Theatre alumna Jeannie Yandel was looking for her professional niche when she heard a voice.
After graduating from Illinois State in December 1997, Yandel worked in theatre. She helped found a Chicago theatre company and did makeup at another. She also was a bartender and a pizza waitress. And she was an investor liaison and a coffeehouse barista. (Not at the same time!)
She was living in the Chicago area when, one day, she heard a voice. It was “Morning Edition” on Chicago’s NPR station, WBEZ. And she liked what she heard.
“It was what I was hearing on NPR that got me thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life,” she said. “I’d listen to ‘Morning Edition’ before work and I remember being riveted by certain things. One was the reportage on the World Trade Organization (WTO) riots in Seattle. And the other was these funny little sketches on the news.
“What really grabbed me about NPR, though, was the quality of the storytelling. It’s kind of why I wanted to do theater in the first place as well, because of the stories. And when I found myself lost in a story on the radio, I recognized that it felt the same as when I’d be lost in a really remarkable s
cript or watching an amazing production. And I wanted to be part of that for the same reason. I wanted to learn how to do that for radio.”
In 2001, Yandel and her boyfriend (now husband) Aaron Starkey moved to Seattle. He is a 1995 Physics alumnus. Aaron had been offered a job with Microsoft, and Jeannie was accepted for an
internship with Puget Sound’s NPR affiliate, KUOW. “What’s funny is, a lot of the reporting I heard about the WTO and those skits I loved were coming from the station I work for now, KUOW,” Yandel said. “I had no idea at the time.”
Proud to be an “intern who wouldn’t leave,” Yandel was hired by KUOW and eventually produced several programs, including a national satire show called “Rewind.” Amazingly, the crew on “Rewind” consisted of the same people who performed the NPR sketches she enjoyed back in Chicago. Currently she is co-host of “Sound Focus,” a daily, one-hour program that explores the Northwest character through interviews with regional artists, innovators, authors, and fascinating characters.
A few Jeannie Yandel radio stories have been picked up by the national NPR newscast, and recently she got a recurring job writing and voicing the “A Little Bit of Weather Everywhere” segment for the show “Weekend America.”
Illinois State Theatre experience plays a role in Yandel’s daily work, even though she is not on a theatre stage and does not see her audience. “I do credit some of my theatre classes with teaching me about the power of good storytelling and the importance of being honest in your work,” the Marian Catholic High School alumna said.
She also remembers with fondness how much opportunity there was in the department, from mainstage to freestage productions and independent study. She also worked on the design crew for the 1996 Illinois Shakespeare Festival, creating the masks worn by the fairies in “The Tempest.”
“I got to take a couple of higher-level theater history classes with Elizabeth Reitz-Mullenix, who I thought was a killer scholar and teacher,” she said. “I loved her. Also, Dan Wilhelm spent a whole semester with me doing an independent study in makeup design. Each week, I designed makeup for, and then made myself up as, a character from ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ It was so exciting to just try stuff and see if it would fly, and have the support of the staff and faculty. I hardly slept. But I think we all felt like that. We would go to the Gallery (R.I.P.) and drink beer and talk about theater and art and music. It felt like a really exciting time.”
In Seattle, among Yandel’s out-of-studio endeavors is yet another performance-related activity. She is the founder and host of “A Guide to Visitors: Stories on Stage,” a monthly live presentation in the Jewel Box Theatre, located in the back of a popular Seattle bar called The Rendezvous. The program features real-life stories told by real-life people who are not actors. Last year several special “A Guide to Visitors” programs were produced for television. As if that wasn’t enough, Yandel also hosts a show called “Salon of Shame,” in which people read from their old diary entries as well as bad poetry from their adolescence.
“It’s both awful and fantastic,” Yandel said.
Although she has been out of classrooms for a dozen years, Yandel appreciates her Illinois State experience and is grateful for the University’s contribution to her career.