Just the Beginning: Episode 8
Reconstructing the Past
Kickstarter’s Just the Beginning podcast featuring stories about how independent creators bring their ideas to life.
In this episode, we explore creative projects that attempt to reconstruct the past — at least a version of it. Plus, we take a look back at some personal moments from the first 10 years of Kickstarter, as told by creators and backers.
Featured in the Episode
Say Something Bunny
Interdisciplinary artist Alison S.M. Kobayashi came across a seemingly mundane audio recording of a family gathering in 1950s Long Island. It was garbled, filled with obscure references, and she set out to unlock its mysteries. Her unique one-woman show, based on six years of research on this recording, has garnered rave reviews and played to sold-out audiences since 2017.
Norbert Stern’s career as one of the most promising concert pianists in 1930s Europe was cut short when he and his family were captured by the Nazis, along with other Jews, and sent to Auschwitz, where they ultimately perished. His nephew Roger Peltzman, an acclaimed pianist himself, decided to travel to Brussels to record a program of the Chopin pieces that were Norbert’s speciality in the concert hall where he regularly performed.
10 Years of Kickstarter
To help us celebrate our 10th birthday, we asked some other creators who have brought ideas to life with Kickstarter to share some memories — snapshots from different points in their Journeys.
Tanika Stotts: Going live in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Hey, everybody. This is Tanika Stotts, a queer little tumbleweed out in Los Angeles, California. I just wanted to start out by saying Happy Birthday, Kickstarter. What a wild ten years it has been.
[Music: Balún, “Años Atrás”]
Zakiya Gibbons: From Kickstarter this is Just the Beginning in this episode: Reconstructing the Past.
I’m Zakiya Gibbons
Nick Yulman: I’m Nick Yulman
And yes, Kickstarter is 10 years old this week! We have some friends helping us celebrate.
Raja Feather Kelly + the feath3r theory:We’re the Feather Theory and we Love Kickstarter! Because it allows us to be us, and to do what we do best. Bring people together, make art, and have fun.
ZG: Aww… y’all the feeling is mutual
It’s been 10 years.
More than 160,000 creative projects
Made possible by over 16 million backers and creators.
And some of those creators sent us messages sharing personal moments from Kickstarter’s first decade. We’ll hear more of those later on.
NY: First, we have a couple stories about the things we discover when we take a look back. Two creators who obsessively researched lost moments from history — and kind of found ways to bring them back to life.
Say Something Bunny
For our first story, we’ll being in from Jessica Massart, who works with theater and dance projects here at Kickstarter. Hi Jessica
Jessica Massart: Hi Nick.
NY: So you’re going to tell us the story of one of your favorite projects from these categories.
JM: Yes! Say Something Bunny from Alison S. M. Kobayashi. It’s this amazing piece of theater, and it’s all looking at the life of this one family. The show’s incredibly successful. It’s gotten freat reviews, it’s been nominated for awards, and it’s been running sold-out performances for over two years now — which you almost never see in the experimental theater scene. But there’s another reaction that Alison gets a lot…
Alison S. M. Kobayashi: People see this and they’re like, “Why would you do this?”
JM: And having seen the show, that’s a pretty fair question. Its inspiration came from an unlikely place:
Alison: It’s based on a found audio recording made on a wire recorder, which is like a vintage kind of almost extinct recording device, that was around in the ’40s and ’50s, and it’s this family recording themselves over two occasions, and the performance goes into finding out who these people were.
The recording is of this family in Long Island. It’s a Jewish family in the ’50s. They’re pretty middle-class, and the son of the family, I guess he had a wire recorder. Maybe he bought it or was given it as a gift at some point, but he’s pulling it out and just kind of going around the room and being like, “You talk.”
David: Now we will interview miss Bunny Tannenbaum say something, Bunny.
June: Please say something
ASMK: Some moments, he’s secretly recording people, and that’s really funny. It’s really hard to hear.
Christopher Allen: Yeah, it’s kind of like a theatrical form of time travel, using this sort of a mundane and simple recording that, through Alison’s research, is revealed as a remarkable moment in a family whose lives are about to change.
JM: That’s Christopher Allen, Alison’s husband and her collaborator on Say Something Bunny. He’s the founder and director of Union Docs, an arts center in Brooklyn that’s focused on new approaches to making documentary work.
And Alison’s work is an interesting twist on traditional documentaries. She often uses found objects — letters or recordings from strangers’ lives that she tries to understand and put into a new context.
