TALK-BACK

For no extra cost, Raconteur Radio offers a twenty minute talk-back and Q&A following the performance. If you're interested in the talk-back, please note that in your initial correspondence. See below for a list of possible talk-back topics. In almost every instance, one of our members, three of which are professors, is an informal authority on the play (or source material) at hand. In addition, then, to talking specifically about this format, we can also hold forth on the classic novels from which much of our work is adapted. 

(Note: Some of the following points refer specifically to literary adaptation and are meant to follow peformances of required high school texts e.g. The Great Gatsby, but most are general and can follow any performance.)

My brother and me (circa 1975).
I grew up in the eighties on a horse ranch in Alabama. The closest movie theater was an hour away and across the state line. Our TV, despite an antler of tinfoil, got only three staticky stations. Indeed, there was very little in the way of entertainment that didn’t involve a saddle, a BB gun, or a fishing pole. Then one year my mother bought my brother and me this plastic clam shell trunk of radio plays. Hundreds of hours. This coincided with a more inadvertent gift from our stepfather, a retired dentist-cum-hunter. He had an old tape player camouflaged, I remember, with spray painted splotches of green, black, and tan. He used to take it out into the woods to call up turkeys with recorded clucks. When he learned to make the sounds himself, with a homemade cedar box, he gave the player to us. So we’d sit there, in our bedroom, my brother and I, huddled around this battered camouflaged cassette player, tiny feathers and turkey down permanently filling its crevices, listening to Red Rider and Roy Rogers, Batman and The Blue Beetle well into the night.

This, combined with another memory, a theater troupe that visited my grammar school, is why I do what I do. The troupe had been traveling across the country, and, in a rare instance of cultural investment, our school paid for them to visit. There were four actors and one of them, I remember, could do sound effects with his mouth like that guy from the Police Academy movies. They worked with one class at a time -- the classes were small, fifteen kids maybe -- and with nothing but a collection of hats, the group shepherded us around the school gymnasium, the four corners of the basketball court, making us feel like we were in space, the jungle, underwater, on a mountain. I've since attended plenty of plays, many of them extravagant -- New York, London, Paris -- but that tour of my grammar school gym remains one of my most memorable and formative theatrical experiences. Considering it now, a quote comes to mind, from an essay by T.S. Elliot, "a small thing done well." A small thing done well.

Charlie McCarthy, Edgar Bergen, and Shirley Temple.
IMAGINATION Radio has two great strengths: the first is the mind's innate obedience, its willingness to try to see whatever someone suggests it see, no matter how absurd; the second is that fear, or suspense, or awe, are emotions that knock our adult pins from beneath us, often leaving even the most uninventive grown-up (or teenager) with a suddenly activated imagination, a kid groping in the dark for a light switch.

ENTERTAINMENT A radio drama, rooted in a required text and staged for the students of that text, compresses and, I think, electrifies the narrative, creating a more entertaining and indelible impression of character and story (much like the proverbial rolling in of the TV cart to watch Mel Gibson's Hamlet or Gary Sinise's Of Mice and Men), while still forcing the audience to actively participate. Our staged radio dramas have a decidedly visual component, but push the listener/viewer to imagine the setting, to “picture” the details. Radio dramas cultivate a student’s ability to suspend disbelief; they teach students (or non-students) to listen and help them circumnavigate the visual set engendered by TV and movies.

Foley artists.
ADAPTATION “Radio” adaptations (versus film or TV) can be more faithful to the original text because a primary radio technique is the use of narration to move the story. That means in The Great Gatsby or A Christmas Carol or Moby Dick, we're using Fitzgerald's or Dickens' or Melleville’s own words as narrative engine. This is rarely done in film (and when it is done, it's awkward and disruptive). Film is a wholly visual medium, radio is a largely verbal one and, because of this, much better suited to literary adaptation.

INTERPRETING or REMIXING a TEXT How one translates the mute presence of words-on-a-page into an aural experience. You gravitate towards certain moments, highlighting scenes that may be buried or incidental in the source material, because of their, what? let’s call it acoustic potential or aural vitality (for example, when Jay Gatsby has his worker mow Nick's lawn). Through compression, you also, I think, focus less on theme and more on character and narrative. While The Great Gatsby radio play is only an hour and, accordingly, many scenes are heavily edited or cut entirely, I emphasize two scenes, both short and buried in Fitzgerald's novel, because of their critical contributions to Gatsby’s character: the lunch with Meyer Wolfsheim and the visit from Gatz.

Orson Welles.
THEATER How this highly portable medium (that is to say, not just radio drama, which of course is portable by definition, but "staged" radio drama) boils theater down to its joys, eliminating the concerns of space and cost (they can be staged anywhere) and the great chore of memorization (actors read from black binders), while presenting an event that is far more complete and fulfilling than a reading. This elimination of expense and homework, combined with the updated and very accessible media technology, make it attractive, I think, to students (or non students) interested in exploring different ways of telling and staging stories.

HISTORY The great radio auteurs like Orson Welles (and his famous Jersey-centric broadcast, War of the Worlds), Charles Correll (who popularlized the dramatic serial) and Arch Oboler, the first playwright to have his own national radio series, the chilling Lights Out.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherock Holmes & Dr. Watson
THE DOOR: The screenwriter William F. Nolan once said that nothing is so frightening as a closed door. You approach the door in the old, deserted house, and you hear something scratching at it. The audience holds its breath. The protagonist throws it open, and there, thorny and clacking, is a ten foot tall bug. The audience screams, but, as Stephen King points out in Danse Macabre, his nostalgic journey through three decades of horror, the scream is colored with relief. A bug ten feet tall can be pretty horrible, the audience thinks, but I can deal with a ten foot tall bug, I was afraid it might be a HUNDRED feet tall. What’s behind the door scratching, or at the top of the stairs creaking, is never as scary as the scratching and creaking itself. Welles’ War of the Worlds was so effective it sent people screaming to pack their cars and escape the invasion. It would never have worked on TV, but on radio there is no bad stop-motion animation, no visible lines dangling chrome pie plates, no zippers running down the rubbery backs of man-sized Martians.

To book a performance, contact raconteurbooks@gmail.com.

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