Remember the old days when we’d gather together to listen to our favorite weekly radio programs? Okay, neither do I, but I can imagine what it must have been like for families to converge on the living room for a much anticipated episode of Hollywood Playhouse, The Lone Ranger or The Charlie McCarthy Show (although I’m amazed at how a ventriloquist could be such a hit in radio)! Well, two creative Zionsville women are looking to bring radio drama back into our living rooms.
A few days before Halloween, I was invited to a ‘listening party’ at the home of Patsy Brennan See, whose friend Susan McClelland suggested they take their love of theater to a radio audience. The Zionsville Radio Players had just wrapped up their first production, and when I arrived at the See residence, most of the actors who were involved in the inaugural show were gathered together to hear the broadcast for the first time. We each took our seats around the room, and with the fireplace burning and the lights dimmed, the entertainment began.
As I closed my eyes and heard Patsy’s adaptation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe come to life, I found myself engrossed in my own mental movie. Briefly, I opened my eyes and glanced around the room to find that everyone else appeared to be lost in the story too.
According to the Writersroom, BBC’s online source for aspiring writers, “radio drama is the most intimate relationship a scriptwriter can have with an audience.” That was evident throughout the entire Halloween broadcast which included “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, one of the witches’ scenes from Macbeth, James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie” and “Nightmare on Main Street,” an original script by Zionsville resident Lynn Manning.
Having acted from the age of nine, Susan naturally joined a local theater group when she moved to Zionsville from Chicago three years ago. “It’s been really fun, but doing theater with a family (at home) is incredibly challenging because it’s a lot of time out of the house,” she said. “My family gets cranky and justifiably so.”
Then one day after dropping her seven-year-old daughter Eliza at the bus, the idea of doing radio drama struck her. “Somehow or other, I stumbled on WITT,” she said. The radio station was running a spot, looking for new show ideas.
She stopped by Patsy’s house and laid out her idea to adapt stories into radio plays, and the friends were off and running. Between the two, they knew plenty of talented writers, actors and directors, many of whom had full-time jobs and were raising families just like Susan. “We don’t have time to mount full productions,” she said. “I know people who won’t try out for a [theater] show because they don’t want to memorize and put in months of work, but they’re thrilled to do this,” Patsy added.
Patsy’s life had changed too with one grandson, another on the way and a newly married daughter who had recently moved 5,000 miles away! “I can’t put two months of uninterrupted time into a production anymore,” she said. “This came along at a perfect time for me. It’s almost a distillation of what I like the best. I love the acting. I love the writing. I love pulling all these different things and people together.” She put a phone call in to Jim Walsh, WITT’s chief cook and bottle washer, and asked him if this was the type of programming that his station would like to have.
Walsh, who has worked in broadcasting since 1964, agreed to meet with the women and learned of their qualifications, and even though they had nothing in the works, he liked the idea and encouraged them to pursue it.
The downside was that the radio station didn’t have an available production engineer. So armed with a spiffy new microphone and dauntless perseverance, Patsy and Susan’s husbands, Dr. Martin See and Franklin McClelland, managed all the recording and engineering. They learned on the job, and it took some time, but the outcome was well worth the effort!
One of the most exciting aspects of radio drama is that it transcends physical appearance. I sat in on a rehearsal for the Zionsville Radio Players’ upcoming production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and was impressed with the directing style of Len Mozzi. “They see us through our voices,” he told the cast as he led them through vocal exercises and warm-ups. And even for radio drama, Mozzi believes in character development – encouraging actors to have somewhat of a backstory in order to bring their characters to life.
“I’ve directed lots of plays but not a radio show,” said Mozzi, who has a Master of Fine Arts in directing from Boston University’s School of Theatre Arts. Before starting his own business, he was associate director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and taught theater at the university level.
“We tend to think of these people as caricatures because we’ve seen them so much,” he said, referring to the characters in A Christmas Carol, “so how do we make them real for ourselves and for each other? That’s been kind of a journey, and I think we’ve succeeded in a lot of ways.”
As the BBC Writersroom so eloquently puts it, “The medium of radio for drama is liberating, not restrictive. It can mean more variety, more locations, more action, more imagination and more originality….the pictures are better on radio.”
Tune in to 91.9 WITT December 22 and 24 at 6:30 pm to hear the Zionsville Radio Players production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The show will also air December 26 (TBA).
Anyone interested in auditioning for future radio dramas should contact the Zionsville Radio Players via Facebook: www.facebook.com/zionsvilleradioplayers.
Visit WITT’s website: www.919witt.org
Follow WITT on Facebook: www.facebook.com/91.9WITT