"Dos Erres" updates

Jun 1, 2012

Last week's episode, 'What Happened at Dos Erres,' was about a man named Oscar Ramirez who learned that when he was three years old, his entire family was killed at a massacre in Guatemala, and he was then taken and raised by one of the soldiers. He also found out that his biological father, Tranquilino Castañeda, survived the massacre and is still alive. For thirty years, neither Oscar nor Tranquilino knew the other existed. Oscar thought the soldier who took him was his real father. And Tranquilino thought his entire family had been killed at the massacre.

And then, on Monday, the two met face-to-face. Tranquilino, who's 70, left Guatemala for the first time, and landed at Newark Airport, where Oscar was waiting with his wife and four children. ProPublica, one of our partners in reporting this story, was there, and they've posted this video of the reunion:

A print version of Oscar and Tranquilino's story is also available on ProPublica's web site, and as an e-book. And several publications throughout Latin America are running the story in Spanish. Here are links to those:

Argentina's el puercoespín


Chile's CIPER

The Dominican Republic's Diario Libre

Guatemala's El Periodico (the publisher of El Periodico, Jose Ruben Zamora, also helped us as we were reporting the story)

This weekend, versions of the story will run in Mexico's Proceso.

Live Show Redux

May 18, 2012

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the live show. Here's a little recap, including photos by Adrianne Mathiowetz (who is our web manager and also a Minnesota-based photographer). You can see an entire Flickr gallery with 180 photos from the show here.

On Thursday, May 10th we performed an episode of the radio show on stage at NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, and sent it via satellite into movie theaters all over the US and Canada (Some upcoming screenings in the US and Australia too). The show was called "The Invisible Made Visible," and was half stories and half visual things that could never work on the radio - things like dance, animation, a short film, and interactive music performance. The radio version airs this weekend. If you missed the show, fear not. It'll be available on DVD and as a download in a few months.

Ira Glass making some notes on his script before the show.

To run a show like this, you need one of those big RV-sized production trucks. The director, David Stern, is wearing white in the center in the above photo. He calls the shots live from the seven cameras, like at a sporting event. We had five stationary cameras, one steadicam, and one jib (a small crane that can swoop around the room). Technical Manager Marc Bauman is in the foreground.

Live show producer Seth Lind looking over associate producer Emily Condon's shoulder during rehearsal. Performer Ryan Knighton is in the background.

The show kicked off with an animated intro created by Claire Keane, Vincent Rogozyk and Chris Sonnenburg. Claire and Vincent also created the curtain animations that appeared on screen throughout the show.

Ira performing the prologue, about a blind guy named Ryan Knighton trying to find the phone in a hotel room. This story featured 112 illustrations by Jeff Turley.

Next, Ryan Knighton himself took the stage to tell a story, about struggling to get his daughter to understand his blindness. Ryan has written two memoirs, Cockeyed and C'mon Papa. The background for Ryan's story was designed by Chris Ware.

Then Ira invited OK Go to the stage to perform a song on hand bells, accompanied by tens of thousands of people playing along via their phones, in movie theaters all over the place. We all performed a bit of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as a warm-up, then launched into OK Go's "Needing/Getting."

OK Go's Andy Ross coded the mobile apps that people used to play along. Morgan Knutson designed the app visuals. And John Kuramoto did the video.

Ira's inspiration for the show was seeing a dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company. He felt that their sensibility matched the radio show, and started building the live show around the idea "things you can't do on the radio." Here, Anna Bass, Christina Robson and Monica Bill Barnes watch rehearsal.

The first dance was a solo by Anna Bass, set to Nina Simone's "Let It Be Me".

Next, Glynn Washington told a story about using supernatural means to find well water. Glynn hosts the public radio show and podcast Snap Judgment.

Glynn was accompanied by Snap Judgment producer Pat Mesiti-Miller on music and sound effects.

Then comedian Tig Notaro told a story about repeatedly meeting 1980s pop star Taylor Dayne.