I used to go to thrift stores and collect answering machines that people would leave the tapes inside. One of my first pieces was just taking that cassette tape, listening to it, and realized it was kind of this accidental portrait of this guy, Dan Carter, and so ended up performing all of the characters that left messages.
[Dan Carter’s answering machine tape]
Dan Carter: Hello I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave your name, telephone number and the time you called and I will return your call as soon as I can. Giddyup!
ASMK: So I was really interested in always looking at found objects, things that were discarded, and then translating those into more of a creative practice that had this element of me often performing characters
And so, because I had been making work out of found objects, people would just give me stuff and that was the case with Say Something Bunny, with this recording.
So I first listened to it and in the first like, three minutes, I fell in love with the family. It just made me laugh.
Larry: Mr. Sadlier, my English teacher, came into the studyhall one day, and he said somebody took the screws out of the 7-up machine. And he said anybody who’s that hard up for a screw was pretty sad (laughter).
Alison: The family’s obviously having so much fun that every time I listened to it, it would just make me have fun and it brought me joy
June: Patsy did you burp? Play something on the piano, David, and I’ll whistle into this canary.
ASMK: And I just knew it was special, but I wasn’t sure what it was because the entire recording is 45 minutes, and a lot of it is just, on first listening, you don’t even know what they’re saying. Everything’s so garbled. And so I know there’s something here. I don’t know what that is, but I’m going to try and listen to it as much as possible, to get to a point where I can understand it.
I think that I also liked that it was something that was very ordinary. The attraction for me wasn’t just that it was funny and that it was dynamic, but that it also was incredibly mundane,
[Wire recording — largely unintelligible]
That the answers weren’t present in the recording. because it’s a family, so you never refer to your family with their first last names, so there were all of these kind of mysteries where I was like, “It’s asking me to solve this.”
[Music: ensemble, et al. “In a Crowded Room with Nothing to Think About”]
JM: And so without having many clues — and without knowing what the project would become — Alison set out to solve this mystery. To find out as much about these recordings and the people in them as possible.
ASMK: I’d never researched a project on this level. There’s two recordings. One’s earlier ’50s, one’s mid-’50s. So they’re a couple years apart, so it’s funny. The kids kind of like, their voices change a little bit, and even how people relate to each other as well.
The family’s experience was so different from mine. The period of time that they lived in was so different from when I grew up, which was the ’90s and the ‘80s
The whole process was really just trying to find a way to put myself in that room and have the same references and context as the family, so that I could understand their conversations in a different way.
I really wanted to be a relative who was like inserting myself into this family gathering
JM: Part of training herself to hear the conversation differently was understanding all the cultural references the family makes — they sing songs, talk about broadway shows, and crack jokes that are really specific to their time and place.
And she went down some pretty deep rabbit holes to do this. So for example, there’s an old radio show called Our Miss Brooks that pops up in the recording. It’s actually something that someone had recorded on the wire previously — the way people record TV shows on DVRs now.
And because wire recorders were these really finicky machines, it bleeds through in certain spots, interrupting the rest of the recording. Alison became obsessed with finding the script for this specific episode, but she only had one line to go off of: It’s hotter in here now than it was before.
[Our Miss Brooks]
“It’s hotter in here now than it was before”
And also an ad from the broadcast for a contest…
[Our Miss Brooks]
“To the teacher who is considered most beautiful by our judges will be awarded a week’s trip to Hollywood, all expenses paid.”
JM: And funnily enough, the opportunity to do this research arose on a no-expenses-paid trip that she and Christopher were taking to California:
Alison: It was like the holidays. We were going to a friend’s wedding in Palm Springs, and I was like, for years, I knew that these scripts were in the UCLA archives, but I don’t go to LA very often. And I was like, “It’s our vacation but Christopher, we have to spend one to two days in this library.” You could only request five boxes a day or something, and there were like 20 boxes with the script and we only had two days there. But, found it.
JM: And this archive at UCLA was just one of the many places Alison went to uncover clues about these recordings.
ASMK: I mean, Library of Congress. One of the funny things is, there was some adult content that comes up, which I also had to go to public libraries to view, so like, “I need to watch this erotica film,” I thought they’d put me in a booth or something, but it was just in front of people. People were walking by, and I was like, “It’s research. It’s research.”
JM: She wound up doing this research on and off for six years. That’s how long someone might spend writing a dissertation about an important historical document or work of literature. She was just focused on something that no one else cared about.
