Updated 9:12 a.m.
When Phoenixville resident Mike Mannon went through his mid-life crisis, he didn’t quit his day job or buy a sports car. He bought a video camera.
It turned out to be a good move — one that’s gotten him up close and personal with notable personalities from around the world.
In the three years since he picked up the camera, Mannon’s had the chance to train it on NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione and hippie icon Wavy Gravy. In Philly, people like chef Marc Vetri, Kensington activist Shane Claiborne and former Sixers President Pat Croce have sat in front of his lens.
Each of these familiar names, and about 70 more, were highlighted in their own episode of 3-Minute Storyteller — a series of video shorts produced by Mannon and his wife Shannon — which is now expanding with a podcast.
The Storyteller project started back in 2015, when Mannon’s self-reflective crisis hit. He knew he was lucky; he had a good family, was maintaining health, had decent enough financial security — but he felt something was missing. What it was, he realized, was excitement.
“I wasn’t risking, I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t listening to people,” said Mannon, 44. “It kind of crept up on me.”
At the time, Mannon was teaching professional writing classes for WD Communications, and he asked one student — a scientist from China — to tell her life story in front of her classmates. While she spoke, Mannon said, the student broke down crying.
“Through her tears, she said, ‘I never realized all I had to do was tell my story and people would respond,’” Mannon said. He remembered thinking, “I probably missed so many moments like that over the last five years.”
So Mannon went home to Shannon that night with an idea: he didn’t want to miss any more stories.
Together, the couple embarked on a mission to create a series of stories from “artists and activists and gurus” and other prominent or inspiring people. Each lengthy interview would then be trimmed to just three minutes long, to make them easy to watch when browsing online.
“We’ve actually been surprised what a story you can tell in three minutes,” said Shannon, 42. “It’s not like this super-produced sound bite…but it gets to the core value.”
This weekend, 3-Minute Storyteller made the big leap into the world of podcasting. Unlike the videos posted so far, the pod — called “For the Love of Conversation” — will include the full interviews, each of which is usually about an hour long. Per Shannon, audience members have been asking to hear the full interviews for some time.
“There’s a real hunger for that messy, expansive conversation that we don’t get in a lot of our public spaces,” she said.
The couple also recently restored a 1974 Volkswagen bus — named “Scarlet,” btw — into a mobile storytelling unit to take on the road, so they can hear and showcase more stories nationwide.
But at its core, 3-Minute Storyteller is a Philly endeavor. Mike and Shannon estimate 20 of their 80 recorded stories are Philadelphia folks. Pat Croce was one of their favorites.
“[Croce] had no clue what he had gotten himself into,” Mike said.
“He thought we were going to ask him about Allen Iverson,” he added. “We ended up talking about his own personal journey, particularly into Buddhism and meditation and mindfulness. He totally cracked open in front of us.”
“It’s remarkable the way he’s handled those really delicate issues in such a prideful way,” Mike said.
Even though the couple delights in interviewing the big names — they also aspire to interview Bruce Springsteen one day — Shannon said they get just as excited to interview average people, too.
“There’s always the dream list,” Shannon said. “But what we’re really interested in is the power of the individual.”
Those normal people are sometimes the most impactful, Shannon noted. She particularly enjoyed interviewing Emile Bruneau, a Penn neuroscientist, who she said changed the way she thinks about social interaction.
“It got under my skin,” Shannon said. “It made me think about, fundamentally, how do we inform each other’s opinions?”
Ultimately, Mike and Shannon hope to foster a community of listeners who begin to understand different people’s experiences outside their own lives — and hopefully begin to advocate for meaningful social change.
“What I’m really learning about social change through all of this is that small, tiny things matter,” Shannon said.
The couples’ time and effort will be worthwhile, Mike said, if it just inspires one or two people to take the leap to doing something new.
“If it makes them say, ‘I’m going to walk off the ledge, I’m going to do what I feel like I’m meant to do,’” Mike explained. “Without that fear that holds most of us back.”