Radio theatre. A puppeteer tries to re-invent himself.

Jay postcard

By Jay Wilson

August 2016. It is 30 degrees at the Puppets Up International Puppet Festival in Almonte ON. Three shows a day every day this week. Day two and I get an email in my inbox from Andrea Curtis from The Guelph Public Library; “Jay do you have a Christmas show? I’m looking for something that resembles the Vinyl Café, CBC ala Stuart McLean, stories, maybe old-time radio drama perhaps?”
I have no such thing in my repertoire. The trouble with Christmas Shows is you can only do them in December. All that work, for what, maybe three weeks of performances? On the other hand, everybody has a Christmas show, so why not me? It’s only August. “Yes,” I respond, “I think I have just the thing.”
It is Andrea’s words “old-time radio” that resonate with me.
I work with puppets because I enjoy creating an atmosphere with sounds, and character voices and I enjoy wordplay. A friend from Guelph Little Theatre has introduced me to software for running theatre sound effects, and I have been hanging around the studios at CFRU 93.3 Campus Radio, trying to see if there are others in Guelph who would like to create ‘theatre of the mind’ as in the golden era of radio. I’m also doing less puppetry these days: more storytelling, my arms get tired, I have to reinvent myself. That’s why I have invented this character called “The Elocutioner,” and am now offering more recitations. All these elements are starting to gel.
Radio is particularly fun if you have a crime story or ghost story to tell. Lots of atmosphere. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is just the thing. A ghost story at Christmas!

Promo and I at Puppets up

Since I like to play with poetry, “A Christmas Carol” gets a re-write (sorry Charles, but even Shakespeare simply retold stories already written) so I make it 9 minutes long in rhyming couplets with a dash of iambic pentameter for the Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet- To-Come. And since it is a ghost story, add howling wind, grandfather clocks, and rattling chains!
Given a new title “Isn’t That The Dickens,” Pandora’s Sox now has a new Christmas piece in its repertoire. Add some Christmas songs, short puppet routines, and a telling of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore and “The Boy Actor,” a poem by Sir Noel Coward about performing Christmas Pantomimes as a child and voila – a new Christmas Show.
By now, of course, Christmas is over, until next year, but the radio dramas have just begun. These radio dramas are meant to be seen as well as heard – A cross between a staged play reading and a live radio play.
Up next? A larger theatre of the mind production. The telling of The William Harvey story. William surprised everyone in Guelph in 1889. He was a mild-mannered, church-going, respected resident. He shot his wife, two children and was on his way to murder his son, and likely himself, when he was intercepted in Toronto by a very clever police constable. Returned to Guelph to face these murder charges, the story of William Harvey was recounted in every newspaper across the country. The story touches upon insanity as a legal issue concerning guilt, the subject of alcohol, prohibition, and capital punishment as a way of seeking justice.
Part radio drama and part live theatre experience, audience members will gather at a location in downtown Guelph, at an historically significant site (I love our limestone buildings) to watch voice artists and sound designers create this ‘sound-based theatre’, while at the same time every citizen in Guelph can listen in on the radio! Sound like fun? Want to be involved? I’d love to hear from you!

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