CA: We’ve had a lot of historians and librarians and people involved in conservation, come to the show and find a lot of connections to their discipline.
But Alison’s also speculating. She uses her imagination a lot to project into the characters, the protagonists’ lives.
JM: She found out a lot about their lives and shares some pretty remarkable discoveries in the show. We won’t spoil any of them.
And even the show’s structure itself is inspired by what she’d learned about the life of the main character, David — the person who made these recordings.
Alison: We found out that later he wrote plays, he was a playwright. And so, in learning about that, and being in conversation of, “How should this performance play out in front of people?” We were really like, “Well, he would have had this experience of writing a play and then bringing people together for the first time to read it,” and so that’s where this format of the cold read really came from.
The audience members are invited into the room and there’s a big 14-foot circular table, and then some additional seats around that, and they’re invited to take a seat at the table. And in doing so, they’re casting themselves as one of the characters in this recording. So they don’t have to say anything out loud. They don’t have to perform. They’re just kind of placeholders for these characters, and in the performance, I talk to them directly and give them their character motivations
ASMK: Okay. next we have June Tennebaum, 46 years old.
June: David are you coming to visit me when I get to Philadelphia?
ASMK: You’re a neighbor and you’re also the mother of Bunny Tennenbaum. You’re married to Sidney, 50
You’re pretty quiet (laughter). You don’t say much. And I think that’s rubbed off on your daughter Bunny, 20 years old
Bunny: I’m a mute
ASMK: It’s almost as if they’re an actor preparing for a character that they’re going to play in a future performance, and this is our first time really getting into the material, and I as the director am trying to give them context.
CA: It’s a unique performance, because there is very much a social aspect. Even though the audience doesn’t have to do anything, their presence is felt and the vibe of the audience is a huge part of each performance. And so Alison is also a little bit of a magician, kind of amplifying and kind of working with that sort of social space that’s created when everyone sits around this circular table.
ASMK: Okay, now let’s go on to scene two. You’re all sitting around the dining room table after dinner having a coffee, maybe a cocktail.
ASMK: It totally changes the performance, depending on the audience’s energy. We had this all boys’ college come a couple weeks ago, and I was not sure what to expect, and they were amazing and it was so much fun, and if people really give you a lot… like, I learned how to do certain parts differently in that performance, because I was getting so much from them
[Music: Frank LoCrasto, “Sputnik”]
JM: The audience doesn’t actually speak — they just read along as Alison explains her research and talks about these characters. But there is something about everyone sitting at this round table, focusing their energy in this strange ritual that feels a bit like a seance.
ASMK: Most of the people in this recording have passed away. In listening to their voices and having people kind of embody them temporarily, they really do come to life, which I think is so specific to the space of performance. I don’t think that would feel at all the same way if it was a film or a documentary. I think that the format really creates that sense of feeling of life, in something that is a recording, something that could have been just kind of tossed away.
JM: This question of whose stories get preserved or tossed away is at the heart of Alison’s work. When people ask her “why would you do this?” it’s one of the things she talks about.
ASMK: Stuff that’s made by people who aren’t the winners of history. I think that those stories are very important to preserve.
The main character, David, he didn’t have any children or a partner, and it seemed very apparent to me in this process that he was someone who’s very ambitious and productive. He just created so much stuff, and so obviously wanted to be remembered.
I think I’m just thinking about this now, but I think in learning more about him, I was really like, “No one else is going to do this,”
You know, he passed away before I could get his permission.
This just came to me by chance, and it just really felt like an invitation to be like, “Look at someone who no one else is looking at, and who people might not look at unless I do.” Yeah.
He’s just such a character and I would have loved to meet him, and every time I met someone who had met him, they would have amazing stories.
I mean, I wish that he was still alive. I feel like if he was alive, he’d come to the show every night.
CA Later, we discovered that one family member was alive, and before bringing it to New York, we did meet that family member and ask them for permission to use the recording, which they generously granted, I think especially understanding Alison’s intentions and the degree of research that she’d put into it.
ASMK: The time is approximately eight o’clock pm. And the wire recorder, where is that? Why is this scene being recorded?
ASMK: There’s speculation in the show as to exactly why he’s doing it, which I feel like you should come to the show to see.
But I think it’s just, in making this piece, I was re-watching my own home videos, and it’s such a common impulse to just see a constellation of people that you care about together, and wanting to capture that, because it’s a fleeting moment.
