Wednesday, March 11, 2009

News from Salt Institute - Alix Blair/ Guest Blogger

Alix Blair, our former intern, is currently attending the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. We thought it would be fun to have her report in from time to time and give us an idea of what goes on at Salt. Here's her first report.
Alix Blair recording in Bhutan on Bhutan National Day

My name is Alix Blair. In 2004 I was an intern with The Kitchen Sisters, helping with the Hidden Kitchens Project. When I was growing up, I never thought working in radio was something just anyone could do. I thought it was like farming or lobster-fishing--you were somehow magically born into. In college, thanks to a marvelous teacher (Beth Taylor!) who began to offer a radio nonfiction class, I started learning about radio, hanging out around the student radio station, and my life was transformed the moment Joe Richman and Jay Allison came to speak to the class. It was an email some years later to Jay Allison when I asked if he could point in me in the direction of the Kitchen Sisters.

From the Kitchen Sisters, my radio adoration took me to the Center for Documentary Studies in North Carolina. A most incredible place with incredible week-long summer workshops in audio production for beginners and for advanced radio producers. I had the tremendous privilege and great joy of working with audio guru John Biewen. The last two years I have worked with CDS, most recently in a non-audio role-- as a photographer with the Five Farms Project. But in all this time, and with the audio pieces I've created, I've never had the "luxury" to dedicate for the long-term to a story, to have intense and constant teacher and peer review, to solely commit weeks to audio work and navigate all the amazing and scary places documentary work can take you. Hence I find myself in Maine in the winter at Salt.

We're here in the end of week three at Salt. Portland, Maine is covered in ice and crunchy snow. Last night Rob Rosenthal, one of the two radio teachers and director of the radio program, in collaboration with the photography teacher Kate Philbrick, had the opening of their show, "Malaga Island: A story best left untold." It was incredible how many people came. Salt's main room had every chair taken and people sat on the floor, lining the hallway on either side. I am always so in love with people coming together as a community around sound. We're all so used to watching TV and movies, or going to an art gallery for a photography show, but coming together to sit with strangers to just listen!

The story at the center, like an onion, all the layers around it.

Back to Salt... we have a mix of classes, each "track" (writing, photography, radio) meets with its own students twice a week and then we all have a class, on Thursdays, to discuss the general ins and outs of documentary work--the ethics, the challenges, learning to be brave when asking a stranger for their intimate story, making very sure not to fall in love with the person you're documenting and not having them fall for you (it compromises the work!). We are about thirty students, with a mix of ages, though most in their mid-twenties. Some have had radio experience before, some have had none at all. In the radio program, we have two assignments before our feature stories--one is doing a promo for a show of our creation, one is a Vox Pop of a question of our choosing. For my Vox Pop, I want to ask people what is the moment they remember feeling like they were an adult, that invisible line that you cross. (My friend Kavanah says it's when you never run out of toilet paper! that's grown-up responsibleness).

So, the end of week three. On Tuesday we are pitching our first stories (we create two) to Andrea DeLeon, NPR Northeast Bureau Chief. I will be doing my first interview tomorrow for a potential story. I have about five ideas for stories collecting in my head. Not sure where they will lead. It's part of the desperation, adventure, falling in love-ness of this radio documentary work.

No comments: