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National Geographic Live

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Q&A with Director of Programming, Katherine Potter Thompson

Director of Programming for National Geographic Live! Katherine Potter Thompson might just have the best job ever: Working with the world’s most adventurous explorers to prepare them for touring to venues like Roy Thomson Hall. We sat down with her to learn about the abundance of stories, and adventures, waiting to be told, and how they go from adventure to lecture.


What is National Geographic’s history with live events?

We’ve been presenting events on stage since the National Geographic Society was founded in 1888, and explorer lectures were integral before the Magazine was even conceived of. The touring arm of NGL began 18 years ago in Seattle. We now have events in more than 35 cities in 5 countries around the world – and are still adding more.

How does NGL put together a season?

We try to align with other initiatives across Society. Who has a big story and heart-stopping media? Which grantees have made recent contribution to science? Who has had an incredible adventure? Who is being read about in the Magazine, and seen on the Channel? Who has recently published a book? Who is making a difference on the planet? Then we work to balance out the season by theme: oceans, adventure, wildlife, science, culture, exploration, etc. We offer a larger group of speakers to each partner theatre and vet the line-up with them to make sure our partners feel great about who they are putting on their stages.

What has been your experience with Toronto audiences?

Toronto audiences have been fun, curious, interested, warm and enthusiastic. From the get-go, Toronto has given the series a huge reception with sell-out audiences who keep coming back for more. Audiences are completely engaged and really enjoy themselves. Bob Poole said that Roy Thomson Hall was one of his favorite venues of his entire tour.

As you work with speakers, how do you figure out how to cut away the fantastic adventures that are no doubt overflowing in each speaker?

These are amazing individuals with larger-than-life existences, and I’m continually humbled to work with them. We work with speakers to hone their tales and build a narrative, while making sure the media we create for the big screens they stand in front of is pristine. It is perennially difficult to let some of the great stories go. But, if we let them tell the whole tale, we’d be here all night. Plus, we want to save some of the stories for their return trip.

What are some fun facts about the 2016-2017 speakers that we don’t know?

Lee Berger’s first discovery was a clavicle bone that his son Matthew found, while they were on a walk. He promises more major discoveries before he arrives in Toronto.

Kenny Broad is one of the funniest guys we know, but is also a deeply serious scientist. Meditation is extremely important for him – whether before he dives into underground caves, or prior to taking the stage for his presentations.

When Charlie Hamilton James was growing up in England, his family raised seven foxes – indoors. His eldest son wants to be a falconer.

Ami Vitale is a photography ambassador for Nikon who has a cabin in Montana. She teaches an annual “big sky” documentary workshop nearby.What’s next for NGL?

We’re exploring the incorporation of virtual reality and a closer relationship with National Geographic Channel talent. The Channel is producing bigger, more inspiring shows than ever before that can potentially become touring projects. With the strong talent and energy flowing out of National Geographic nowadays, we envision an exciting future for NGL in Toronto.