Or also, just the novelty of having this recording device and also wanting to show it off is a big part of that too. It’s like, if anyone gets a new iPhone at a new family function, you’re like, “Ooh, let’s check out this new slow-mo or something.” Recording can sometimes be kind of this communal event
CA: There’s a moment in the performance too where there’s some home videos that are used, from Alison’s family. We brought that in, and I think it was because we wanted to extend out this sense of recorded life.
ASMK: My aunt and my mom came to New York. They had both seen it before, but they saw it for the second time, and my aunt was really front and center.
There’s this moment in the performance where we have a video, where you see my uncle who passed away maybe in 2014, I think. And I knew that that was behind me, and I saw her seeing it, and it was really intense. I almost was crying during the performance.
It’s funny how you’re used to performing this thing. You’ve done it 200 times and then you have this one person in the audience that it feels significant to in a different way and you just like … You just feel the difference and the impact of that person seeing you say these things.
NY: To learn more about Alison S.M. Kobayahi’s theater piece Say Something Bunny — and to find out about upcoming shows — head to saysomethingbunny.com/
NY: So Jessica, you’re also doing sort of a special initiative around performance right now
JM: That’s right. It’s called Performance In Progress. Throughout the month of May, we’re highlighting performance projects on Kickstarter. Without giving too much away, they’re fascinating projects that are really tapping into what’s happening in the world right now. If folks want to find out more, head to kickstarter.com/performance-in-progress.
Roger Peltzman’s Dedication
ZG: So, with Say Something Bunny, Alison was on a mission to find out as much as possible about this family whose old home recordings she discovered.
Our next story about reconstructing the past also features an artist going on a creative journey to learn more about a family’s lost history — in this case his own. Here’s producer Michael Garofalo.
Michael Garofalo: Usually, when an artist dedicates a work to someone, it’s a person they know. But Roger Peltzman — a pianist in New York City — dedicated his 2014 album of Chopin piano works to someone he had never met.
Roger Peltzman: When I was growing up, there were photos around the house. There was a handsome young man in a circular little frame. And my mother used to compare him to my oldest brother who was a talented pianist.
MG: The handsome young man in that photo was Roger’s uncle, Norbert Stern. He was 22 years old and just starting a promising career as a concert pianist in Brussels, Belgium, when he was killed in Auschwitz — along with Roger’s grandparents — in 1944.
Roger’s project, called Dedication, grew out of a few things… years of research into his family’s history… a surprising discovery about his mother’s past…and… something else that’s kind of hard to name. We could call it chance… luck… or maybe even fate.
[MUSIC Chopin: Barcarolle In F Sharp, Op. 60]
RP: I give recitals every few years and I was getting a little stale. I wanted to do something different, so I thought, “Oh, maybe I’ll make a CD like everybody else.” I just went online one night to look for recording studios. I guess my fantasy was, “Hey. Maybe I’ll go to Abbey Road or something.”
But somehow I got onto some obscure blog of European recording engineers. Some guy says, “Why don’t you come to Brussels where I make fantastic recordings at the Brussels Conservatory?” I thought, “Oh my God. This is it. This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”
RP: My uncle Norbert, in Brussels, he was at the conservatory from a very early age. He was one of the star pupils, if not the star pupil there. The rumor was that he won a competition when he was a freshman, and then it created kind of a scandal because freshmen aren’t supposed to win. It’s bad form. So my mother said that they took it away from him.
I never quite knew if that was true or not. Then I just found a piece of paper where he placed first, and then they put a pencil mark through it and make him second. So there was the proof.
[MUSIC POSTS AND ENDS]
RP Pretty early on my mother, probably too early, told me what happened to her family, which is they all were killed in Auschwitz. That kind of changes everything when you know something like that as a child. There are people who, they’re ghosts who are lurking behind in the back of your mind somehow these people.
RP: And the thing about my uncle is… I came to piano very late in life. In college, I got serious, which is kind of ridiculous for that kind of world. I started thinking, “Oh. If I could only talk to him. If it could only ask him advice.” I really began to somehow picture this young guy when I would sit at the piano. I needed to know more about him, so I started doing research and writing away.
MG: Roger started piecing together his uncle’s story bit by bit through official documents… deportation orders, his family’s fake IDs… as well as newspaper reviews of Norbert’s recitals. But in 2010, he would get closer than he could have ever hoped… and it was through a detail in a story that he already knew very, very well, a story he had heard countless times growing up — the story of how his mother escaped the Nazis.