After her story, we surprised Tig with a serenade by... Taylor Dayne. She sang "I'll Always Love You." Tig, who showed off some pretty sweet dance moves during Taylor's song, co-hosts the podcast Professor Blastoff and has a new standup album called Good One.

Then Ira showed a new short film that comedian Mike Birbiglia made for the show. It features Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air... and clears up the question of what Terry does when she's not doing interviews. Mike's feature film Sleepwalk With Me comes out on August 24th (produced and co-written by Ira Glass).

Next, Ira told a story that took advantage of our ability to show visuals. It was about a photographer named Vivian Maier, who shot rolls of film every day for dozens of years - brilliant shots of street life - but never showed the photos to anyone. A guy named John Maloof discovered the negatives, and put out a book of Maier's photos. Rich Cahan and Mike Williams also appear in the story, and have another book of Maier's photos coming out in September. Miki Meek helped produce the story. Adam Beckman filmed the interviews. Becky Laks did video editing.

Then David Rakoff took the stage, to tell a very emotional story about dance and cancer. David is the author of several books, most recently Half Empty. At one point David left the microphone, seemingly walking off stage, then broke into dance. It was choreographed by Monica Bill Barnes, and set to Irving Berlin's "What I'll Do," performed by Nat "King" Cole.

After David's story, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass returned for a second dance piece, this time set to a live recording of James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being) a Sex Machine." As this photo indicates, it's not like a lot of modern dance that you'll see.

Somewhere in the building, a man was being put into clown makeup...

That man turned out to be David Sedaris, who told a funny story about getting really mad while waiting in line to buy coffee. David's most recent book is Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.

OK Go played one last song.

Then everyone came out for a bow.

And then we had a party. Because we couldn't quite believe we pulled this thing off.

Here is a Flickr gallery with 180 photos from the show.

Watch Mike Birbiglia's Short Film

May 15, 2012

Did you hear about the new short film that Mike Birbiglia created for the live show that we sent to movie theaters? It shows a surprising (and fictional) side of a media personality you might recognize.

Live show encore screenings in the U.S. and Australia

May 13, 2012

Our May 15th live show encore screening has come and gone, but there are still several independent venues in the US screening the show on various dates, as well as more than a dozen theaters in Australia hosting screenings on May 26th and 27th.

The show features stories by Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, plus live music by OK Go. It'll also include things you could never do on the radio, like a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, original animation, projected illustration and more. Plus special surprise guests (who may not be a surprise anymore but are still great!).

If you'll be attending and have a smartphone, we highly recommend you download our live show app!

Ira writes:

I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes' company, and I thought - that is totally in the style of our radio show. But obviously you can't have dance on the radio. Then I realized, we have to do another cinema event! We've built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things, including the dancers I saw, so it's going to feel like the radio show but also totally unlike anything we've done before. I really can't wait to see how it turns out.

(UPDATE: we think it turned out pretty great!)

Download the live show app!

Apr 30, 2012

5/11 UPDATE: If you're going to an encore screening of the show, you still need the app!

Ira writes:

Hey everyone who's bought tickets to our May 10th live show: if you're an iPhone or Android user, we have a special app we've made, for you to use at a key moment in the show with the band OK Go. It's free. And we think it's going to be really fun. Download links:



If you have friends attending the show, please tell them about the app. The more people who have it, the more exciting this part of the show will be. You can even print out these flyers and hand them out in line!

Important: Don't wait till the night of the show to download the app. Some theaters don't have great cell reception so you won't be able to do it there.

People without smartphones who are coming to the show, don't worry, we have you covered too. You have a key role to play in the moment of iPhone/Android magic that we and OK Go have planned. Just show up wearing shoes and you'll be fine.

If you haven't gotten your tickets yet, find a theater near you and purchase here.

screenshot from the app

David Sedaris added to Live Show!

Apr 23, 2012

David Sedaris

Ira writes:

Our all-star lineup for the May 10th cinema event has gotten all-starrier! David Sedaris will join David Rakoff, Mike Birbiglia, Tig Notaro, Glynn Washington, Ryan Knighton, the Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company and OK Go.

