Long before podcasts, live-streaming video and even before television, families used to gather around the radio and listen to radio theater. Shows like “Amos and Andy” and “Flash Gordon” provided hours of entertainment.
Radio relies on a magical collaboration between the imagination of the listener and the vocal performances of actors, to make performances come alive.
That magic still happens locally, thanks to the Seasoned Players and Spokane Radio Theatre. Twice a month Seasoned Players present short plays during the Spokane Radio Theatre show on KYRS, Thin Air Community Radio.
Recently, the group gathered at director Allen Eickemeyer’s home to rehearse and record “Bingo Ladies Gone Bad,” for this Sunday’s show.
“It all started with the IEL (Institute for Extended Learning) classes Migratory Words and Beginning Acting,” said Spokane Radio Theatre producer Paul Ruch. “A kind of Renaissance group met in those two classes. We started writing plays and performing them for each other in class.”
Ruch is also known as Noah Fredericks, the host of Spokane Radio Theatre.
Their first performance aired in April 2011. They presented local playwright Sandra Hosking’s play “The Insured.” Since then, Spokane Radio Theatre has performed more than 100 plays.
Ruch said they quickly realized a wealth of well-written plays was readily available, so there was no need for them to create their own. He reads hundreds of scripts, carefully selecting the ones that best fit the Seasoned Players. He also noted that their listening audience is much larger outside the Spokane area because so many playwrights tune in via the Internet to hear performances of their work.
“Spokane Radio Theatre offers a unique service to playwrights,” Ruch said. “We provide an outlet for them. All these plays need an audience.”
“Bingo Ladies Gone Bad,” by Laura Pfizenmayer, is set in a church hall during the annual Christmas potluck and bingo game hosted by the Ladies Altar Bible Society. You know mischief is afoot when one the ladies intones, “I hope it’s not going to deteriorate into a fistfight this year.” Another replies, “If the police are called, it’s on you!”
At the recent taping, the regular roster of Seasoned Players was augmented with performances by Maria Caprile and Jennifer Jacobs, who are both in “Our Town” at Interplayers.
Judith Albrecht serves as the in-house narrator, Laurel. “The narrator reads the playwright’s bio, introduces the cast and moves the story along,” she said.
Eickemeyer added, “The narrator is the camera for the play.”
Before recording, Eickemeyer had each cast member introduce their character. “Tell us what your character wants out of this play,” he said.
Radio theater is different for the actors than live or televised performances. “You have to really, really trust your director for radio theater,” said actor Kim Roberts. “He is your only feedback. There’s no applause, no laughter, no gasps – no way to appreciate your own performance.”
Jacobs agreed. “In radio, the audience can’t see your facial expressions or body movements – all must be conveyed in your voice.”
Local actor and musician Jamie Flanery stopped by the recording session. “The fellowship is great,” he said. “We get to enjoy kindred spirits.”
But more than that, he believes groups like the Seasoned Players and Spokane Radio Theatre are a key component to a thriving city. “Our community has a soul,” he said. “And this type of organization is vital to the soul of our town.”