Her family had been successfully hiding in an attic in Brussels for 2 years…
RP: And then one day, in the middle of the night, the Gestapo came.
Beatrice Peltzman: Well, that was the 9th of January…
RP: My mother she knew that the bathroom window went onto the roof.
BP: And I put a coat on, started running away. And my mother says, “Where are you going?” And I said, “I’m sorry but I’m not going to let them take me like a sheep.”
RP:And she heads out the window.
BP: My brother went into a… there was another attic higher up but they went after him and they got him.
RP My mother hides out all night on a snowy roof. We don’t know exactly how, but she did get in touch with the underground.
BP: And the underground army got me into a convent disguised as a nun. I have a picture here of what I looked like as a nun. I was 16 at this point.
[MUSIC Chopin_ Ballade In F Minor, Op. 52]
RP So, my mother tells us this story, and she would tell it to whoever would listen. So I thought — and my brothers thought — we knew everything about her.
But then, one year after my mother died, I got a phone call out of the blue from an old woman in Brussels
MG: It turned out this woman — whose name is Mrs. Hennessy — had known Roger’s mother and his uncle Norbert… they had met because of the piano in her home…
RP: When they were in hiding, he couldn’t resist music, and he would leave armed with his fake ID to either do two things. One would be to go to a concert, or to practice on the piano, which this woman who called me had. Norbert made friends with this woman, Mrs. Hennessy. Beatrice, my mother, actually became friends with her too.
I wanted to desperately play the piano that he practiced on. I mean it was just not the Holy Grail, which would be a recording, it’s a close second.
So I made it a priority that the second the summer came, I would rush to Belgium to see her. And at her house after we connected on the phone, she had the same photo that I had of my mother in a nun’s habit on her piano like I had on my piano, which she said her father took that photo.
All of my life I’ve seen this photo of my mother as a nun, never knowing who took it. Then in 2010 I find out the whole story.
MG: Mrs. Hennessy’s father had been a member of the Resistance… and was one of the people who hid Roger’s mother in the convent after her rooftop escape from the Gestapo. But Roger had never heard that part of the story… In fact, he had never even heard of Mrs. Hennessy. His mother never mentioned her.
RP: Mrs. Hennessy sent me a photo of my mother and her in London in 1947. They’re arm-in-arm looking like best friends. Now why would my mother never mention her? These are just questions I will never know the answer to.
MG: Do you have any guess?
RP: My guess might be that … No. I have no guess. I have no guess. I don’t understand why. There’s a block. She also didn’t know where she hid. My father and her went to Belgium in the ’60s, and they looked everywhere. She tried to retrace her steps. but her brain would not allow her to relive those memories.
MG: It would be up to Roger to trace those memories for himself — and he would. He located the house where his family hid… and now here he was in Mrs. Hennessy’s house, seated at the Steinway that was most likely the last piano his Uncle Norbert ever played.
RP: Just the idea that his fingertips touched these actual keys, and now I was going to touch them was … I felt like, “Okay. This is great. There’s a connection.”
[MUSIC FROM VIDEO Chopin_ Berceuse In D Flat, Op. 57]
I brought with me, just to make sure that I didn’t screw up, sheet music for the Chopin Berceuse, which is a lullaby. I played it for Mrs. Hennessy, and her daughter, and my wife. And I tried to play as beautifully as possible.
I think in the back of my mind I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Hennessy. And when they left the room to go back to where we were having lunch, I kissed the piano goodbye.
[MUSIC and chatter]
Something changed that day after I played it. It made me either more confident, or it made me closer to him, but it helped my playing somehow. Just a little seed that’s been growing ever since.
MG: That little seed would eventually grow into Roger’s Dedication project — and this brings us back to where we started — with Roger connecting with an engineer who records at the Brussels Conservatory where Norbert was a student.
RP: Literally, in like a lightning bolt I thought, “Record it there. That’s where Norbert won his competitions. You’re going to play all Chopin, and you’re going to dedicate it to him.”
[MUSIC: Chopin, “Scherzo In C Sharp Minor, Op. 39”]
Chopin was Norbert’s forte. He was known as a Chopin pianist. Not everyone is a Chopin pianist. It’s hard to define, but you’ll know it when you hear it, because some people play Chopin, and it doesn’t sound good. Some people do, and it sounds very good. It’s a certain sort of personality you have that means you can pull it off. This joie de vivre, this nobleness, this lilt… and that’s a Chopin pianist.
