Articles

BYO NOLA-style

This is the third in an occasional series of essays. We hope it will spur a conversation between you and our past Localore producers. They’re ready to to help you “go outside” and tell stories in live spaces across America. We’ll have more news ahead about AIR’s #LocaloreLive! microgrants, which will support innovative approaches to creating new work in the “far corners” of local communities.

We’re proud to introduce you to Eve Abrams and Laine Kaplan-Levenson:

Bring Your Own is a live storytelling series that takes place in unconventional spaces within the New Orleans community. Part of BYO’s mission is to decentralize storytelling, to open up typically uninhabitable spaces, and to invite the influence of physical spaces into stories. We partner with organizations and social efforts to elevate often unheard voices around issues most pressing in our city and throughout society.

The Localore: Finding America radio and podcast project Unprisoned tells stories about how mass incarceration impacts our families, neighborhoods, and beliefs about the criminal legal system. Unprisoned amplifies the voices of those most directly caught in the ripples of our legal system, and contextualizes personal stories within a larger state and national context.

Bring Your Own and Unprisoned joined forces naturally. We (Eve Abrams and Laine Kaplan-Levenson) have been friends and collaborators for years; this outgrowth was a simple extension of each other’s work, allowing the two to cross-pollinate and enhance their networks and projects. Through this collaboration, the city of New Orleans got a visceral feel for an active, growing, and independent media presence in which their participation is welcome.

In 2016, we collaborated on two storytelling events: the first around the theme of “Born on Parole,” and the second on “HEARD: Why The Young Feel Old,” featuring stories from young people. Both events had upwards of 200 audience members. The storytellers were recorded, and their stories have aired on New Orleans Public RadioWWNO. What was unique about BYO’s collaboration with Unprisoned is that the audience bridged several communities—a core group of BYO listeners, a millennial leaning, public radio listening group of folks, with social justice communities and friends and family members of those impacted most directly by the criminal-legal system. There was an incredible energy in this mix of experiences and perspectives. People made contact and heard one another outside of customary bubbles. Instead of hearing about each other, they heard from each other.

For the first event, we wanted a space that was easily accessible to all sorts of folks. We wanted a well known street, easily identifiable, with immediate geographic resonance so that no one would be stymied by trying to figure out where the heck it was. We also wanted something outdoors with an indoor option– which became crucial. An enclosed parking lot owned by an artist on a quiet section of a major artery turned out to be the perfect solution. Choosing event spaces involves thinking about accessibility, theme and the capacity to accommodate your event. It’s not so much about finding something esoteric or far-flung, but more about inviting people into spaces that are in our midst that we might not otherwise enter.

Both events were incredibly powerful, but something that stands out to us about the first event is the level of audience engagement and commitment to the evening. The event was held outdoors, and halfway through the stories the weather turned to a downpour. Instead of running to their cars, everyone crammed into the small indoor space, stood shoulder to shoulder in soaked clothes, and listened without the PA system to the remaining storytellers.

What made the second event electric was the presence and centering of young people and their families. High school and college students bravely took the stage in front of peers and adults inside of an elementary school auditorium. They shared personal stories about the premature weights they face due to the adult-like circumstances they’re forced to confront. Our collaboration propelled Bring Your Own into a more socially conscious trajectory of storytelling, and ultimately has expanded the makeup of the core listenership of BYO.

The collaboration helped Unprisoned transcend radio and podcast waves to connect faces and voices in real time and space.

Laine Kaplan-Levenson produces BYO and is also the host and producer of TriPod: New Orleans at 300, WWNO’s weekly radio and podcast history program. Eve Abrams’s stories regularly air on WWNO. She is the lead producer for Unprisoned, now in production of its second season, and is the editor for Tripod. Both are available to field questions, and you can reach them at lainekaplev@gmail.com and eveabrams@gmail.com.

Please also read Break Form: Making Stories With and For the People and What’s Outside? Public Media 2014. You’ll find downloadable PDFs of both here. These playbooks draw on the experience of Localorians past and present. No doubt you’ll find good tips to get your juices flowing.

If you know other passionate creators who are excited to innovate with live events, tell them about these emails and share the signup link with them, or  tweet that link with #LocaloreLive!