THE MAKING OF
A Night with Lea Salonga

by: Rey Carolino and Sol Jose Vanzi
FILIPINO TODAY Staff


[TalkCity and Filipino Today hosted Lea Salonga in a two-hour question and answer Internet chat session with her fans at the TalkCity's Pavilion last August 1, 1997. Click here for the full transcript of the session. In this article, we'll share with you what happened in the rooms backstage where Lea, her webmaster and the crew of TalkCity and Filipino Today were "seated". The room names and some of the nicknames have been changed to protect the privacy of future TalkCity guests]


We first thought of the idea of an Internet chat session with Lea Salonga after hearing her Playbill Online chat sessions at the America Online (AOL) Coliseum. We thought there should be a way for her fans to chat with Lea without subscribing to AOL and so we invited her for an Internet chat session. She agreed and we started looking for a suitable chat server that we can use for that purpose.

Mosaic Communications (Mozcom), the first commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the Philippines, was first in our list because they had just started their own chat server (chat.mozcom.com). Mozcom liked the idea but they did not have an auditorium facility that is necessary for a popular chat like Lea's. In an auditorium-style of chatting, people are seated in "rows" or "rooms" (or, in IRC lingo, "channels"). Using their keyboard, they can chat with the people in their room but not with those in the other rooms. By spreading the audience in several rooms (each room usually holding a maximum of 20 people), people are still able to chat among themselves with minimum noise while the interview goes along. Imagine if all 100 people in the auditorium are in one room and they all chat with each other while Lea answers the question-- it will be like watching a concert and you can hear everybody as they talk among each others. But while there are people who prefer to chat with their roommates while watching the interview, some people prefer a quiet environment and there are rooms that they can enter where only the guests and the session host can talk.

People in the auditorium send questions to a moderator or host who selects the question that the guests will answer. The guests are in a special private room with the session host and moderators. They do not see the dialogues going on in the various auditorium rooms but anything they type gets broadcasted there. In some events (like Lea's), the guests themselves type their answers in their keyboards. However, some guests who are not keyboard bangers, dictate their answers to someone who types for them. In some instances, guests are doing the interview by phone- someone reads the questions to them over the phone and type the answers for them.

Migs Paraz of IPHIL Communications (another Philippine-based ISP) suggested that we look for a chat server in the US as a Philippine-based chat server might not have enough bandwidth to accommodate such a popular chat session where majority of the callers would be logging on from North America. He pointed us to TalkCity where Jim Ayson and company are hosting the PhilMusic chat room. Fortunately, TalkCity had just opened a brand new auditorium at that time (which they called the Pavilion for Lea's event) and the people at TalkCity were more than happy to have Lea as a guest.

TalkCity's Pavilion is just five months old but it is fast becoming a popular interview site for celebrities. Unlike other auditoriums, it gives the audience a choice of using either their Java-based EZTalk program or an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client. For a person who has never experienced doing an Internet chat, the EZTalk program is a popular choice because there is no installation and configuration involved- you simply point your Java-capable browser (such as Netscape 3.0 or Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher) to a website address and you're in! Chat experts however will probably feel more comfortable using their IRC clients (such as mIRC, Globalchat, Pirch, etc.) in joining the Pavilion because the EZTalk program takes longer to load. This feature of TalkCity's Pavilion is the main reason why we decided to choose it for the Lea Salonga interview. In addition, we find TalkCity's chat servers easily and always readily accessible. TalkCity prides itself with a "clean, well-lighted" chat atmosphere. If you are an IRC chatter tired with the chat hostilities that surround some of the bigger and more popular IRC networks (channel takeovers, netsplits, etc.), try the TalkCity chat network for a change.

To accommodate Lea's fans in Manila, we decided to do the chat session at 10:00 PM, Friday evening, EST (which was Saturday morning in Manila). Lea was in Manila (in her bedroom watching TV) at that time. Using her webmaster, Joyce Torres (aka, The Spider), as a courier (Lea has decided to keep her e-mail address a secret since last year), we sent her the Guest Authentication Instructions that she was to use when logging on to TalkCity. This allowed Lea to enter TalkCity as an authenticated guest, allowed her to receive only private messages from the session moderators, gave her a stable connection and access to some tools to make her chat session more efficient. It also gave her automatic operator status in the rooms backstage.