And I’d like to think that I’m sort of a Chopin pianist, that I don’t butcher it.
The hall was the best hall I ever played in, including Weill Hall, Carnegie Hall… and I would look into the audience and know that my grandparents, and my mother, were sitting there listening to him, and here I was 60 years later in the same exact position, same exact hall, and the hall had some kind of eerie spirit. I am not a California kind of person. I’m not New Agey. None of my friends would ever say that about me. I’m a complete New Yorker. But I sensed something, and it helped me.
[MUSIC: Chopin, “Nocturne In D Flat, Op. 27_2”]
The second Nocturne, Op. 27, №2, when I heard the first playback of that piece, I liked it, which is uncommon. I don’t like anything I hear of myself. But I thought, “This isn’t bad, which is good.” At a certain point I heard something that was really, really beautiful, but I didn’t feel like it was me. It’s hard to describe. It felt like somebody else playing. I’d never had that feeling before or since. It was very odd. It occurred to me that it was maybe my uncle. I didn’t tell anybody this crazy story. I might’ve told my wife, and that was it.
And I take lessons with this teacher. He was listening to the playback, and at the same exact spot he looked at me and said, “That doesn’t sound like you. That sounds like Norbert.” The fact that he looked up to me and said that I knew I wasn’t completely out of my mind.
MG: After the CD was finished, Roger returned to Belgium to give a concert. And he chose another site that was significant in his family’s story — the museum at the Mechelen deportation camp where his grandparents and uncle were sent after their arrest, their last stop before Auschwitz.
RP: Behind me on the wall they have all the pictures of the people who were sent, including my grandparents and my uncle. I gave a concert. All the Chopin from the album. It was only maybe 50 yards from the railroad tracks where they were sent to their deaths
[MUSIC: Chopin, “Scherzo In C Sharp Minor, Op. 39”]
All these experiences have really changed me. Only for good. I’ve become a better musician, a better human being from it. And I’ve sort of reclaimed my family, which is important to me. It’s not important to everybody, but it’s important to me.
I mean I used to refer to my uncle as “my mother’s brother”, or my grandparents as “my mother’s parents”. There was no connection between us. But because of Norbert, and wanting to get so close to him, and doing all this research where I’ve touched these things, where I’ve played the piano, where I’ve gone to where they were killed, where they were deported, they’ve now become my grandfather, my grandmother, and my uncle.
I mean I really love these people, and every day I think about Norbert. Every time I put my fingers on a keyboard, I think of him. I think, “What does he think about this?” Sometimes I feel like he said to me, “Hey dummy. That’s not how you do it,” or “Oh yeah, this is it. Yeah.”
NY: So as we mentioned, it’s Kickstarter’s 10th birthday
Raja Feather Kelly + the feath3r theory: Three cheers for Kickstarter! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!
NY: That’s choreographer Raja Feather Kelly and the Feather Theory
And we asked some other creators who have brought ideas to life with Kickstarter to share some memories — snapshots from different points in their journeys.
Emmely Elgersma: I suppose there was moments where I was just sort of sat with my hands covered in glue. Freezing cold, thinking, “What am I doing? Why did I want to make the world’s largest paper-mache sculpture?”
Hank Willis Thomas: I’ve done three different Kickstarter campaigns. Most recently, with the For Freedoms 50 State Initiative.
Eric Gottesman: The overly ambitious 52 simultaneous campaigns.
Zoe Mendelson: Pussypedia started because I realized I didn’t know anything about my vagina, and I had this idea. We applied for grants, we tried to get sponsored. Everybody was just sort of like, “Oh, I love this, but we can’t.”
Paul Saisset: I kept hearing and reading amazing ideas and scripts that would stay forever on the paper because it was different, just too far from the norm.
Alice Oseman: Indie comics can often struggle to find support from traditional media.
Eu-wen Ding: I was just fascinated by the idea that you could come to the community and create a product together.
Taneka Stotts: It was more than just a Queer Comics anthology about science fiction and fantasy. For us it was reality. I knew we’d have to fight, but we want it to fund.
Lucien Zayan: Two years ago, I warned my boyfriend that I met recently about the dramatic effect of a 30-days campaign on our relationship. And we are still together.
Raja Feather Kelly + the feath3r theory: We threw parties, we had game shows. The last Kickstarter we did, we did it in 24 hours.
