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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

RadioLoveFest Retrospective

by Anna Troester

RadioLoveFest, a multi-day festival co-produced by BAM and WNYC, celebrates public radio and its community of fans. Beloved programs like Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me! and The Moth Radio Hour are presented live at BAM. The festival showcases familiar programs, hosts, and celebrity guests in a theater setting that invites new opportunities and surprises. It returns to BAM for its third year March 10—12, and in anticipation of this year’s lineup, let’s revisit highlights from RadioLoveFests past.

For the inaugural RadioLoveFest in June 2014, the radio programs explored the possibilities of a new format—performance for live audience. Ira Glass and This American Life created an evening of journalism presented as radio drama. Exemplifying this endeavor, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights) performed in his original 14-minute work, 21 Chump Street: The Musical, inspired by a piece of reporting on a high school student who fell in love with an undercover cop.

Ira’s cousin, Philip Glass, created and performed a brand new opera, Help (excerpt at 8:00), based on a charming and true story of an opera singer who accidentally locked herself in a hotel room closet—and unknowingly recorded the experience.

The festival featured an eclectic roster of performing artists showcasing new projects, including a strong Brooklyn-based contingent. With a bit of  stand-up from comedian Wyatt Cenac, who joined musician Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen) on Soundcheck, and a live performance by They Might Be Giants (include show and link if possible), who debuted their song "Hate the Villanelle" on Ask Me Another, the festival fostered genuine hometown love from New York City radio lovers.

Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the weekly NPR quiz program, welcomed fashion guru Tim Gunn (Project Runway) as the featured Not My Job guest. Host Peter Sagal with panelists Mo Rocca (CBS Sunday Morning), Peter Gross (Late Night with Seth Meyers), and Jessie Klein (Inside Amy Schumer) delighted the audience with live versions of familiar games and steady quipping on highlights in the news.

For year two, RadioLoveFest returned to BAM in May 2015 with another exciting lineup of old favorites and new ideas, showcasing a wide range of topics and personalities from Richard Rodgers to Mexico’s fascination with Morrissey and Death, Sex & Money.

Delving into scientific and philosophical questions, RadioLab hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich spoke with neurologist and author Oliver Sacks in one of his final public interviews. RadioLab producer Molly Webster shared a fascinating true story of astronomer Summer Ash (who coincidentally leads BAM’s A Look at the Stars events) and her revelations about the human heart after undergoing surgery (RadioLab Live: Tell-Tale Hearts). With sound effects by So Percussion and recordings of human heartbeats, some viewers were so moved they actually fainted…though no one was hurt. (More here at 23:12.)

There was no shortage of personal stories from well-known figures. As part of The Moth RadioHour, actor and teen-icon Molly Ringwald shared a touching and true story of how she ended up in the principal’s office with her daughter. In a wonderful role reversal for Fresh Air listeners to witness, host Terry Gross took the interviewee’s chair in a conversation with the ever-candid Marc Maron for a peek into the mind of a woman who has made a successful career of interviewing others.

Political conversation, classical performance, and pop culture celebration rounded out the festival. Brian Lehrer moderated a heated discussion with scholars and commentators on the subject of
Islamophobia. WQXR hosted a 13.5 hour piano sonata marathon. And notably, On the Media’s Brooke Gladstone presented a screening of Galaxy Quest featuring Alan Rickman, while John Schaefer presented The Man Who Fell to Earth featuring David Bowie. Recent tributes to those passed remind us of their brilliant contributions in those films and beyond.

For the third annual RadioLoveFest, we will be joined by Garrison Keiller, Edward Snowden (via live video), John Cameron Mitchell, Rosie Perez, and others for another year of poignant personal stories, fresh ideas, and riveting performances, and the unpredictable.

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