 

HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED BACKSTAGE

The rooms backstage are private rooms consisting of (all room or channel names on IRC start with the # sign):

#QUESTION- This is the room where all the questions sent by the audience in the Pavilion are pooled. There is a TalkCity CCC (CityConferenceCrew) in this room whose job is to sort the questions- kill any repeat or obnoxious questions and send the rest to the queue.

#LOUNGE- This is a private room where the guests chat privately with the session hosts as the interview rolls along.

#PODIUM- This is the room where the host sends the selected questions from the queue and where the guests type their answers. Anything they do here gets broadcasted to all the Pavilion rooms.

 

LEA WAS AN HOUR EARLY!

When we entered the #LOUNGE area shortly before 9:00 pm, we found Lea already there chatting with the TalkCity's Senior Producer for Special Events (Diane Garrod), Special Events Producer (Teri Piedrahita) and Joyce.

"I figured there might be a rush, and I might have a hard time getting in if I tried closer to 10:00. Better that I'm here rather than not," Lea said.

Asked if there were any specific questions that she didn't want to answer, Lea replied:

"Nope, I'm pretty open to anything, provided it's rated G."

What she did not want to answer were questions asking for her e-mail address, phone numbers and house address. She told the Question Moderator to keep an eye for repeat questions.

In the #LOUNGE, we were introduced to the CCC staff who would be manning the session.

Diane (DianeCCC) would roam around the Pavilion rooms including the backstage to help troubleshoot situations that may arise and to keep contact with the guests.

As the Stage Manager, Teri's (MeriCCC) primary concern was the technical aspect. She "creates" the Pavilion by running the programs necessary to "link" the #PODIUM with the Pavilion rooms. She also picks the rest of the crew that will work out the event.

Mary Mitsos (CCCMyst) was the host of the event. She was to introduce Lea to the audience, ask her own questions from time to time and make sure the conversation with Lea flowed with a flourish.

Jeff Albeck (JaxCCC) got the most tiring job of all -- the task of sorting all 655 questions that were fielded by the audience during the two-hour chat session, a TalkCity record!

Deborah Clark (HashiCCC) was in the #QUESTION room with JaxCCC. She double checked the queued questions for obvious duplicates that escaped the preliminary screening of JaxCCC. She sent the next question to the #PODIUM as soon as she saw Lea say "ga" (go ahead).

Finally, there were the ushers: HowlCCC, DebbieCCC, LilyCCC and RobinCCC. These are the folks who "sit" with the audience, say "hello" to them as they come in and assist them in how they ask their questions to the guest. The Pavilion facility is new to a lot of people and these ushers are the education force. They have the difficult job of being helpful and at the same time unobtrusive.

Diane and Teri joined the chat from the TalkCity's office in California while the rest of the crew were working from their homes. Sol Vanzi was calling from Manila, Joyce was in New Hampshire and Rey Carolino was in his home in Ontario, Canada.

Since we were in the #LOUNGE area a full hour before showtime, we had a nice time chatting and joking around among ourselves. Lea talked about her brother, Gerard, getting his "learner permit" in Boston and her addiction to "chaos" and "acros" on the Undernet ("It's fun! I swept in the ice skating category!").

At one point, Teri almost had a heart attack when a fellow using the nickname "Smurf" joined us in the supposedly private #LOUNGE area.

"Joyce, that had better be you!" exclaimed Lea as Teri tried desperately to find out who the intruder was.

In fact it was Joyce logging on using her second Internet account.

"I'm trying to do something creative here to get on all the rooms", Joyce reasoned out.

"I almost sent you away ;-)", Teri replied.

EARLYBIRDS PARKED FOUR HOURS BEFORE THE CHAT

An hour before the chat, there were about 15 people already in the Pavilion chatting among themselves.

Teri said as soon as she opened the Pavilion room four hours before showtime, people started parking themselves already. Carlos_ and Violet were among the earlybirds in the Pavilion. We overheard them chatting:

<Carlos_> Do you think if I logged out and came back in later there would be available rows? Are you guys just staying on? Wonder how crowded this will get.

<Violet> I'm staying on.... I ain't takin' no chances

Their patience was rewarded as they ended up with the most number of questions that got through to Lea (Carlos_ had 9 and Violet had 8). They both sent a total of 24 questions each.

"Hey, they don't call me 'Fast Fingers Violet' for nuthin!", claimed Violet.

She would have probably got some more questions in had the session host did not notice that most of her questions were redundant and she eventually told JaxCCC to kill all the rest of the questions coming from Violet. Violet also had to leave the Pavilion several minutes before the show ended because her computer overheated:

<Violet> I gotta go. Guys it's been fun. See ya later!!! My CPU has been heating up like an oven! I'm scared of permanent damage!