Ema Ryan Yamazaki: I’ll never forget the moment we made our goal. I just started weeping.
Joel Hodgson: For Mystery Science Theater 3000, the show hadn’t been on in almost 20 years. It allowed us to have creative freedom, to make the shows exactly the way we wanted.
Simone Giertz: I didn’t realize just how odd it would feel to take 600 photos of myself, and then mail them to people I’ve never met.
Taneka Stotts: In a matter of months, it became a physical book that no publisher could tell us wasn’t marketable or didn’t have a place on shelves.
Eu-wen Ding: We’ve come quite a long way. Oprah selected [inaudible 00:02:08] be on her list of favorite things last year. We were on the cover of Time magazine for their list of Best Inventions.
Tom Putnam: We turned to our community of 3000 plus backers, and we found our CTO and our designer. Not only they were they, in terms of people for the jobs, their backed up projects meant that they were passionate about what we were building as well.
Stevie Ronnie: It was great how people send me messages of support. It was quite different to the way I normally work, stuck away in the studio.
Three Busy Debras: We were able to raise enough money to put on an original show at Carnegie Hall.
It was the best night of our lives.
Emmely Elgersma: The backers, they were keeping me going, rooting for me. I’m still shocked that I managed to pull it off, if I’m completely honest with you.
Ema Ryan Yamazaki: Having gone through a Kickstarter campaign, gave me a new level of confidence when doing anything.
Alice Oseman: They really helped my dreams come true.
Eric Gottesman: The night it closed, which was July 4th, Hank and I stayed on the phone deep into the middle of the night with the realization that, “Oh, no. Now that we’ve raised this money, we’ve actually gotta do this project.” And it set the bar high for what ended up being the largest creative collaboration in United States history.
Joel Hodgson: For about three-and-a-half years, I held the record for the most funded Kickstarter in film and television. Recently, Critical Role beat the Mystery Science Theater record but they’re so gracious, they invited me to their closing event, and I gave them the world championship belt for raising the most in film and television.
Hank Willis Thomas: I don’t know if there’s another platform that allows so many different people from various places in the world, to show their love for an idea. But also, give it a launching pad. I’ve probably donated to at least 50 Kickstarter campaigns, so I drank the Kool-Aid.
Taneka Stotts: Even to this day, I think back to that very first launch, and how I thought, “It’s gonna be okay.” And well, here I am, about to launch another one.
ZG: Thanks to everyone who sent us a message!
Here’s who we heard from:
- Emmely Elgersma — creator of the world’s largest papier-mache sculpture
- Hank Willis Thomas & Eric Gottesman — creators of The For Freedoms 50 State Initiative
- Zoe Mendelson — cocreator of Pussypedia
- Paul Saisset — screenwriter of Paris Est à Nous
- Alice Oseman — creator of Heartstopper
- Eu-wen Ding — cofounder and CEO of Lumos
- Taneka Stotts — cocreator of The Beyond and ELEMENTS Anthologies
- Lucien Zayan — founder and director of The Invisible Dog Art Center
- Raja Feather Kelly + the feath3r theory
- Ema Ryan Yamazaki — director of Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators
- Joel Hodgson — creator of _Mystery Science Theater 3000_](https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mst3k/bringbackmst3k)
- Simone Giertz — creator of The Everyday Calendar
- Tom Putnam — cofounder of Beeline
- Stevie Ronnie — creator of ‘and for you (love)’
- Sandy Honig, Mitra Jouhari, and Alyssa Stonoha — the comedy trio Three Busy Debras
Gifts From the Grave
ZG: And of course creators can do all the things we just heard about because of… backers — people who hear about an idea that really should exist and step up to make it happen.
NY: And We want to wrap up this episode — and this season — with a story that reminds us that sometimes, backing a project can have a deeper impact than we realize.
[Music: ensemble, et al. “Confessions of an Honest Man”]
Peter Hicks: I remember introducing Kickstarter to my Dad. I saw the Light Phone. It was a minimalistic phone that was supposed to help you live in the moment. Something I felt that my parents could use. There were no bells and whistles for them to get confused with, and so I gave them the link, and that was the last I spoke to my Dad about Kickstarter. Unbeknownst to me, he started to fund quite a few projects.
