Coda Live — An evening of stories about disinformation, dancing grandmothers and pop-aganda

Isobel Cockerell
Maker’s Chronicle
4 min readNov 27, 2019

When I arrived at Coda in the fall of 2018, fresh and eager from grad school, I became obsessed with the potential of adapting Coda’s stories into a live format. I was introduced to the concept of a multimedia storytelling show while studying at Columbia Journalism School. Before graduating, we put together a “live radio” show with our professor, Daniel Alarcon, of NPR’s Radio Ambulante. The show was a rampant success: stories about losing the power of speech, about garlic, about high-speed chases, and about pro-wrestling. With music, voices, audience participation, laughter, tears — I was utterly sold.

One of the stories got picked up for Invisibilia — I urge you to listen below.

The key to creating a successful show is having a surprise element, and Coda’s stories are full of surprises. I knew which ones I wanted to adapt for the stage: Giorgi Lomsadze’s interrogation of Putin pop-aganda, complete with a serenade on his ukelele.

The story of the dancing grandmothers whose flashmob stood up against Russian censorship.

A story our editor had heard over dinner, about a rugby star who got sucked into a quagmire of disinformation. And a story that still haunts me: the families left behind by flight MH17. Four stories, four journalists, four performances.

On a humid evening in June, we held our first-ever live journalism show in Tbilisi, Georgia, as part of our inaugural Zeg Tbilisi Storytelling Festival. An evening of stories told to an audience of 400 in the courtyard of a former Soviet printing house. The atmosphere was electric.

Opening the show in the courtyard of Stamba, a former Soviet printing house in Tbilisi

The stories our journalists told were at times highly challenging, dealing with difficult and complex material that interrogated themes of war, displacement, identity, migration, propaganda, and censorship. It mixed darkness with light, sadness with humor. We also showed the audience the delights of dancing grandmothers, rugby stardom, club hits.

Anna Holligan tells the chilling story of how Flight MH17 was shot down, the surge of disinformation that followed, and the families that were left behind.

Later in the festival, Giorgi Lomsadze surprised the audience with his personal story about nineties Russian pop stars — with the help of a ukulele.

Journalist Giorgi Lomsadze serenading the crowd, telling a story of post-Soviet repression, through music

Our show builds off the way we think about news at Coda Story. Since we started Coda four years ago, we’ve always called ourselves (with just a hint of jest) “format-agnostic.”

The audience during the second edition of Coda Live at Zeg, Tbilisi Storytelling Festival

We seek to bring stories to new audiences, engaging them through documentary films, animation, graphic novels, immersive multimedia features, and clear, well-told narratives, while never compromising on the rigors of our reporting.

For our next series of Coda Live shows, we plan to take the program on the road to London, New York and Los Angeles, and each story will examine the different ways technology and authoritarianism intersect.

Coda Live’s pilot audience in Tbilisi was a good example of the audience we would like to develop globally: a diverse and international mixture of students, journalists, scientists, authors, artists, entrepreneurs, as well as locals from the area, retirees, and community leaders. We will continue to hold diversity at the forefront of our future shows, bringing a range of speakers, stories and perspectives to our audiences.

Going forward, we hope to further break down the barriers between journalism and creativity by bringing together poetry, theatre, dance, technology, live music, lighting and projections, while maintaining Coda’s reporting ethics and principles. We also want to think even harder about the overall arc of each show, how each story builds. Ultimately, Coda tells stories that act as chapters in the larger story of our age. Each show, we hope, will help our audiences piece together something new about our tumultuous times.