On the heels of the Grand Reopening of the Wells Theatre, the Virginia Stage Company Education team wasted no time in using the newly renovated space.
Old Time Radio Daze is an interactive workshop that uses acting, vocal tricks, and sound effects to teach participants about the unique and intricate practices that go into making a theatre show over the radio.
Ron Newman led the workshop, starting with vocal warm-ups and showing the participants all of the unique items that had been gathered for some entertaining sound effects. Gongs, antique metal ice trays, shoes, sandpaper; altogether these tools might seem like such an odd choice, they are all equally important to make this project an incredible amount of fun.
Even with a 10AM call, the participants were already alert and excited, something that I usually don’t see till my 11AM coffee. Everyone gathered in the new Education space, and today's Radio Daze cast is handed their script-- an episode of Flash Gordon, in fact it's the first radio episode of the famous comic series, which aired April 27, 1935.
Before I knew it, I was convinced to join the wonderful folks participating in the workshop as we sat down to read through the script of one of the most popular classic radio shows. After a break for water, we began to explore the different elements necessary to bring this episode into production.
It was time for everyone to put their noses to the grindstone. I worked on character and voiceovers for the first half, and learned how to put your body into the work. As Resident Theatre Artist Kai Canu indicated "when you’re in a closed dark room, recording your voice, you need to remember to put your movement and body into all of your voice." It was much more challenging than you might think; you don’t realize how much of your movement really goes into your voice. Robot voices are actually REALLY hard to do when you’re not moving, walking, or y’know...actually doing the robot while you speak.
After that, our group went to practice with sound effects. We came down in the main lobby to a table with a wide array of odd do-dads: a thundermaker, a laser gun toy, pieces of fabric, fake tree branches, a pair of shoes in a gravel box and more. Ron Newman, VSC's Director of Education, wasted no time in helping us learn the sounds and follow the script to make some fun and scarily accurate sound effects. The gravel and shoes produced the perfect sounds for Flash Gordon and Dale Arden as they traversed the mysterious planet of Ming the Merciless, along with pieces of metal scraping and clinking together to represent the robot army in hot pursuit of them. Some of the moments incorporated music as well; the sounds and the script really brought it all together.
Finally, after we had all taken a much deserved lunch break, the workshop reconvened to begin rehearsal for our professional recording of Flash Gordon. The voice actors took their place at the microphones, while the sound effect technicians took their positions at the tables. We worked through everything we had been learning; the timing of sound effects, the difference in character voices, speaking loudly and with clarity, and all of it came together in an amazing performance. Ron and Kai were encouraging and brought very impressive work out of the talented young actors who worked hard and found appreciation for elements of theatre they had never paid much mind to before. Their families joined us in the audience for a one-time Virginia Stage revival of Flash Gordon that had them on the edge of their seat the entire time. It was an experience not to be missed, enjoyed by actors and participants of all ages, and I think could be the beginning of an impressive revival of radio play performances in Hampton Roads.
If you’re interested in hearing the full performance please click on the video below, sit back, close your eyes, and let the talented actors tell a fantastic story with nothing but your ears needed.