Theatre — Theater Of The Imagination

Theater Of The Imagination

by Michelle Saturley

NH Radio Theater revives lost art

Two generations ago, there was no digital cable. It may seem horrifying, but ask your great-grandparents about this tragedy, and they will usually reply that they didn’t need 200 channels of reality shows and infomercials, because they had the radio.

Back in the golden era of radio (the 1930s and ’40s), young and old gathered in their parlors to listen to the weekly serials such as The Shadow and Flash Gordon. Even though the listener couldn’t see actors on a screen, the action seemed real. Radio actors infused their scripts with life using nothing but their voices, with sounds and music that kept the listeners on the edge of their seats.

This lost art has returned to the Granite State, thanks to a small but growing nonprofit group of radio broadcasters who formed the New Hampshire Radio Theater. NHRT has performed some of the best-known classic radio shows all over the state, including at Manchester’s own Palace Theatre, as well as the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry, the Colonial Theatre in Keene, and the Court Street Theatre in Nashua.

“Our goal with NHRT is to expose people to the art of radio theater,” said Judi Currie, a co-founder of the group.

Currie, along with WMUR broadcaster Kevin Flynn, established the non-profit organization in 1996. Since then, they have performed a radio show around Halloween every year, doing such shows as Dracula, The Mummy, Sleepy Hollow and Jekyll and Hyde. This past fall, they finally performed what Currie describes as the “Holy Grail” of radio theater, Orson Welles’ version of War of the Worlds.

“We had originally planned to do the show in September of 2001, but after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we decided not to,” Currie said. “Kevin had rewritten the script to make it based in modern-day New Hampshire. The show was challenging, but it was worth the wait, and worth the effort.”

A radio show performed onstage with a live audience is a unique experience, both for the performers and for the spectators. In most cases, the actors read from a script, standing at a microphone, and quietly drop each page of dialogue after it’s been read. A central narrator moves the story along, and a few musicians help set the mood. The other actors, when not reading a scene, wait quietly at the back of the stage for their turn. The actors don’t wear costumes, through according to Currie they sometimes wear hats to help them get into character. A sound-effects person, known in the business as a Foley artist, follows along in the script to make the necessary noises to go along with the action.

Currie says the Foley artists get creative when called upon for specific effects.

“When we did Dracula, there was a lot of ‘stakes through the heart’ type of action, and our Foley artist stabbed heads of lettuce for the sound effect,” she said. “When we did The Mummy, there was a scene where all these beetles were crawling out of a tomb, and our Foley artist made that sound by swirling his hand around in a big jar of Skittles.

Audience participation is also crucial, especially when the performance is being recorded for radio broadcast.

“At the start of each show, Kevin will come out and prep the audience,” Currie said. “He lets them know that their laughter, applause, and other audible reactions are part of the experience. We usually do a few warm-up skits to help the audience adjust to the medium. We tell the audience to try an experiment: to close their eyes and just listen. It really helps to make the images flow in their minds.”

Currie says that at every performance, kids are the ones  most fascinated. The group often performs in schools, and is available for hire at school-related fundraisers like the one they did at The Palace this year.

“It’s something completely new to kids; something they have no context with,” she said. “We usually let the kids come up on stage after the show to see the setup for themselves.”

Which, according to Currie, is a side benefit of the performances: getting young people interested in a possible career in broadcasting.

“So many people think radio is just reading the news and weather, but it’s actually so much more than that,” she said. “This project reminds people of the opportunities and possibilities of broadcasting.”

With the NHRT 2004 season over, the group is looking ahead to 2005.

“We’ve already been tossing around a few ideas,” she said. “One idea Kevin had was a radio version of Clue. There’s a movie script, but not one for radio. I think we could have fun with the characters based on the board game.”

For more information about New Hampshire Radio Theater, visit www.nhrt.org.

 

-Michelle Saturley

 
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH