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WMNF dials up some old-timey radio fun

Love sound effects? Radio drama is for you.

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Love sound effects? Radio drama is for you.

Remember back in the day, when families used to gather 'round the radio to catch their favorite show?

Neither do we. But if radio theater is halfway as awesome as it sounds, then we want in. This month is Tampa Bay's chance to hear theater over the airwaves and even watch it being recorded as Studio@620 and WMNF-FM 88.5 team up to present a radio theater project.

First up is Arsenic and Old Lace, a half-hour adaptation of a 1944 Frank Capra film about two homicidal old women. Later will be The Piano Tuner and The Cranes, literary works by St. Petersburg poet laureate Peter Meinke. On Monday, the public is invited to Studio@620 for a public reading of Arsenic and Old Lace, which will air on WMNF at a date to be announced.

The idea for the collab was born last year when professional stage actor Mimi Rice read an article about the growing popularity of radio theater in American Theatre magazine.

"I fell in love with the idea because as an older actor, there are fewer and fewer roles," said Rice, 70, who coordinated the project and plays one of the elderly ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace. "But in the radio theater, it doesn't matter how old you are. It's just your voice."

The actors must speak directly into their microphones instead of making eye contact with their fellow thespians. To minimize extraneous noises, they perform in stocking feet and put towels on the music stands that hold their scripts, muffling the sound of pages flipping.

Then comes the fun stuff: sound effects. To create the noise of wine glasses breaking, actors drop a light bulb into a wooden box. For the sound of footsteps, they place their hands inside of shoes and tread them in a tray of gravel.

Their biggest challenge is the sound of a piano breaking while it's being played during The Piano Tuner, which is about a man who comes to a house to tune an piano, gets drunk and destroys the instrument.

Upping the authenticity is legendary pianist and organist Rosa Rio, who has recorded original theme songs for all three radio theater productions.

There is one final noise that's essential for any good performance. That's where the public comes in.

"This is a great live room," said Matt Cowley, who hosts WMNF's Soundstage, a weekly radio theater program that will air the three performances. "If you clap once, it sounds like 40 people are clapping."

Radio theater may sound like something your grandparents listened to before TV was invented, but Cowley points out that audio storytelling has found a new home in podcasts and books on CD.

"I think it has a chance of coming back today, in that there are more outlets for it online," Cowley said. "There's a lot of different kinds of new media stuff that somehow sounds a lot like the old media."

Radio theater

The series kicks off with two recordings of Arsenic and Old Lace. The first is at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Studio@620, 620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg; pay what you can. The second will take place at the WMNF studios, 1210 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa. Date to be announced.

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WMNF dials up some old-timey radio fun 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 7:00pm]
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