<Rcalderon> Who cares...let it burn for LEA!

Several minutes before showtime, Lea told us backstage:

"Let me log on anonymously and see what's going on there (at the Pavilion).. be right back."

She obviously had a good time watching the people in the Pavilion and if she was in the same room as SOFTImage she was probably giggling when SOFTImage said:

"Heheheh... I'm thinking... what if Lea is one of the chatters here just checking out the channel before she proceeds on with the questions."

Bingo!

Lea also checked the Pavilion rooms looking for her boyfriend, Rich, who left as soon as the show began because of, according to Lea, "bad headache and homework to do".

 

BACKSTAGE, IT'S JUST LIKE A TV STUDIO

The atmosphere backstage is just like an actual theater. Diane said:

"We actually run the backstage area like a television recording studio, with countdowns and if you could see us in person operating this feature, you'd feel you were in a television studio, as the task of making sure all details are taken care of mount."

<DianeCCC> Six minutes to showtime, 56 people in pavilion asking questions, and more to come of course......

Here is the dialogue at the #LOUNGE just as the show began to unfold:

<MeriCCC> CCCMyst, I have a general welcome, then your intro, and then we're into the show!

<CCCMyst> Ok!

<MeriCCC> Okay... are we ready?

<CCCMyst> Ready!!

<Joyce> Ok

<LeaSalonga> Let's begin... I'm in the #PODIUM now!

<MeriCCC> Great! Running newsflash......

<Joyce> This is cool - can we have some background music please?

<MeriCCC> LOL (laughing out loud)

<CCCMyst> Lea, type "GA" for "go ahead" when you're finished with an answer.

<MeriCCC> So we know when to queue the next question

<LeaSalonga> Where do I type it? In the #Podium?

<CCCMyst> Yes, in the #Podium.

<MeriCCC> That avoids the dreaded "dead air"

As soon as the show began, the #LOUNGE area was quiet. Once in a while, in between answering the questions at the #PODIUM, Lea would go to the #LOUNGE and chat with us. Sometimes she would go to #QUESTION room and take a peek at the questions being sorted by JaxCCC and Joyce who decided to stay in that room to help sort the questions. Then at times, Lea would leave us backstage and go to the Pavilion to mix with the audience incognito. She was all over the place and yet she was still able to answer the questions at a very fast pace.

Lea said mixing with the audience in the Pavilion while doing the interview was something she was unable to do in her AOL chat sessions.

At one time, while she was in the Pavilion, she saw some of the audience asking each other what the "ga" at the end of all her answers was all about. She went backstage and asked the host to explain that word first before she fields the next question.

The TalkCity crew also acted as coaches to Lea during the show. They gave her tips and encouragement as the show went on:

<MeriCCC> Lea, pause mid stream and hit return.. then continue your thought..even if it's not quite the end of sentence... It will make the screen flow a little better.

<CCCMyst> Lea, you're doing great!

At the end of the first hour, they were concerned that Lea was getting tired and so they asked her:

<MeriCCC> Do you want to continue into the second hour?

<LeaSalonga> Let's keep going...

Halfway through the second hour, they asked her again:

<MeriCCC> Okay we're 20 minutes past the hour.. Do we want to go to the top of the hour or wrap at the bottom?

<LeaSalonga> Top.

 

AND THEN, WE LOST LEA ... FOR A SPLIT SECOND

Teri had her second near heart attack in the latter part of the show when Lea suddenly lost her Internet connection. This was the scene at that time:

*** LeaSalonga has left IRC

<CCCMyst> Lea...?...... Lea lost her connection.

<MeriCCC> We just lost Lea!

<JaxCCC> Whoops!

<HashiCCC> Oh oh .....

But before they could say their next words, Lea was back on air:

*** LeaSalonga (xxx@chat3) has joined #Lounge

<LeaSalonga> I disappeared.. My connection fell..

<JaxCCC> Intermission! What a trooper!

<HashiCCC> Welcome back, Lea! {{{Lea}}}

<JaxCCC> Amazing!

<MeriCCC> Wow that was fast!! How interesting!

<Joyce> Alright, shall we call a paramedic for those who nearly had heart attacks? ;)

* MeriCCC raises hand..

<MeriCCC> That's twice in one night!

<CCCMyst> LOL!!

