Third Coast Audio at T/F

Posted February 28, 2012

Something that T/F tries to do is challenge your notions of just what a documentary is. One of the stranger events this year is pushing that definition right off the screen: the Third Coast International Audio Festival is bringing seven audio documentaries to Columbia and “screening” them in a darkened theater. It’s called the Third Coast Breakfast Club and it’s playing Saturday at 10 a.m. in Little Ragtag.  

I caught up with Julie Shapiro, Third Coast’s artistic director, who gave me a preview of what to get excited for in this year’s program.

—Scott Pham

TRUE/FALSE: You’re calling this the Third Coast Breakfast Club.  Are we talking weekend detention in the ’80s? Or will there actually be breakfast?

JULIE SHAPIRO: Ha! I mean that Breakfast Club is a signal that there will be coffee and cereal served.

T/F: What kind of cereal?

JS: Well, we’ve been trying to poll our audience to ask what cereal goes best with listening to radio. I haven’t gotten as much response as I’d like, so if you’re hearing this and you have an idea, send a tweet @truefalse and mention @thirdcoastfest as well.

T/F: So what can we expect at the Breakfast Club?

JS: We’ll be in a theater setting at the Little Ragtag Cinema. The lights will go down and you’ll see a video trailer which we were inspired to create after attending T/F for the first time, years ago. And then you’ll see the credits and some animation to tie everything together. But as the radio stories play, there’s nothing on the screen except for a still image.

T/F: Usually when we listen to radio, we’re distracted with whatever we’re doing in that moment. But in a theater situation we’re a captive audience.  How does that change the experience?

JS: I think it just kind of elevates your listening experience. You can really zone in to the stories. And you’re surrounded by people listening carefully.  The whole feel of the room gives you better concentration. So you hear the little nuances, the sound design that producers labor over to help tell their stories—a lot of that is often lost when it comes out of your radio.

When you’re in a theater setting like that, the lights go down, everyone’s quiet, you get swept away by the story.  We think you can have that experience without watching an actual film. We think you can do it by just hearing the audio in a darkened theater.

T/F: The radio stories we’re going to hear aren’t exactly what you hear on the radio. You don’t even hear things like this very often on a show like This American Life, for example. What exactly is this kind of radio? How can you describe it?

JS: Well, we often use This American Life as a starting point, and then say, “that’s one way to tell radio stories.” So I’d say that we curate sound-rich, interesting radio stories about everything and anything around the world.  They’re “documentary” in that they describe the world around us. But we also just talk about general storytelling on the radio. Sometimes they’re personal. Sometimes they’re investigative. Sometimes they’re more in the sound-art realm.

T/F: Tell us about some of the stories you’re bringing this year.

JS: The lights-out screening has seven different stories. All of them reflect on the idea of “Lights out.” So our description is, “Stories of metaphorical and literal darkness: Blackouts, blindness, lost love, and misadventures in space.”

The last story in the screening is a personal favorite of mine. It’s called “First Steps.” It’s narrated by a new father. It’s important not to give away any of the details, but this one had me weeping in public on the L in Chicago. I still remember exactly what stop I was at when I emerged out into the world having just heard this story. Really beautiful, very subtle production. Great storytelling.

T/F: I want to point out a personal favorite that you’re showing.  “Moon Graffitti” by Jonathan Mitchell and Hillary Frank is one of my favorite pieces of the past two years, I think.

JS: It’s an incredible story because it’s one of the only examples of radio drama that we’ve heard that feels contemporary, takes storytelling to a new level, blends fact and fiction, is beautifully produced and really gets you thinking: what if the moon landing happened in a different way? I agree, it’s an incredible piece of radio. We’ve never heard anything like it.