Stories from the Stage Executive Producers on Their 'Good Citizen Show'

By Daphne Northrop for GBH

GBH and WORLD Channel's live storytelling program Stories from the Stage, on air for five years, has reached its milestone 100th episode. Liz Cheng and Patricia Alvarado Núñez, two of the program’s creators, reflect on what makes the show special and the role it plays in good citizenship.

GBH: How does it feel to have reached episode 100?

Patricia Alvarado Núñez: We are very excited. We feature three storytellers every episode, so reaching episode 100 means that we have aired more than 300 stories on multiple platforms.

Liz Cheng: Stories from the Stage has exceeded our wildest hopes in bringing people together in a way that resonates and is memorable. Every show is different. Every storyteller is different and complements a powerful theme. To be able to help them get their stories out to a larger audience has been so rewarding.

GBH: What’s the most important impact of the program?

LC: When you see someone up on stage, who is very different from you and you hear their story, it's impossible to fear or hate them. Encouraging people to appreciate how we’re different is so important. Stories from the Stage is about celebrating our differences – not merely tolerating, not merely understanding. We celebrate what we have in common and how we're different. That’s why we call it our "good citizen show."

GBH: How did the program come to be?

PAN: Years ago, the GBH Events team organized storytelling events in the GBH Atrium. Liz walked by one evening and immediately realized that it would make an excellent television production. She called in me and WORLD [Channel] Executive Producer Chris Hastings, and we worked with the Events team and GBH Production Services to figure out how to do it. When we added director-photographer Michael Rossi and storytelling coach Cheryl Hamilton, our team was complete.

LC: As I walked by, I heard this incredible story and witnessed people's reactions. I thought, while storytelling on radio is wonderful, seeing multicultural tellers can add layers of understanding and increase our enjoyment. After we taped our first show, we brought the video to GBH's Community Advisory Board to get their feedback. They were so incredibly helpful. They were very excited about how we were honoring diversity in the best possible way.

GBH: How did you convert it from an event to a television program?

PAN: With many live events, whoever had a story would spontaneously jump on stage and tell it. While everybody has a story, not everybody can tell a story effectively. With the series, we were able to coach people and give them the support they needed to tell their story in the best way that they can. And then curating them around an interesting theme can provide deep insight into an emotion, an issue or challenge.

LC: It was Chris' idea to shoot the production like a film, with multiple, isolated and light-weight cameras. We used mood lighting, a minimalistic set and cocktail tables to create the atmosphere of a club. In this intimate space, storytellers approach the stage with a kind of reverence – in the end, it's a stage, a mic and a person.

GBH: What does the program mean to the storytellers?

PAN: Our storytellers come from all over the United States and the world. The storytelling community is like an extended family. Once you become a storyteller and start performing on stage or in clubs, other storytellers immediately gravitate to you. Audiences embrace you. It is a very supportive and caring space.

LC: These stories really speak to our shared human experience with people offering up extraordinary moments in their lives to connect profoundly with audiences. Storytellers say to us that they feel they can help others with their stories. These are incredibly personal situations — oftentimes they're talking about the best or the worst time in their lives and how they came through it. And then they turn those moments into comfort, inspiration and hope.

GBH: Tell us about the new podcast.

LC: We create podcasts around memorable storytellers who talk about what happened when they left the stage, and we also curate collections of episodes on a topic or theme, such as immigration. We also interview the storytellers and drill down on an issue. Sometimes we share our own personal reflections and life experiences, which can be difficult for us to do.

GBH: Are you going to have in-person events soon?

PAN: On April 28, we will host a live event with the provocative theme of "Against the Odds." We're thrilled. So are the storytellers and our viewers, who are hungry to return to GBH. Before COVID, we might have had 150-180 people at an event. We’ll be keeping a close watch on COVID protocols and limiting attendance to ensure the comfort and safety of our storytellers and guests.

Be part of the live audience for the taping of Stories from the Stage: Against the Odds on Thursday, April 28 at 7p ET. Register here.

Watch Stories from the Stage Mondays at 9:30/8:30c on WORLD Channel or stream online and on the YouTube, Facebook and PBS apps.

Subscribe to the Stories from the Stage podcast here.

This interview was originally published on GBH.

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Stories from the Stage: Countdown to 100!

This April, Stories from the Stage will air its 100th episode! WORLD honors this exciting milestone with a special celebration all month long, including new episodes and storyteller features from the series' beginnings to today, counting down to the 100th episode – One Way or Another – on April 25.