Artists collaborate on WHYY movie about Philadelphia life
Originally published in Current, Sept. 28, 1998
WHYY has begun airing components of its year-long Philadelphia Project that will
culminate in December 1999 with a feature-length dramatic film about life in the city.
The project, backed with a $500,000 grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and station
money, is one of a flurry of initiatives announced this summer by
WHYY, within a year after the arrival of its new president, William J.
The portrait of the city will not be drawn in public TV's usual documentary style.
Producer/director Glenn Holsten, coordinator of the project, is commissioning works of
poetry, dance and music, as well as the dramatic scripts by three playwrights. His
tagline: "the drama of everyday life."
"I'm really fond of this city, and wanted to make something that embraced its
beauty and its grit simultaneously," says Holsten.
Holsten's series of radio interviews of various Philly people--airing on WHYY-FM during
Morning Edition Oct. 26 through Nov. 6--will provide material for the dancers,
dramatists and others. He asked the same 20 questions of each interviewee: how they relate
to the city, how the city is hurting, how it can be healed.
The other day he played tapes of the interviews for the three playwrights--Bruce
Graham, Michael Hollinger and Sonia Sanchez--and "you could just see the lightning
bolts striking," Holsten recalls. "One of the writers jumped out of his seat
when he heard the interview with a cab driver."
The dramatists will write three stories, in distinct Philadelphia settings, that
overlap across 24 hours during Fourth of July week in the city. Documentary footage of the
day will be intercut with dramatic scenes, and the commissioned poems and other components
may also be used.
Holsten said the interweaving of stories is inspired by John Dos Passos' Manhattan
Transfer, as well as the work of BBC producer Peter Symes, which Holsten observed
during a fellowship in Britain last winter.
The Pew Charitable Trusts backed the project after experience with two other Holsten
productions, a musical series in 1996, The Sounds of Philadelphia, and a series of
12 monologues last year, First Person Philadelphia.
WHYY began airing the first components of the new project Sept. 15--Words in Place,
short films of poets reading works in and about familiar landmarks and places in the city.
The poets are Daisy Fried, River Huston, Major Jackson, Nzadi Keita, Magda Martinez (she
did the No. 47 bus route) and Gill Ott.
Early next year, Moving Words will feature works by choreographers, based on the
radio interviews. And next summer, WHYY will air A Song for the City, featuring
performances by diverse local musicians.
The project will also offer a web site, including scripts in progress, audio from the
radio interviews, the poems, a producer's diary and other material documenting the
Working with Holsten is Grace Raynor, associate producer. Trudi Brown is executive
That flurry of announcements
Besides announcing the Philadelphia Project, the station this month:
- inaugurated a new 24-hour WHYY Education Channel offering college telecourses and how-to
programs. The project amounts to a prototype of a future DTV channel, but will have
limited reach at first: weekend mornings on Drexel University's channel on the city-wide
cable system, plus a 24-hour feed on the Popvision wireless cable service that operates on
ITFS frequencies leased from WHYY. The channel rebroadcasts telecourses from the WHYY Home
College Service that airs overnight on the station's broadcast channel.
- piloted a new single-topic monthly newsmagazine, Radio Times News Journal, which
aired Sept. 11. Radio Times host Marty Moss-Coane and morning news anchor Martin
Wells co-hosted the program and four WHYY reporters contributed pieces about a police
anti-crime effort, Operation Sunrise.
- passed the 75 percent mark in WHYY's $15 million capital campaign with a $500,000 grant
from the Independence Foundation for a "civic space" in WHYY's rebuilt
headquarters, now under construction. The station will be able to host civic discussions,
lectures and performances in its contiguous TV studio, conference room and open area,
which can be combined in various configurations, according to spokesman Art Ellis. Other
events can be hosted elsewhere.
- announced a new call-in radio series on gardening, You Bet Your Garden, starting
Oct. 3 after Car Talk. Herbal gardener Mike McGrath, the host, is "something
of a character," Ellis says, but McGrath doesn't laugh as much as the Car Talk
guys. WHYY-FM may also add a weekly late-night call-in show, probably Friday nights, which
radio manager Anna Kosof says would "take a humorous look at the news and events of
Earlier this summer, WHYY announced a partnership with the Fairmount Park Commission to
make programming about the park environment, both for broadcast and for use in the park
system. Leslye Mogford, a staff producer, is stationed at the park headquarters and has
begun documenting the commission's five-year, foundation-funded natural lands restoration
project in seven local parks.