I remember in acting classes in college, we practiced the concept of listen and receive, often physicalizing this by standing in a group circle and tossing a ball hand to hand. We had to really receive the ball, drawing it close into our bodies. This practice was meant to translate onstage as really listening and receiving and responding truthfully to the given circumstances and your fellow actors. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut onstage.
The fundamentals of interviewing aren’t too different. You want to listen sympathetically and receive what your interviewee is saying in order to put them at ease and have a successful conversation. Of course, when you bring in radio and podcasting, you add sound equipment as well as the textural interest of ambient sound.
Jeanne Baron from NPR sat down with us to go over these concepts and more, giving us a crash course in preparing audio for radio and podcasting. What to consider:
- who to talk to: who s best suited to speak from a given angle?
- why now: answering this question is the foundation of your pitch and influences your story structure
- don’t be mic-shy: stick your mic into your interviewee’s face–about 4″-8″–for the best audio
- audio pointing: ask people to describe what they’re doing, what they’re seeing
- follow the emotional lead: if your interviewee becomes animated or excited about something, follow that
- production values: investing in decent sound equipment will set apart your podcast
After this, we broke into groups and were sent into the Rensselaerville community to interview certain residents. I worked with Sarah and Collin as we spoke with Dennis and Mark, two retired Episcopal priests, about the history of their home, why they moved full-time to town seven years ago, and what makes Rensselaerville attractive to city-dwellers. The two of them spoke in articulate paragraphs, making this interview an easy first outing.
Their house was built in 1830 for the daughter of the “royal family of Rensselaerville”–the Frisbees–and her new husband. White with kelly-green shutters, a pre-Civil War addition to the house sags, and a robin has built its nest in the transom above the front door. Baby birds stretch their necks and open their beaks wide when we ring the old doorbell.
After our interview, it’s a light lunch and then work on drafting introductions to our podcasts, which is what we’ll use our tape for. Chef Neftali Duran arrived, and Jeanne Baron interviewed him as he prepared a Oaxacan-inspired meal. We observed her at work to learn further how to structure an interview, ask questions, capture ambient noise.
Dinner was a feast! Golden tostadas smeared with avocado and sliced radishes; halibut ceviche with avocado; tortas de papas; salsa de pepitas; tortilla chips; and a soup of fish, little potatoes (exquisite), shrimp, thinly sliced green pepper in a tomato-based broth.
I don’t know how well I listened and received during the interviews. I’m slow when it comes to finding those questions to follow the emotional lead, and I sometimes think I go too far down one rabbit hole and into minutiae. Jeanne kept the conversation flowing and kept it focused. During dinner, a couple of people asked questions to get Nef talking about the social justice work he does involving food. I want to get better at pursuing those questions.