Take the downtown Kansas City you know now and add some 600 performing and visual arts students to it — all living, studying, playing, and creating in the heart of our burgeoning creative center. And they never grow up and move away! That’s the vision laid out by the Conservatory and its dean, Peter Witte, in their plan for a Downtown Campus for the Arts in KC.
I made this mini-doc-style video not only to promote a September panel discussion at the library but also because I think the Downtown Arts Campus is a really exciting idea. Good for the city’s cultural economy in a measurable, meaningful, and lasting way.
Music courtesy of John Mörk.
If you’re a nonprofit dabbling in video, good on you. Online video is quite possibly the most powerful medium for delivering a message, and — as everyone from Invisible Children to the South Australian government’s rail safety program has demonstrated — it’s especially effective for nonprofits with a good story to tell.
YouTube recently rolled out a powerful, free suite of tools geared especially for nonprofits, many of which were previously available only to ad partners who paid money for them.
Head over to YouTube.com/nonprofits to check it out and apply for an account. You’ll need your 501(c)3 number handy. Note that you’ll be default-enrolled through the Google Nonprofits program, which will prompt you to create a Google Profile for your organization. (If you don’t have one already, I recommend create a new one rather than setting this up through your personal Google Profile).
The YouTube for Nonprofits package includes features such as:
- The ability to live stream on YouTube. (Instructions)
- The ability to place a call-to-action popup in the video player that links to elsewhere on the web.
- Rights to fundraise through a Google Checkout “Donate” button.
- Listing on the Nonprofits & Activism page.
And more cool stuff.
If you’re new to YouTube, check out the nifty Playbook for Good to see how other nonprofits have used YouTube’s features.
Of course, none of this will make your videos themselves better, but the program will help you use interactive functions of the world’s biggest video site (and second-largest search engine) to get your story viewed.
I’ve always been fascinated with writers’ rooms. The most important space a writer deals with is the distance from the mind to the blank page. But what surrounds that conduit, providing a physical platform for the connection, is the room the writer fixes around it. It cannot help but reflect the writer’s personality.
On the austere end, you’ve got E.B. White at his rustic desk in cabin, nothing in sight but a lake out the window. On the other end, there’s the cluttered desk of Stephen King, which welcomes the company of a dog, the writer’s feet, a Commodore computer, and stacks of crap. (For more examples, check out The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz.)
I recently had the opportunity to visit Kansas City novelist Whitney Terrell at his home, not far from his on-campus office at the English Dept at UMKC, where he’s the New Letters writer-in-residence.
I was on an errand of publicity, actually. A few weeks ago, I’d asked him if he’d sign a basketball to give away as a prize in the Library’s March Madness online tournament of books, called Booketology (which was a hit, by the way).
I’d asked him if he’d let me film him sign the ball, but when the day came to drop by his house, I thought, why not have a peek inside his office?
Whitney was game, and so he gave me a tour, highlighting things like the almighty desk, the typewriter he still uses for first drafts, the visual cues he tacks to the wall, and the guitars he jams on with his son when he’s not writing. And then he signed the ball. (And, shortly after that, KU lost, but that’s another story.)
On May 22, 2011, a category EF-5 tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri. Thousands of residents lost their homes, hundreds were injured, and some 190 were killed. Kansas City sent money, food, and help in the ensuing weeks and months. Journalists were sent, too.
Two of those reporters were Laura Bauer and Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star. I recently had the pleasure of filming interviews with both to promote a new book on their and their colleagues’ experiences in Joplin in the storm’s aftermath. Not all writers are good at being interviewed, but Laura and Eric are articulate, interesting people. My coworker Steve (like me, an ex-journalist), conducted the interview off-camera.
Laura and Eric recently spoke at my library, so I made the video below first to promote that event. However, the Star‘s books team liked it enough to ask me for a version to solely promote the book, so I changed a few title screens at the beginning and end.
Interview with awesome and talented KC artist Anne Pearce, talking about her exhibition of 10 paintings at the Library.