<MeriCCC> You folks have to come back soon! Keep me on my toes ;-)

As the show neared the end, Lea checked in at the #QUESTION room curious why there was no question asked about her boyfriend yet:

<LeaSalonga> Wow... Joyce, no boyfriend questions? Rich didn't get outed today!

<JaxCCC> Sorry, Lea..ya want one?

<LeaSalonga> Sure... I don't mind.. and neither does Rich.

<Joyce> Lea - we must've thought those were repeats.

There were actually lots of questions sent by the audience about Lea's boyfriend but JaxCCC and Joyce thought she had already answered one (she did not) and so they killed those questions. When they got another one, it was too late. Sorting over 655 questions was definitely a gargantuan task for JaxCCC and Joyce. Joyce commented: "We need like a battalion to queue these questions! This is almost as stressful as my real job ;)"

Because the concentration on the sorting process was on duplicate questions ("I think we're hardly even seeing the questions authors", said Joyce), people who sent their questions early were able to get 5 or more questions to Lea while half of the audience who tuned in late were unable to get a single question in. Questions were fielded on a first-come, first-asked basis. Lea displayed exceptional keyboard skills during the session. She answered a total of 150 questions during the two hour show!

The backstage was quiet until the show finally came to an end and it was time to bid everybody goodbye in the #LOUNGE area:

<Rey> Thank you Joyce and Lea for coming.. It's always a pleasure chatting with you two. You make a very good tandem.

<MeriCCC> Indeed!

<HashiCCC> What a great event ;->

<DianeCCC> Yes a wonderful event!

<HashiCCC> Who needs a back rub?

<Joyce> ME! ME!

* DianeCCC raise hand!!

<DianeCCC> Raises that is. See I can't even type anymore! lol!

* Joyce helps Diane raise her hand

<HashiCCC> What a charming guest ...

<JaxCCC> Lea comeback to chat on TC! Please!! Don't be a stranger

<LeaSalonga> I shall return... to lurk or otherwise.

<MeriCCC> Sol, Rey, Joyce, Lea I invite you back to visit, to work and to play when ever you want!

<Rey> Great show, Lea! Congratulations!

<CCCMyst> Lea, you were wonderful!!!

<SOLVANZI> Fantastic Q&A. Could probably get more than four articles out of it.

<LeaSalonga> Oh wow... what a workout! I had a great time.

<CCCMyst> Lea....are your fingers tired?

<LeaSalonga> Actually no...

<CCCMyst> You'll be typing in your dreams today

<LeaSalonga> I'll probably hit the game rooms after I leave here!

<CCCMyst> LOL!!

<Joyce> YAAAAWWWNNN!! *oops, 'cuse me*

<SOLVANZI> No tired fingers because of the powerbook's palmrests and easy keys

<LeaSalonga> I shall leave now... thanks everyone! Bye!

<DianeCCC> :::WAVES TO LEA:::

 It was difficult to know how many people did actually join the chat because people were coming in and going out of the Pavilion rooms all throughout the chat session. However we checked the Question queue and there were a total of 117 people who actually sent in those 655 questions. There were 45 rooms (each room holding a maximum of 20 people) that were opened for the session and 4 Events Monitoring Room (where people in the room can only watch the proceedings and ask questions to Lea and are not allowed to chat with the others).

Teri commented after the chat was over:

"Lea is truly a gracious, dedicated, and shining individual. All of you are fun, intelligent and light hearted individuals. This was easily the nicest event I've worked in a long time!".

Diane agreed:

"We are proud to have guests as talented and charming as Lea Salonga in our auditoriums."

Great show, great hosts, great crew, great Lea!


 

SOME FACTS ABOUT THE CHAT SESSION

Total number of people who sent their questions: 117

Total number of questions sent: 655

Total number of questions answered by Lea: 150 (including 10 from the Host)

Total number of people whose questions were answered by Lea: 58
of which- 30 have more than 1 question
11 have more than 3 questions
6 have more than 5 questions
3 have more than 7 questions
1 have 9 questions (Carlos_)

Average number of words per Lea's reply: 18 words

Average word length of Lea's reply: 4 characters

Number of rooms opened for the chat: 45 rooms

Number of times the word "Miss Saigon" appeared in the chat transcript= 16

Number of question sent by Carlos_l and Violet = 24 each

Most commonly used words in the Pavilion- lol (laughing out loud)


Copyright 1997-2005 by Rey Carolino
All rights reserved.