I've been so busy putting this show together I fear sometimes that the promos we've done for it have not communicated just how special and different it is. We're trying to make a show that's more visual than any stage show we've ever done, so there's animation and dancing and a little movie and we'll be performing the whole thing in front of a rear projection screen that we use throughout, to enhance the stories.

In short, we've been trying to think of things that can't be done on the radio. Things that are best done in a movie theater. Making this our most ambitious live show ever. I was talking to a friend last week and realized, right, this is either going to be the most amazing thing we've ever created onstage, or it's going to be a complete train wreck and there is no in-between.

You should be there.

To answer all my relatives and friends who are emailing to ask "Are there theaters in Missouri? Why the DC suburbs and not DC? Are you sure there's a theater near me I can't seem to find it" here are the links:

Try this one first - this is most of the theaters.
If no luck, try this one. These are independent theaters.
If you're in Canada - use this one.

- Ira

Tickets to the May 10 live show

Apr 23, 2012

Want to attend our live show in movie theatres on May 10th?

For the primary list of 550 theatres across the US, enter your zip code in the upper right corner of the Fathom website.

There are also an additional 32 independent theatres in the US hosting the event.

And if you're in Canada, find tickets here.

See you at the show!

Win a signed live show poster! Get a shout-out during the show!

Apr 12, 2012

Here's your chance to win a poster for our May 10 live show in movie theaters, and get a shout-out during the show. Ten winners will receive posters signed by Ira Glass. If you win, Ira will announce your name during the show, and say which movie theatre you're at. The show is being filmed and sent live via satellite to movie screens all over the US and Canada.

To enter, email with the following info:
* First and last name
* Movie theater where you will be attending, including city and state

Deadline: Monday May 7th, 2012 - midnight Pacific Standard Time.

Note: You don't have to attend the live show to enter the contest - though it'll be way more fun when you win. If you do win, we'll email you to ask for your mailing address. Good luck!

Aaaaaaaand... here's the poster, designed by the super-talented Claire Keane. Claire and other artists are also busily creating illustrations and animation that'll be included in the show itself.

This American Life - live in movie theatres! May 10th!

Apr 6, 2012

We're thrilled to announce that on Thursday, May 10th, 2012, we will perform an episode of This American Life on stage in New York City and beam it live via satellite to more than 500 movie theatres around the US and Canada! We did a show like this in 2009, and were blown away when 50,000 people came out to see it. A lot of you have asked us if we'll be doing it again.

So yeah, we're doing it again!

The show will feature stories by Ira Glass, writers David Sedaris and David Rakoff, comic Tig Notaro and Snap Judgment host Glynn Washington, plus live music by OK Go. It'll also include things you could never do on the radio, like a new short film by Mike Birbiglia, dance by Monica Bill Barnes & Company, original animation, projected illustration and more. Plus special surprise guests.

Ira writes:

I saw this amazing dance performance by Monica Bill Barnes' company, and I thought - that is totally in the style of our radio show. But obviously you can't have dance on the radio. Then I realized, we have to do another cinema event! We've built this lineup of stories mixed with super visual things, including the dancers I saw, so it's going to feel like the radio show but also totally unlike anything we've done before. I really can't wait to see how it turns out.

Live on Thursday, May 10th at 8:00pm ET/7:00pm CT (tape delayed to 7:00pm MT/ 8:00pm PT). Some theatres will present encore screenings on Tuesday, May 15th at 7:30PM (local time).

Tickets will go fast in a lot of locations. The button links to commercial theatres in the US:


You can purchase tickets at additional, independent theatres in the US here.

The show is also screening at 37 theatres across Canada!

Note: Unfortunately we're not able to add venues to screen the show. Theatres need to have sophisticated satellite receiver equipment, and to have signed on with the distribution network that is sending out the signal.

McCain-Feingold Uncut

Apr 6, 2012

Dear fellow political nerds,

Ben Calhoun and Alex Blumberg here, with something we thought you might enjoy: an extended version of the interview that we, along with NPR's Andrea Seabrook, did with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). We did this as part of our episode on lobbying and campaign finance, Take The Money And Run For Office.

