About three weeks before this year’s Third Coast International Audio Festival, two of its organizers (shout-out to Maya Goldberg-Safir and Emily Kennedy) asked if I might want to attend and deliver a Late Night Provocation, one several opening-night, rapid-fire talks meant to challenge, inspire, and ignite the hundreds of audio-makers who converge on the city of Chicago for the festival each year. I waited a couple of days, because even with their offer to waive the cost of registration, I still wasn’t sure I could pull off the flight and the hotel costs. In fact, I was certain I couldn’t. This year has been the most financially unstable of the last five. Hopefully this won’t still be true when the year wraps in December. But it’s very much so in October. I mentioned the offer to my aunt on a phone call a few days after I received it, and as she has done at more times in my adult life than I can count, she told me I shouldn’t miss it, then paid my way there.
Securing professional development opportunities is challenging for freelancers, even more so for single parents. Even we can afford them — and sometimes we can, though rarely without sacrificing something else — it’s hard to attend them if they’re multi-day, out-of-town, and we can’t bring our kids (bringing them compounds the expense and makes it trickier to maximize the learning and networking experiences, since your attention is constantly divided between caring for them and attempt to participate in anything else).
Third Coast, while warm and fuzzy in many ways, is first and foremost a professional development opportunity. I’ve attended once before, back in 2015, and the only in-office audio production job I’ve ever had is one I attained as a direct result of a connection I made at a lunch table there. Just attending and talking to people and exchanging information is deeply valuable, but to be a participant, in any way, can be even more of a game-changer. (I think that will prove to be true for me in the upcoming months, but only time will tell.) I always find myself in the company of people who leave me awestruck. That was no less the case as I rehearsed and waited on line with the rest of the provocateurs.
So with about two weeks from the time I accepted the offer to the opening night of the festival, I started prepping my talk and planning the trip. I was also juggling writing and audio production deadlines (I’m starting to write about culture again. Check here and here.) and parenting and personal stuff.
About a day before the conference, we found out our host hotel was in the throes of a month-long strike and the union and the hotel chain had yet to strike a fair and acceptable agreement. The fate of the festival hung in the balance, as the organizers made the choice to divest from the host hotel as its venue and the hundreds of us who were in route kept refreshing our email to figure out where we would be headed on arrival. New provisions were evolving hourly and for a time, it seemed that the fate of the Late Night Provocations hung in the balance. I didn’t really have time let myself feel anything about that; I’d barely had time to brace myself for the travel and the stage fright. If it wound up not happening, I’d still be there, attending.
For anyone with an ounce of awareness or empathy, it would’ve been difficult to feel disappointment about the conferencing inconvenience while looking into the face of a protesting worker or into the face of a non-union worker who couldn’t afford to forgo the four weeks of wages they’d have to sacrifice to negotiate future gains. For my part, I just kept an ear out for updates. In the end, the Provocations happened after all, but not in the hotel where they’d been originally scheduled. They took place in the cavernous event space where the annual opening night party is held.
There’s no guarantee that I would’ve nailed the onstage sound mix, even if conditions were as favorable as planned. But I definitely flubbed it in the cavern. I think they’re still going to make everyone’s provocations available in podcast form, so if you’re curious about the real-time reading and delivery, you’ll likely be able to hear it then.
But I decided to make a clean version, mixing it the way I heard it in my head. It seemed a fitting move, since my talk, titled, “Folding an Audio Quilt into a Hope Chest,” was all about recreating a world, just as you’d want it to be, for an audience of one. Here it is:
The union and the hotel reached an agreement hours before the festival began. Then, on the first full day, Friday, October 5, a jury delivered a verdict in the LaQuan McDonald murder case. On Saturday, the last official day of the conference, Congress voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. I feel like I’ve never attended a conference or festival at a time when stories like these weren’t breaking, but I can’t recall attending one where life-altering national stories broke back-to-back over the course of a weekend. Stakes seem to be piling high atop one another. Wandering through a convocation of journalists and storytellers is an ideal experience in times like these. You are among people whose ideas and intentions are quick and powerful. You are among people who are awake. You are among those who know enough to be terrified and too much to be histrionic. Even so, it’s still hard to catch our breath, and all I can say, all I can encourage anyone to do, is to find ways to keep themselves and others from fracturing. If the message of the provocation holds any meaning for you, whether you’re an audio-maker or not, I hope it’s that.