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Radio theater group keeps art form alive

The creak of swinging doors. The jingle of spurs. The echo of a gunshot. Bring in actors and you're ready for a movie or a stage play, right?

Not exactly. When the actors belong to the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company, the sound is the thing.

"It's the original theater of the mind," says the group's head writer, Thomas Fuller. "It's where the listener becomes a passive collaborator with the artists. We provide the voices, sound effects and plots. And the listener provides everything else."

The company is heir to the golden age of radio when America gathered around the dial to listen, rather than watch, their favorite shows. Live appearances, tapes, CDs and the Internet are now key. During Labor Day weekend, the company will stage two performances at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta during Dragon*Con.

The company focuses largely on horror, fantasy and science-fiction, genres that work particularly well in audio.

"What's going on in their minds is much more horrible than anything we could have shown them," Fuller remarked.

The sound crew provides the worlds the characters inhabit. Shoes placed on cat litter become a person walking across gravel, while a beach ball containing gravel becomes the rumble of thunder. Electronics create sounds ranging from simulated explosions to incidental music.

Radio personality and producer William L. Brown started ARTC in 1983 and, with the help of local actor and director Patrick Stansbury, secured funding for a weekly radio show. The company now has about 40 regulars who attend weekly rehearsals and another 60 who can be tapped for performances. All are volunteers providing their spare time to the nonprofit group. The nearly 200 recordings the group sells each year from its website, www.artc.org, pay for costs.

In addition, members Henry Howard has launched audiotheater.com, a website that links to an estimated 125 similar groups and projects throughout the nation. The nonprofit site offers radio stations hourly shows each week, drawing from recordings made by ARTC and other groups. Locally, listeners can tune in at 5 p.m. Saturdays on WREK-FM 91.1 to hear the results.

"The Internet has suddenly given us access to the entire English-speaking world. People will listen if you give them something worth listening to," Fuller says. "People want to be entertained."

The Atlanta Radio Theater Company performs at Dragon*Con Aug. 31 and Sept. 3 at about 7 p.m. at Hyatt Regency Atlanta. www.artc.org.

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