You know those "man on the street" interviews that Dave Letterman or Jay Leno feature on late-night television? The host asks inane questions, like, "Who is the vice president of the United States?" The invariably doltish respondents deliver answers that are not only wrong but hugely, ridiculously wrong, and the host casts a knowing comic glance back to the viewers.
One can only imagine what answers would surface if Jay or Dave asked the identity of The Shadow or Flash Gordon. How about The Whistler? Fibber McGee and Molly? The Green Hornet?
All of the above were fictional characters who thrived in the heyday of "old-time radio," which dominated popular culture for roughly two decades beginning in the mid- to late-1930s. The Potluck Players Old Time Radio Theatre Repertory Company, a Marietta-based theater troupe led by creative director Scott Lindquist, is hoping that those names will have enough of a familiar ring to draw audiences to its Midnight Mayhem series, which debuts May 9 at the Kudzu Playhouse in Roswell.
The Midnight Mayhem shows will feature recreations of three original old-time scripts: The Shadow's "Ghost Walks Again," the Boston Blackie mystery "Blackie and the Fur Trade," and the classic haunted house Suspense tale "The House in Cypress Canyon."
The group also performs May 10 at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. This show will feature a theater organ concert by the Atlanta Theatre Organ Society, which will also provide accompaniment for the radio theater group's performance of stories featuring Flash Gordon, The Shadow and Fibber McGee and Molly.
The Potluck Players evolved from a production at the Unity North Church in Marietta in the mid-'90s. Their performances are equal parts audio experience and theater. The actors read from scripts while standing at microphones, just as they would were they broadcasting the performance over the radio waves, but they're also clearly performing for their audience through their expressions, movements and interaction with fellow actors.
The sound effects operators who accompany the actors are a show unto themselves, usually applying notoriously low-budget, everyday devices to create various effects. The sound of a gunshot is created by holding a clipboard inside of a barrel and snapping the metal clip. To create the sound of thunder, the effects crew shakes a homemade cardboard tube that's attached to a spring with a drum skin on the end. Crude, but effective. As an added twist, the Potluck Players enlist the audience, on cue, to provide other background sound effects (called "walla walla"), such as crowd noise or dogs barking.
Network broadcasts of dramatic radio ended in September 1962 with the final episodes of "Yours Truly Johnny Dollar" and the long-running Suspense series. Their commercial value seemingly exhausted, many recordings were discarded. But in recent decades collectors have passionately worked to find and restore original radio artifacts and recordings. A hardy community of radio fans, performers and collectors has managed not only to preserve and share old-time radio, but to spread its popularity to all age groups, not just among those who are old enough to have heard it the first time around.
Lindquist estimates that 80 percent of the Potluck Players' audience members are too young to have heard old-time radio shows on the air. He attributes its youth appeal to the participatory nature of radio theater, which encourages listeners to create mental images to accompany the production. He also believes it has something to do with the timeless quality of the stories.
"People are looking for something to feel good about," he says. "When you get done with old-time radio, you feel good about yourself. You don't feel that you're wasted a lot of time and money on something that makes you feel worse."
Besides, Lindquist says, in vintage radio programs "the good guys wore the white hats and the bad guys wore the black hats. The world seemed to be a simpler place."
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
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