Wednesday, March 23, 2011

So, about last night? Who knew that . . .

... Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen possesses a wonderful, comedic stage presence?

photo: Marie Adele Christopher

Here's what I mean.

If you're honest, I'm betting that the first thought that crosses your mind when you meet someone you've listened to on the radio is: Oh, so that's what you look like.

Last night at about 8:05, Liane Hansen took the stage at Blackfriars Playhouse, sat herself down, got comfortable, gazed out at us and said: Oh, so that's what you look like.

It was the first of many, many laughs with which she gifted us during the next couple of hours.

Liane Hansen doesn't give talks; she tells stories, ranging from the harrowing to the comedic. The harrowing included the tale of hearing that her husband (Neal Conan) had been captured by the Iraqi Republican Guard in 1991 while covering the Gulf War for NPR. She told of the days of uncertainty; spent as worried wife bent on professionally reporting her own family crisis. She refused to run with unconfirmed news, even though other news outlets were bandying inaccurate information about with abandon. Her message for us last night: At NPR reporting a news story means the information must be confirmed by two independent, reliable sources. NPR may not be first; but it is accurate.

Liane Hansen came on stage holding a sheaf of papers, NPR's talking points on managements'-- shall we say -- little foo-foos, the Congressional funding debate, and other delicate subjects about which we curious listeners might be -- well -- curious. It was, she said, the first time in her 35 years with NPR that they sent her out equipped with what to say. Liane then promised that if someone asked a question that was covered in those talking points, she'd first read the answer and then tell us what she really thought. Then, with perfect comic timing, she added that maybe she'd hold off on the what-she-really-thought part until after her retirement at the end of May.

Later, someone asked her to read the talking point with which she most disagreed. Liane proceeded to sit on the stage and read the talking points to herself in a stage mumble, frowning, rejecting, turning pages, while our chuckles grew into guffaws. At just the right theatrical moment, she closed up the talking points and said, "Would you mind terribly if I didn't?"

You probably had to be there to really appreciate the comedy of this little bit of theatrical business, but trust me, it was was very, very funny.

photo: Marie Adele Christopher

Liane Hansen spoke to us for about 40 minutes, then answered questions for an hour; and yes, she talked about Juan Williams, Congress, NPR management, as well as the past, present and future of NPR journalism.

Diane Halke, our Development Director (and the person we all have to thank for last night's wonderful time) asked me to introduce Liane Hansen last night. In preparation I e-mailed Liane and asked if there was anything in particular she'd like me to say. She e-mailed back just to "speak from your heart, or head, or soul, or whatever."

So that's what I did.

For the head part I listed a few of Liane Hansen's accomplishments, including NPR-related ones and the fact that back in the mid-eighties she'd worked as an archivist in London's acclaimed Maybox Theatres, where other duties included babysitting Princess Margaret's coat and serving coffee to Sir Richard Attenborough.

But it was while addressing the heart and soul part that I really got down to what I wanted to say about this remarkable woman. As someone who went to high school when women were deemed too delicate physically and mentally for full-court basketball, Liane Hansen symbolizes to me the full-court press the women of our generation executed upon all those “traditionally” male professional bastions.

Liane Hansen not only took on the news business, she got to the top of it. Her life is many things, among them a gift to other women.

I don't know about you, but I will miss her participation in my Sunday mornings.

No comments:

Post a Comment