It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when radio was more than just popular music and news. In the 1920s if you couldn’t get to the theatre, the theatre came to you through radio plays, where the scene is set entirely by the actor’s talent for description.
Currently, the Lougheed House is running an Art Deco exhibit and, in conjunction, an amazing pairing came about with The Kinkonauts, who have been invited to create a 1920s-style improvised radio play, Radio Daze, to be set and performed in the historic building.
One of the most important factors in a radio play is, of course, the sound effects. People need to believe that a gunshot is being fired, a twig is being snapped, and for this performance the Foley artist task falls to Michael Harvey, sound technician and longtime member of the theatre/improv community. Putting his skills to use (snapping a piece of celery to mimic the breaking of an arm bone? Sure!) and drawing from the effects used in the era, Harvey and the Kinkonauts have something pretty special in store for Calgary audiences.
The pairing of the Kinkonauts and Lougheed House is pretty unique and goes along with the Kinkonaut’s enthusiasm for trying new things and being open to new ideas — giving its members the freedom to have an idea and run with it undoubtedly being where a lot of the Kinkonauts’ creativity and fun comes from. “It’s a great place,” says Harvey. “They love to just foster that sense of, ‘You’ve got an idea? Sure! Put a troupe together, here’s a space for you to rehearse, see if you like it, (there are) coaches available and we’ll put you in front of an audience and see what happens!’ ”
And in the case of Radio Daze, Harvey will be doing just that with regards to coming up with sound effects: running with it. “I’ll have a table,” he says, “it will be set up with all of the things that I’ve been building and sourcing and researching, and for the majority I’m trying to stay as close to 20s sort of (materials) that would have been available then … It will all be hands-on, just me scrambling to go, ‘Oh, what sounds like that that they still have here,’ and they’ll be throwing stuff at me where they’ll start layering it up, and just keep going …”
The beauty of the radio play is that the scene has to be set through description, and with the added element of improv that description can sometimes get … hilarious, as opposed to a scripted production of the true radio play days. “This is a totally different mindset,” explains Harvey, “because you can’t show as much, all the scene painting is verbal. We don’t use props as it is, everything that we have is is mimed, generally, at this point it’s going to be, ‘Why are you coming towards me with that gun in your hand?’ or, ‘Why are your hands on my throat like this,’ and that’s a new skill set and trying to figure it out.”
The Kinkonauts are no strangers to theme-specific improv productions, with Star Trek, Jane Austen and Shakespeare regularly featured in their shows, but Radio Daze is a fun departure for the troupe, not only branching into a new genre, the Art Deco days, but also attempting with this production to stay as true to the era as possible when it comes to its presentation.
“Its a fun shift to do this style, to keep up trying to keep the terms of the era, trying to use era-appropriate language,” says Harvey, who also has the added pressure of discovering and using some of the more basic sound effects of the day. “It’s interesting that the perception of what a sound should be has kind of shifted (over the years) because of movies and all of the digital effects – you think of gunshots a certain way whereas to the radio audience it was more of a snap because it would literally be a clipboard snapping or two boards being smacked together to get that sound, but (the audience) would get it, the context was right. So some of (the sound effects) might not sound like movie effects, but they’ll sound like what they sounded like back then.”
Because the show is improv, there will be input from the audience as to the direction the production takes, which, as with any improv show, presents a wild card to both the performers and the audience. “There’s that element of danger,” muses Harvey. “Because (the audience doesn’t) know what the show’s going to be, we don’t know what the show’s going to be, and that’s the joy of it, that they’re creating it with us because of their energy. It’s never going to be that show again, this is one time only, and this show will never repeat – sometimes thank goodness it will never repeat, but sometimes it’s like, ‘There was some gold in there.’ … And if something happens to go wrong? I misplaced sound or some bumbled lines? That’s a gift! That’s a gift when that happens! The comedy gods have smiled down – ‘Let’s see where this goes!’ ”
The Kinkonauts will make the evening as immersive as they can, giving the audience a true 20s-style experience. “We’re all going to be dressing as close as we can get to period dress and try to stay in character before the show while we’re setting up … we’re going to try to keep it as Calgary-centric as we can and tie-in the Lougheed House so that it’s all as if you were in the 20s seeing the Lougheed Networks’ production.”
And Michael Harvey will be ready with this collection of era-spacific sound effects: the celery, the clipboards, his own handmade wind machine and, of course, if the scene calls for horses: “The coconuts will be on the table.”
Radio Daze – Live, Improvised Radio Play will be performed by The Kinkonauts at the historic Lougheed House Thursday, April 26 and Friday, April 27. To enter to win tickets to the Thursday night show please click here.
(Photo courtesy of The Kinkonauts)
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.