This was the most hi-fi vid I’ve worked on so far, mainly because we ran separate sound — first time ever for that, and I wish I could do it every time.
Our curator, Adam, asked the interview questions, and A/V guy Michael helped with the setup (a Flip Cam on a tiny tripod on a stepladder, plus jerry-rigging the lights in the gallery space) and recorded sound. I just did the editing.
I downloaded field-recorded train station platform noise (Washington D.C., I think) to serve as the soundtrack. Note the two chimes that correspond with the titles at the end. Totally dumb luck, that piece of audio synchronicity.
For something completely different, here’s a video I made of patrons doing book reviews at a Winter Reading Party at one of our branch libraries. I love our patrons.
I grew up learning from LeVar Burton. During its quarter-century run, Reading Rainbow brought delight, humor and a sprinkling of sly wit to the educational airwaves, inspiring kids of my generation to think books were cool. The show forever cemented LeVar’s legacy as an advocate of reading and literacy. Among young Gen X-ers and older millennials, the show and its host are universally loved. (Evidence: Guess what Burton sang when he appeared on Community?)
So when it was announced that LeVar would be coming to my workplace, the Kansas City Public Library, on Friday, February 18, to read for a group of local schoolchildren, I wanted to make the most of it. (By the way, I won’t even go into my awkward adolescent love of Star Trek: The Next Generation.)
I’m of course not the only LeVar freak in the world. Fearing that fanboys would storm our substantial but not stadium-sized Children’s Library, we in the public affairs department decided to run a contest on social media to select five fans to meet LeVar. The goal: drive online buzz without driving unauthorized attendance.
Though Facebook‘s new promotional guidelines stymied use of what could’ve been a great platform for this small, local contest, we managed to use Twitter to good effect, which was appropriate given @levarburton‘s massive following. I devised the hashtag #tweetingrainbow for the occasion, and of four days, a total of 35 people posted/tweeted about their favorite childhood books to enter the contest. Of the five who won the chance to meet LeVar in person, several brought their kids.
My role at the event was content producer. I was determined to get a quick two-minute-or-less video of the event turned around before the end of the day. That meant I had to lay aside my inner-geek-child and do whatever it took to get good material.
So, around 1 pm, Flip Cam in hand, I arranged for a quickie interview with LeVar before the reading. I got to ask literally two questions before he was whisked off to talk to one of the bevy of local media people who had come to cover the event. Still, I did manage to get the shout-out and pretty much all of the reading, including the awesome, crowd-involving, Black History-themed performance by local author Shane Evans. I tied it off with some comments from one of our brilliant children’s librarians, Clare Hollander. I edited it and had it online in about 2.5 hours.
My personal interactions with LeVar were not memorable. I don’t even feel like I really got to meet him. He was absolutely great with the children and contest winners, but I was essentially a fly on the wall. But, hey, at least I got this:
An appreciation for Irish modernist literature is not one of the things Kansas City is generally known for. But for the past 14 years, a small community of lit lovers has been celebrating James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, every June.
A worldwide literary day of note, Bloomsday refers to June 16,1904, the date on which all the action of Ulysses takes place. The main plot thread follows the novel’s hero, Leopold Bloom, as he sojourns drunkenly across Dublin, encountering, among others, Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s literary alter ego.
Since the first Bloomsday, in 1954, Joyce fans have held celebrations around the world. In America, events take place all over New York, as well as in Philadelphia at the Rosenbach Museum (which owns Joyce’s handwritten Ulysses manuscript) and Buffalo (home to the Finnegan’s Wake notebooks), to name a few.
In Kansas City, Tom and Nancy Shawver, proprietors of Bloomsday Books, organize the event with help from a band of supporters who enjoy getting together, drinking some Irish stout (preferably the excellent variety produced by the local Boulevard Brewery) and interacting with a text that is long, obscure and baffling to most readers — but beautiful and true to its devoted fans.
