Ira Glass at Massey Hall

Ira Glass walked on stage at Massey Hall in the dark, with only an iPad lighting his path. He then started to talk, still with the stage completely black, creating the feeling we usually get from listening to his radio show, This American Life: a floating voice, a sort of all-powerful narrator telling the stories of peoples’ lives, following us as we live out our own. When the lights came up after a few minutes, there was Glass: suit, tie, dress shoes, iPad. The stage was empty save for a stool, a water bottle, and a podium for notes. And yet, it was one of the most engaging talks I’ve been to in a long time.

Glass literally makes a living by talking, and it’s no secret that he’s gotten pretty good at it. Still, the journalist nerd in me wasn’t prepared for just how interesting his hour-and-a-half presentation would be.

Taking examples from past This American Life episodes, Glass used his iPad to mix sound bites together live on stage, actually creating a radio show right before our eyes (er, ears). It was really neat to watch him do that, seeing first-hand the different layers that go into a radio show (music, interview, narration, etc.) and the perfect plot timing that’s needed to make a story flow.

The crowd was a large mixture of young and old, a testament to Glass’s ability to connect with a wide array of people (want more proof of that? Check out his balloon animal tutorial. By the way, he totally made a balloon poodle at Massey Hall, and I totally freaked out). It was also interesting to sense that the audience was a combination of journalists and people who were just huge fans of the show. Glass was a sort of mentor to the masses, dissecting episodes to demonstrate how they’re put together (and how his staff continuously makes everyday life so interesting). He explained the This American Life formula, where they basically present a story or walk through a plotline and then summarize the greater meaning behind it, tying us all together by a universal lesson or thought.

 Glass was also incredibly funny and charming, making fun of himself for being a nerd and suggesting that for the episodes that get aired in Canada on the CBC, they change the show’s title to This (North) American Life.

 He opened up the floor at the end of the evening, taking questions from the crowd. Perhaps my favourite answer came when a young woman asked what advice Glass had for young journalists hoping to make it in radio. He told her to get out there and start creating, start telling stories of her own. Find what you’re interested in and what you want to tell stories about, he said, and pursue that. “Don’t be shy,” said Glass. “Be aggressive. Be a soldier and invent your own future.”

~ Sara Harowitz @sarowitz

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