After my Dad died, sorting through his affairs I found a number of Kickstarter projects that he had backed. Sure enough the Light Phone came through, and it made me both smile and cry. When you lose someone you love, you scavenge around for things that remind you of them: Belongings, writing, pictures. The slow trickle of Kickstarter products were like a crutch… Helped me to bear the weight of reality. These were things that when he was alive, he saw promise in. Something he found interesting or exciting. And so when they came through to me, I felt like I saw the world through his eyes. I began to see these products as almost gifts from the grave.
The last project to be fulfilled was the one that really knocked my off my feet. In those first few hard months after he’d passed, I would find comfort in looking up at the moon. I began to associate the moon with my father as a beautiful but silent presence. He forever watched over me, so you can somewhat imagine how I felt when I discovered that he backed a moon watch, the Bovarro Lunar series. The watch has a little mini moon on it, something that I could wear on my wrist and always look to. The watch itself was a perfect last gift. A nice reminder that time is very much limited. You can never know when your time is up. And so you should be spending the time doing the things that you love, with the people whose company that you cherish.
As for the memories of my Dad, that the Kickstarter projects rekindled; every time one would come through, made me realize that I’m reminded of my father. Because I am myself a reminder of the man that he was. It just took a while, and a few Kickstarter projects to realize something that I already knew.
NY: That was Peter Hicks, remembering his father Ray Hicks
Farewell to Zakiya
NY: So Zakiya, there’s one more thing we need to talk about and that is that this is your last episode with us, you’re going to be moving on from Kickstarter in… I want to say first of all, having your literal voice and your creative voice in the mix has just been amazing. You’ve shaped this podcast from the start. But I know you’re about to go off and do a lot of other really cool stuff, so can you tell us about it?
ZG: Yeah. I am unfortunately no longer going to be here at Kickstarter because I am now a producer for a WNYC podcast called Nancy. It’s a queer story-telling podcast so I’m really excited to continue to tell stories that really matter. It’s very bittersweet. I’ve had the best time working on this podcast with you and to be able to tell the stories of brave and creative people, it really did inspire me to get back on the horse and work on my own creative project. It’s an experimental… I’ve been talking to Nick about it, but I’m also very secretive. But I’m inspired to be more forthright about it. I’m working on an experimental fictional podcast that is very zany and fun and important. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll come to Kickstarter to raise funds for it.
NY: Maybe we could even feature it on this podcast if you did.
ZG: Maybe. That would be dope. But it’s been really awe-inspiring, and special, and fun. Thank you for giving me the space to tell the stories that I like to tell.
NY: You have such a great ear for stories, and a great ear for story-tellers whose voices we don’t always hear. And it’s had a huge impact in what we’ve done, and thank you so much for doing it.
ZG: I appreciate that, thank you. And thank you to all who have been listening.
NY: And so in addition to making some other great audio stories, I know you’ve been working on another really important project and something that can have a really big impact in this industry.
ZG: Yeah, so obviously I’m in the audio industry as a producer… now host, thanks for giving me this opportunity…
NY: The pleasure had been all ours.
ZG: But the audio industry isn’t very diverse racially, and in other ways. So some other people of color and I have been working together for the past several months, to make a directory of all people of color working in audio so that we can form community amongst each other, and so that job hunters and managers can easily find very talented people of color in the industry.
NY: So if there’s anybody listening who is thinking of starting their own podcast, and they really want to make sure that they are finding this diverse, awesome talent pool that you’re helping to bring together, where would they find that?
ZG: Yeah, we’re working on launching a website for the directory, so it’ll be available at pocinaudio.com in the coming weeks. And if you are a person of color working in audio, if you’re an engineer, if you’re a host, if you’re an aspiring podcaster, you can join the directory, and if you’re looking to hire diverse talent, you can go to the directory and check it out, and see who’s out there.
NY: It is really, really cool that you’re doing that.
ZG: Thank you.
NY: Well, shall we hit the credits now?
ZG: I guess we should.
NY: All right.
ZG: How does it go again? Oh my God…
NY: We’ll just use the ones from last week… it’ll be fine.
ZG: Thanks for joining us for this episode of Just the Beginning — the last of the season.
The show is produced by Zakiya Gibbons, Michael Garofalo and, Nick Yulman. Elyse Mallouk is Kickstarter’s Editorial Director.
Our theme music is by Balún.
NY: We heard additional music in this episode from ensembler, et al. and Frank LoCrasto. And to
NY: Alright, we’re off to eat some birthday cake. I’m Nick Yulman
ZG: I’m Zakiya Gibbons
And this is Just the Beginning