Hearing stories under the stars
A tobacco auctioneer replaced by a machine. Becoming the owner of a cat named Sir Spike Lee. An evangelical campus drug dealer. Childhood summers in Bragtown. These are a few of the stories being shared under the stars this summer by a group of independent audio producers who met at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
The producers continued to gather on their own the past two years, to share work with each other, and now, with the public. The first “Audio Under The Stars: A Community Listening Party” was held in June, and the next will be held Friday [today] at Spectre Arts on Morning Glory Avenue, in the building’s green space near the Golden Belt campus. Those who come to hear the stories can bring blankets or lawn chairs and listen. It’s free.
Elizabeth Friend and Jenny Morgan organized the summer series.
Friend said that in workshop, producers gave each other feedback but didn’t have venues to present their work. Spectre Arts has an outdoor space for people to listen to carefully chosen stories, she said. The green space is walled in and strung with Christmas lights. The June listening party exceeded their expectations, she said, with about 60 to 70 people attending. The theme for July’s Audio Under The Stars is “Fish Out of Water.”
The audio producers met in the Center for Documentary Studies’ continuing education classes, but all have day jobs, Friend said. Hers is being a reporter for 97.9 FM WCHL radio station in Chapel Hill. She covers cut and dried stories about politics, budgets and elections, she said, and this is a different way to play with sound and tell stories.
Two segments she produced for this month’s Audio Under The Stars are “Peach,” about a stripper, and “Dan,” about an evangelist turned college drug dealer turned both. The stories she tells are thumbnail sketches of people she met in Florida, Friend said. After the summer, she’d like the audio workshop to plan another series for next summer, and maybe a podcast. The sound set up for Audio Under The Stars is two large speakers and audio played off an iPhone.
Morgan, who brought the summer series to life with Friend, earned a certificate from CDS in 2013 and does freelance radio editing and producing. For Audio Under The Stars, they were looking for a specific alchemy of stories, she said, featuring local producers or local stories. One story, recorded in 2003, features a tobacco auctioneer from Smithfield who was replaced by a machine and is unsure of his place.
They wanted to make sure the audience was engaged, challenged but not challenged, would meet people in the story and be part of a community, Morgan said.
“We’re interested in strong stories, curated with an ear for community and being engaging,” she said. They also wanted a good story to hear outside with a big group of people.
“I think that audio is an imaginative medium,” she said. There’s no one telling you what to see, she said.
“It allows you to think in kind of an independent way of seeing stories in your mind,” Morgan said. “We started telling stories out loud. It’s very primal.”
Having the listening party outside with a group is a way to experience the storytelling as a community and individually, she said.
After Friday’s, Audio Under The Stars, the final listening party of the summer will be held Aug. 15. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/audiounderthestars.
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