McCain and Feingold don't need a lot of introduction, and one of the things they’re most well-known for is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – known to people in DC as BCRA (pronounced bick-RAH), and known to people most other places as “McCain-Feingold.”

We wanted to speak to the two of them because when the US Supreme Court drastically changed American politics with its Citizens United decision, it effectively undid a lot of what McCain-Feingold had done. BCRA’s goal was to limit the flow of money into American politics. The Citizens United decision arguably opened up the door for more money in politics than ever before.

We wanted to talk to McCain and Feingold about how they felt about the reforms they fought so hard to pass, now that they’ve been significantly undermined by the Supreme Court.

We knew both men had a reputations for being candid, and figured they wouldn’t like the decision much, but we walked out of the interview surprised at how blunt and openly angry they were. We were also surprised how openly critical they were of the court. When we talked afterward, we realized that each of us thought, at several points during the interview, "I can't believe that was the 2008 Republican nominee for president talking like that."

The conversation left a real impression on all three of us.

It is also – as far we know, and as far as they and their staffs can recall – the first interview they’ve done together in years.

So, given all that, we wanted to offer this extended version of our conversation with them.

One word of caution, both of them talk like people who have lived and breathed this stuff for years. They assume a certain amount of knowledge about the law they passed, about Citizens United, about how fundraising works. If you're a level 10 political nerd, it won't be an issue, go ahead and hit play right below.

For everyone else, we’ve put together a quick primer of two or three things you should know going into this, so you don't get tripped up. You’ll find it immediately below the audio.

Listen to McCain-Feingold Uncut:
Download Audio. Transcript.

McCain-Feingold – The actual name of the law was Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. This law did a few different things. But in a nutshell, the key things to know about this are:

A long time ago, corporations and unions had been banned from contributing directly to candidates. And in the 1970’s, limits were placed on how much individuals could give to candidates. But even after that, unions, corporations, and wealthy donors would get around those restrictions by giving unlimited amounts of money to the parties. The parties would then spread that money around, using it in elections all over the country. This was called “soft money.” McCain-Feingold attempted to get this unlimited source of money out of American politics by banning the parties from taking soft money.

The law also banned corporations and unions from airing “electioneering” materials in the last 30 days before a primary, or in the last 60 days before a general election. This would have been a way for the corporations and unions to go around the soft money ban and just channel money out of their treasuries and directly into elections.

Citizens United - It'll help to know that the Citizens United case involved a non-profit corporation named Citizens United. In 2008, the group wanted to run what it called a documentary film about now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who at the time was running for president. The film was essentially an extended negative ad against Clinton, and so airing it would have violated the McCain-Feingold ban on “electioneering” communications.

All of this went to court. In its Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court said McCain-Feingold ban was an unconstitutional violation of freedom of speech.

This cleared the path for the creation of new political funds – enter super PACs – which can take unlimited amounts from corporations or unions – and these groups could then spend very freely in elections.

Anyway, when McCain gets really cutting about saying "this group" made a movie just to challenge this, he’s referring to The Citizens United group and the movie about Hillary Clinton.

527s - These were the super PACs of yesterday. Only they weren't as powerful. They were more like kindofsuper PACs. They were non-profit-type groups that could take unlimited contributions and spend the money doing political stuff – like running commercials. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and both 527s.

These groups, however, were supposed to limit their commercials and advocacy to issues. They were supposed to stop short of saying “vote for or don’t vote for this guy.” So their influence was restricted in some ways.

Bundling – Feingold mentions this. This is a practice that started after legal limits were placed on campaign contributions. It really took off after McCain-Feingold put tougher limits on campaign finance.

Bundlers are people who gather a bunch of smaller, limited contributions from many different donors and tie them together. They then direct the bundle into a candidate's campaign fund, or into a party’s political fund. In a campaign environment where a 100-thousand dollar donation to a candidate is not allowed, these bundlers create really huge, but totally legitimate, pots of money that they can throw around.

We’ve also attached a transcript of the full interview, for anyone interested.