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. Marrazzo.

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 project.

Working with Holsten is Grace Raynor, associate producer. Trudi Brown is executive producer.

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 the week."

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.

Daisy Fried at City Hall

As part of the project, poets are writing about places in the city. Above: Daisy Fried at City Hall.




Executive/fundraiser named c.e.o at WHYY, Philadelphia<*p(14)>

Originally published in Current, Nov. 3, 1997

William J. Marrazzo, 48, a former water commissioner of Philadelphia who has headed several major capital drives for nonprofits, succeeds Rick Breitenfeld this week as president of WHYY-FM/TV. Marrazzo rose to the top of the city's Water Department during a 17-year career there and later served nine years at Roy F. Weston Inc., an environmental consulting firm in West Chester, Pa., departing this year as its president. In the middle of his term as water commissioner, he served briefly as the city's managing director, the No. 2 job in the city government.

Marrazzo was instrumental in raising $35 million in a capital campaign for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, according to WHYY; he is a trustee of the library and its foundation. He also played a key role in the Fairmount Park Commission's $8 million restoration of the Fairmount Waterworks landmark.

He is a board member of the Philadelphia Gas Works, the American Water Works Association, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and has served in the past on the boards of the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Pennsylvania Opera Theater, among other groups. He was named to the WHYY post after a national search by Diversified Search Inc.



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