A bit of history about the event: Until Bloomsday Books closed its brick-and-mortar doors in 2008 and went web-only, the shop traded and sold used and rare tomes. More importantly, it was an enclave of local literary culture. (Full disclosure: I worked there for the better part of 2004.)
The bookstore’s Bloomsday celebrations have ranged from a few people holding a marathon Ulysses reading, to a street performance on the Country Club Plaza. In its tenth year, tom and Nancy organized an all-day festival complete with an outdoor stage and tent under which Irish bands and dancers performed and the traditional reading of the one-act adaptation Bloomsday, Dublin: 16 June was staged.
This year, the festivities were held in the lovely Irish Museum and Cultural Heritage Center in the lower level of historic Union Station.
The one-act play has been the main event at most of the recent Bloomsday celebrations. Opera singer and thespian Sylvia Stoner assembles a crew of professional actors and rank amateurs (including yours truly) to read the hour-and-a-half script, which condenses the novel to a tip-of-the-iceberg jaunt that includes some of the story’s most memorable scenes.
It’s not your standard dramatic narrative, however. Ulysses the novel is a massive stream-of-consciousness journey that takes place as much in its characters’ psyches as in the real world. And because the play preserves Joyce’s original dialog, it tends to read like a combination of free-verse poetry and obscure but highly animated soliloquies.
The bulk of the play’s action takes place during Bloom and Dedalus’ boozy trip through the shady part of Dublin, consorting with prostitutes and barely escaping multiple bruisings. There’s more bawdiness and rapturous tomfoolery in this short play than you’re likely to get at most nights out at the community theater. And with talented, exuberant actors at the helm, the play is absorbing, fun, delightfully disorienting, and, particularly during Molly Bloom’s famous monologue at the end, transcendent.
The cast of the reading this year included familiar faces from years past: Sylvia as narrator, Erin McGrane (who recently appeared on the big screen in Up in the Air), the inimitable Richard Buswell in multiple roles, including the vociferous Mrs. Purefoy, Larry Greer as Bloom and Cynthia Hyer as Molly.
As a Bloomsday regular for the past six years, I noticed a lot of new faces at this year’s event — and the newbies were noticeably engrossed. A middle-aged Asian man I’d never seen before even shushed a friend and me for talking too loudly by the refreshments table during the play. We sheepishly obliged.
The Bloomsday phenomenon truly is a rarity in the practice of studying literature. What is it about Ulysses that continues to inspire people to keep coming back, to connect with it, to reinterpret it? Recently, a serial digital comic called Ulysses “Seen” gained attention by being rejected from the Apple iPad app store because a few of the panels depicted nudity. (Apple has since lightened up.)
Ultimately this shows that great literature never dies, becomes irrelevant or loses its power — so long as there are people willing to remember it and bring it into a dialogue with their own creative selves.
And it was bloody good fun, too.
I recently had a bit of a bee problem in my apartment here in the otherwise wonderful Westside neighborhood of Kansas City, Mo. As the first video shows, the problem began with a single doomed herald. Then, a few days later, an unprecedented swarm of bees set up roost (hive?) around the outside corner of my building. It was crazy and inexplicable. A few days later, they were completely gone. Though no Attenborough, I used my iPhone to document the story.
A couple of months ago, my good friend Crystal K. Wiebe approached me to create an online video to get the word out about an event she has helped organize to benefit two great local causes: KKFI 90.1 FM and the KC Fringe Fest.
Dubbed Blue Summer Eclectic, the fashion show and music extravaganza takes place on Saturday, May 15, at the Uptown Theater’s Conspiracy Room.
For the viral promo, I worked with the event’s host, local actor, playwright and agent provocateur David Wayne Reed, to produce something on the fast and cheap that would ideally compel people to find out more about Blue Summer Eclectic by virtue of the weirdness of the video’s content — a trailer of the absurd, as it were. Let me know what you think of the final product, and hit the direct YouTube URL for more details.