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BEHIND THE SCENES with Sarah Geis


First, a couple of questions about Dear Santo Toribio. The piece sounds like a prayer. How did you use music, sound effects, and voice to create this feeling? And why

I interviewed about a dozen members of Saints Peter and Paul Church for this piece, and the very first thing each one of them showed me was the "miracle book," a small notebook next to the statue of Saint Toribio where visitors write down immigration miracles they have experienced, and petition the saint for help. The book has become a beautiful communal prayer and I wanted the shape of my story to reflect that

The praying voices at the beginning and end of the Dear Santo Toribio are straight from the miracle book, with ambient sound from a church service and music layered underneath to underscore the holy feeling. The people I interviewed delighted in telling me the story of Saint Toribio coming over the border (semi) illegally, and I really wanted that section to come alive. I heightened the suspense by adding a background beat, and then added truck sounds to create more of a scene.

The music in the piece is an odd patchwork/mash-up, which seems fitting for this Mexican-Oklahoman community. Saints Peter and Paul congregant Solista Marconny wrote that great "Santo Toribio" ballad.

This is very much the story of a community, and toward the end of the production process I decided to take my voice out of the piece entirely. Some of the best tape was in Spanish, but I couldn't envision hearing a voiceover translation in the non-narrated piece, so I did some jigsaw puzzling to work around it.

Dear Santo Toribio was part of an hour-long collaboration between This Land Press and State of the Re:Union. Abby Wendle, my producing partner at This Land Press, as well as SOTRU's Delaney Hall and editor Taki Telonidis, were all incredibly helpful with this story.

We're thrilled to welcome you to the Third Coast staff beginning January 2014. What drew you to radio in the first place?

In college I was studying fiction writing, and was starting to dabble in documentary film when I encountered Dave Isay's documentary Ghetto-Life 101 . It's the story of two teenage boys living in the Ida B. Wells housing project in Chicago. Dave gave them tape recorders to record their day-to-day lives, and worked with them to shape the story. I was blown away by the cinematic quality of Ghetto-Life 101 and how the teens - with recorders and microphones in hand - had license to interact with their surroundings in a new way.

Long story short, I dropped the film thing, packed up my bags and drove from Oregon to New York City to intern for Dave's new StoryCorps project.

What excites you about taking on the role of managing director?

What doesn't excite me?! For starters, the managing director role plays to two of my strengths: thinking critically about story, and building relationships.

During my first two years at StoryCorps, I worked as a facilitator, traveling the country in a mobile recording booth, conducting and editing interviews. At the time, StoryCorps was concerned that we were mostly attracting NPR-listeners to the booth, but we wanted to tell a much more representative story of the country. This became my mission in 2008 when I was chosen to open the StoryCorps office/booth in San Francisco. To bring diverse voices to the booth, I developed partnerships with scores of community organizations throughout the Bay Area. I led interviewing workshops and held listening events with members of these organizations, and found that I loved the work.

I'm looking forward to helping Third Coast build new partnerships across the country, to bringing my curatorial ear to Re:sound / Third Coast Podcast , to planning this year's Conference and to creating a new series of Chicago-based workshops that we plan to debut in the coming year (ish).

Radio is going through such a transformative time right now, and I feel lucky indeed to be part of this changing landscape from my perch at Third Coast.

What story have you heard recently that you're recommending to others?

I recently drove from Tulsa to Chicago (straight, flat, check out this sunset) and spent much of the time catching up on Nate DiMeo's Memory Palace podcast. Memory Palace episodes are meticulously crafted, short pieces of writing about historical events, put to music. One of my favorites is Dreamland , about a Coney Island amusement park. In four minutes, Dreamland packs in an incredible amount of surprise, joy, and wonder, and never feels precious or contrived. It's like the perfect grown-up bedtime story.

What's a favorite memory from a recent Third Coast conference, screening or event that you've attended?

Last month I went to (former artistic director) Julie Shapiro's final Third Coast Listening Room -- an evening at Chicago's Alliance Francaise, listening to the wonderful Who Killed Lolita? by Mehdi Ahoudig and Slivain Gire of Arte Radio. It was a low-key, work night kind of thing, brightly lit because we needed to see the English translation. The story was entirely in French! But the room was packed and people were transfixed. Listening to to an entire hour of radio in a language most of us don't speak?! I mean, who does that? It was magical.

Milk chocolate or dark chocolate?

I'm worried if I tell you now that I'm more of a savory person, you'll kick me off the team (but, when pressed: hot fudge sauce, vanilla ice cream).