During the pandemic, we’ve all done a lot of listening.
Podcasts have boomed. Audiobook sales soared.
And — as Staples Players have discovered — there is a huge audience for old-time radio broadcasts.
The nationally recognized drama troupe pivoted last fall to radio shows. Produced virtually on Sunday evenings, they were a surprise — and welcome — addition to our vastly curtailed entertainment calendars.
This spring — the 3rd season in a row without a mainstage production — Players is back on the internet. Four shows are planned, starting next Sunday. It’s time to gather round the radio — well, the laptop — for sure.
The series kicks with “Sorry, Wrong Number” this Sunday (February 7, 5 p.m. — — yes, you’ll have plenty of time before the Super Bowl).
Orson Welles called 23-minute thriller “the greatest radio script ever written.” A woman accidentally overhears a phone conversation about a planned murder. Terror followa quickly, as the plot unfolds in real time.
Players directors David Roth and Kerry Long wanted variety in their 4 shows. They sure have it.
“Little Women” (February 28, 6 p.m.) and “Dracula” (March 14, 6 p.m.) follow. The series concludes with “The Marvelous Mellow Melodrama of the Manager of the Mislaid Manor” (March 26, 7 p.m.), a madcap comedy that will be Players’ first-ever freshman and sophomore-only production, of any kind.
Roth and Long — and their actors and tech crews — love the radio show format. The cast is not tied down to one character for 3 months. They can create multiple personalities — with diverse accents and back stories, and grow rapidly as performers.
Musicians and sound effects people have plenty to do. So do costumers, hair and makeup designers, who create special looks for the actors. They’re never seen by audiences, but they help each cast member get into his or her role.
The radio shows are intended to be performed in the Black Box theater — with social distancing, of course. But in the event of a sudden quarantine (as happened last fall), the show can be done entirely remotely.
Each performance is available on www.wwptfm.org. They are not aired on the radio station itself, due to FCC restrictions on commercials. (Highlights of each show include clever Player-produced ads for local businesses.)
Audiences appreciate the format. “People listened lots of different ways last fall,” Roth says. “Some tuned in during dinner. Some turned off the lights, built a fire and listened that way.” The length of the shows — from 23 to no more than 75 minutes — lends itself to those kinds of rituals.
The Super Bowl — this is number LV — is a relatively new American ritual. Decades earlier, Americans gathered around the radio in another communal radio.
Thanks to our new pandemic normal — and Staples Players — we can all do that again.