September 14, 2007

‘Hey, Got a Minute?’

Newseum staff put heart and soul into their cheers. (Ann Marie Czaban)
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Newseum staff put heart and soul into their cheers. (Ann Marie Czaban)

Jessica Hall and Mark Kaiser fight the giggles. (Ann Marie Czaban)
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Jessica Hall and Mark Kaiser fight the giggles. (Ann Marie Czaban)

Dorian Soto lends his voice to a Newseum game. (Ann Marie Czaban)
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Dorian Soto lends his voice to a Newseum game. (Ann Marie Czaban)

In a dark control room, two Newseum staffers unsuccessfully try to suppress snickers as they peer into a small monitor. One of their colleagues is attempting to create the sound of someone jumping a hurdle. And it’s not going so well.

“Try to make it sound not so … ‘hummina,’” one advises, and the snickers turn into full-blown laughs.

The broadcasting team of Jessica Hall, Tom Haller, Mark Kaiser and Dorian Soto are recording audio for one of the Newseum’s new interactive games, “Race For Your Rights.” Several staff members — including Soto, Susan Brooks Kelly, Katie Walker and Max Page — lend their voices to characters in the game.

“Race For Your Rights,” written by Soto and Sonya Gavankar, educates visitors about the five freedoms of the First Amendment through a spirited steeplechase race between the hero and the villain of the game. Along the race course, players must hurdle obstacles by answering questions about the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Players “are being entertained and learning a lot at the same time,” Soto says. The game, which takes just a few minutes to play, is targeted at children aged seven to 11. “We hope grown-ups are going to like it, too,” he says.

Back in the booth, Walker, who plays one of the characters, repeats her line — “See ya later… ” — using different inflections and pacing as coached by Hall, the game’s producer.

After several passable but uninspiring takes, Walker nails it. Hall throws her hands in the air and shouts, “That’s the one!”

So Hall is on to the next challenge. Now she needs people to create the sound of a crowd that will cheer for players’ successes or boo at their failures.

Soto and Hall roam the Newseum’s offices, looking for volunteers. “Got a minute?”, she asks. A half-dozen “booers and cheerers” gamely crowd into the booth.

“If you work in broadcasting, you get recruited to do weird things. I’ve done some really dumb stuff on camera,” Hall says, laughing, “but it’s for a good cause.”

After several takes of “boos” and “yays,” Hall is finally satisfied. “That sounds much better than any [stock audio] we could have bought,” she says. “And when we bring our friends to the Newseum, we’ll get to say, ‘I did that!’”

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