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Monday, March 16, 2015

With Mobile Booth, StoryCorps hopes to branch beyond NPR listener base

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2015 at 5:11 PM

click to enlarge Shane Mutter, President of Doerr Furniture, addresses a small gathering in front of the Story Corps Mobile Booth at a press event March 16. Doerr is hosting the booth until April 8.
  • Shane Mutter, President of Doerr Furniture, addresses a small gathering in front of the Story Corps Mobile Booth at a press event March 16. Doerr is hosting the booth until April 8.

When the trumpet player Aurelien Barnes went into the StoryCorps airstream trailer parked outside of Doerr Furniture (914 Elysian Fields Ave.) this morning, he told stories with his mentor, the horn player Oscar Washington, about what it meant to come up in New Orleans playing music. The two men asked each other questions, told stories and left the booth with a CD recording of their conversation. But, Barnes says, he didn't tell the stories for himself. "It's more for other people than for me," says Barnes. "Because I know my own stories. I don't really need to hear them. So I like the fact that they're out there for other people to listen to, because other people can learn something from it or find it interesting." 

The StoryCorps Mobile Booth, which tours the country collecting interviews conducted between two people who know and care about each other, returned to New Orleans March 12 and will be recording until April 8. The Mobile Booth was last in New Orleans in 2010, and this time around story facilitators hope to hear from a diverse and ever-changing population of the city. 

"New Orleans is a gloriously culturally diverse city, and so much of what StoryCorps wants to do when it enters community is to record those voices," Dina Zempsky, director of the Mobile Tour tells Gambit. "To really, very genuinely be able to capture, preserve, archive and hopefully broadcast the stories and voices of that community."

Zempsky says the Mobile Booth is specifically targeting the Latino community that's come to New Orleans post-Katrina. "We have done a lot of outreach to that community and hopefully we capture some of those stories," she says. 

StoryCorps reserves about 20 percent of its interviews at every tour stop for the voices of people who are not necessarily public radio listeners. "Because otherwise," says Zempsky, "our stories would sound pretty similar. Of course we love our NPR listening community, and we know they're going to make interviews because they'll hear the promotions on NPR. But we work very very hard to bring in stories of the local community."

Part of making that diversity a reality has been reaching out to local NPR affiliate WWNO-89.9, who helped the non-profit reach out to community organizations like the Neighborhood Story Project, based out of the University of New Orleans. WWNO will also produce a handful of stories collected at the booth to air on local radio. 

The recording booth is cozy and intimate and faces the two storytellers across from one another. Zempsky calls the space "sacred," and says it's capable of producing some real magic for participants once they're inside. "It's very quiet, it's very measured," she says. "Most of us don't spend just 40 minutes talking to someone we care about anymore, and all sorts of magical things come out of that space."

StoryCorps airs every Friday on NPR during Morning Edition.

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