Back on the Road with Trailer Talk’s Sabrina Artel
First there was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s performance of “Freedom of Speech ‘06” at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, followed by the grassroots Callicoon Center Band – and to wrap it up on the other side of town, a trip to the Liberty Farmers Market.
For Sabrina Artel, creator of “Trailer Talk” and “Talk Universe,” that was seven typical days late last year as she made the rounds with her vintage trailer, inviting folks, famous and not, in for a cozy little chat about the events of the day.
“Whew, it was an amazing week,” she said of a week’s worth of interviews in August.
“Trailer Talk” is a quirky yet hard-hitting look at what’s on people’s minds, ranging from a sort of zen-like trip down the lesser traveled road where an old man plays a set of silver spoons or a corporate hack tells you megawatt transmission lines in your backyard are the ticket to riches, to what just-plain folks think about things like gays getting hitched or “End the War Now!” expressed at a massive anti-war rally in the Big Apple.
Since setting up “Trailer Talk” in a vintage 1965 Beeline a few years ago after launching a career as a radio broadcaster, Artel’s bag of interviewees would out-sparkle many in the world of big-time news: John Adams, founder/executive director, Natural Resources Defense Council; Wally Lamb, author of “She’s Come Undone"; host/performer Rosie O’Donnell; actor Danny Glover; activist attorney Stanley Cohen; Billy “Reverend Billy” Talen and the Church of Stop Shopping; and Amy Goodman, host of Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now.”
Continuing with her short list, Artel also got some serious mike time with actor Rip Torn; photographer Cathy Opie; actresses Ashley Judd and Susan Sarandon; and the Guerilla Girls.
Several politicians have shared airtime with Artel and, if they were lucky, a couple of homemade brownies: NYS Senators Tom Duane and John Bonacic, along with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther.
Reverend Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/Push Coalition told her that “within small towns is the DNA of America’s most pressing social issues and where they can be worked on.”
Based on her interview with Jackson and fueled by a 2006 New York State Council on the Arts individual artist award/grant, Artel explored the real-time meaning of his statement “to question what was happening within my small town of Liberty, and then traveling throughout the county and region,” asking folks about their roots and connections to their communities during a year long project titled “In These Mountains.”
“The real emphasis for me with this project was looking at this idea of small town America, and I discovered more and more things about the layers of life in this area,” said Artel. “It’s more complex than is often addressed.”
“Jesse Jackson’s statement was the seed of my project… that [what] the urban centers are dealing with in a sense can be resolved at the small town level,” she added.
Artel covers such events as the Callicoon Tractor Parade, a small homegrown celebration featuring icons of Americana: the history of farming, lots of American flags, kids and grandpas galore, vintage machinery chugging down the main street. While covering a New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) informational meeting, Artel set up her trailer outside the community hall in Callicoon and invited all comers to talk about their views of the proposed idea to put massive high voltage electric transmission lines in the Delaware River Valley corridor.
“That was a good example of how something in my home in Sullivan County has national significance, and is very specifically tied to this administration and the Energy Act,” said Artel. “it brought out larger issues… like the environment, conservation and alternative energy.”
Last summer she was up in Cape Cod with “Trailer Talk” doing a piece on marriage in America and the government’s role in defining it the institution of joining a couple.
So far, her broadcasts have attracted the attention of the local press and a bit farther a field have resulted international coverage including a feature story on CNN.
Artel was born in Houston, Texas and raised in the City of the Angels, where she was inspired to link her performing talents with social consciousness.
As a youngster, she listened to her parents and grandmother Rosa Wechfelmann talk about escaping from Hitler’s reign of terror in Germany.
“She talked to everyone, she knew everyone’s stories,” said Artel of her grandmother “Oma.” “Perhaps I take after her. I’ve always loved talking to people, finding out who they are.”
A bit later in her journey through life, Artel helped found Dar A Luz, a highly respected theatre company and wrote and produced Pinto Heaven, a bi-coastal one-woman show, “which is a fictional account of my father’s quirky Texan family, which brings to light some extraordinary aspects of my bloodlines, which some say can be traced back to John Wilkes Booth and Edgar Allan Poe.”
She was trained at the University of California, Berkeley and was awarded a degree in anthropology and drama from New York University.
As a professional actress, Artel has a number of film, theatre and television credits to her name, along the way working with widely known directors such as Robert Wilson, Anne Bogart, Yvonne Rainer and Reza Abdoh.
While in Hollywood, she found a 5-week old puppy abandoned in a cardboard box. Today Dolphi sits in on some of the quieter interviews, nestled down in a corner of the trailer as Artel follows her commitment to “maintain awareness around politics, the arts and socio-economic issues.”
Edited segments of “Trailer Talk” are regular features on “Making Waves” a weekly news magazine co-hosted by Artel and program creator Kevin Gref, broadcast over the airwaves on National Public Radio affiliate WJFF-Radio Catskill.
In mid-January Artel headed down to Memphis, Tenn. to put together a segment for “Talk Universe” about Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.
“I interviewed Danny Glover (the actor), a man I met on the street who was displaced by [Hurricane] Katrina and is still homeless, and who used to make clothes for the other king, Elvis Presley,” said Artel.
“Trailer Talk” is a bit like harkening back to the days of vintage radio with a glamorous broadcast host resembling a movie star of the 1940’s, all set in a tiny 42-year old, red and white 13-foot long trailer. "It is a live broadcast, a community event and a radio broadcast,” said Artel. “Its goal is to bring attention to important issues where least expected, on the streets and in people’s neighborhoods.
“It evokes the historic past through the vintage camper itself, it engages the present through the live public conversations; and it presents a future of possibilities because of the trailer’s mobility and its use of innovative technology,” she added. “It encourages the democratic tradition of public dialogue which values the coming together of diverse and often opposing voices to create and inspire social change.”
Who would she like to see sitting down for a chat?
“I would love to do a “Trailer Talk” with Bruce Springsteen because he’s a damn great artist who’s politically involved and Al Gore on his environmental issues,” said Artel.
What about the president?
“The door’s open to come on in. It would be interesting… but it wouldn’t go anywhere because he’s kept himself from any open dialogue. I don’t have any interest in giving his administration’s agenda a voice.”
The other day, as folks made a beeline for the ’65 Beeline, lining up for an on-air interview, Artel was asked what motivates her to produce “Trailer Talk”, now in its forth season.
“It’s a place where people can reflect upon the moment at hand,” she replied. “We are living in such a critical time, and things are moving so rapidly. I think people feel voiceless, and they don’t have a place to share their feelings about what’s important to them.”
On the day before this past Easter Sunday, Artel was in the city interviewing several folks during “Farm Sanctuary in the City: A Benefit for Compassion,” an event hosted by the Jivamukti Yoga School to raise awareness about animal rights: Gloria Steinem, activist journalist and founder of Ms. Magazine, tennis champion Martina Navratilova, and musicians Moby and Russell Simmons.
On Saturday, April 8, she was awarded a grant from the Puffin Foundation, a group dedicated to funding artists whose work deals with social rights and makes positive changes in the world.
As a result, Artel will be starting a series of “Trailer Talks” focusing on factory farming and animal rights.
She hopes to get funding for a project that will cross borders, as she looks at what separates and brings together the United States and Mexico, its neighbor to the South.
“People say to me all the time they look forward to seeing me and my little trailer being there… and the live conversation is the installation, it becomes something else in the edited program, where all the pieces are put together,” explained Artel.
“It’s about the idea that something can change in a community because of interaction and listening,” she said. “I’m very interested in what engages people, how they are taking action and how they end up where they are.”