then some — in the eight weeks we’re together. But, as I listened to the stories that night, I thought the students might be acquiring something more fundamental during their time here: confidence.
I can hear confidence in their stories — confident writing, voicing, interviewing, production choices… If you don’t feel confident, if you’re lacking self-assurance, it’s audible in a story. The story will sound meek. And, there’s nothing meek about these stories.
Take a listen. See if you can hear the confidence.
About Rob Rosenthal, Lead Instructor
Rob Rosenthal is an independent producer and a teacher. He’s the host for the HowSound podcast — a joint project of PRX and Transom — on radio storytelling. He started and then ran the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies’ radio track for 11 years. And, he is now the lead teacher for the Transom Story Workshop, which launched in the fall of 2011.
About Mary Helen Miller, Teaching Assistant
Mary Helen Miller is a digital journalist who uses different media — audio, video, code, and words — to tell stories, mostly about the South. She works at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and was part of a small team there that was named as a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Local Reporting. She has also worked as a radio producer at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2013. She is a proud graduate of the Transom Story Workshop. You can find more of her work on her website.
*Thanks to Story Workshop Spring 2015 graduates for this GIF.