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It’s a Wonderful Radio Life, Coming to The Hangar Theatre (Ithaca Blog)

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It’s a Wonderful Radio Life, Hangar Theatre

The Classic Story Comes to Life in Ithaca…as a Radio Play

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Cygnet Theatre Company, San Diego, California (2007). Photo: Randy Rovang.Before I could write, before I knew of “radio shows,” I created characters out of the stuffed animals in my bedroom. I commissioned pans, pots, and utensils from the kitchen, baby food jars filled with screws and bolts and a few tools from the utility shelves in the basement and prepped a corner in my room for storytelling. But what is a story without an audience? And who wants to listen to the non-linear story of a five year old girl and her giant Pink Panther? No one really, not even me, years later, when I rediscovered the tapes and cringed at the sound of my own voice. So I told them into a tape recorder. I’d give anything to have those tapes today, mostly to have a laugh, and partially to appreciate how even my younger self seemed to understand that the older me would have a fascination with old radio programs (though I confess I don’t listen to many) and talk radio.

For the longest time I thought talk radio was the mostly static droning voice come from an old transistor that sat on the counter of my grandmother’s house. On holidays, the radio stayed on until company arrived and I’d sit in the kitchen as she cooked and baked, with the radio as background noise. And in the mornings and when we stayed over, as I padded down the stairs from the second floor, I could tell they were awake and cooking from that radio’s crackle. Even to this day, the sound of certain AM stations brings me right back to the kitchen. But, I didn’t like it. I rarely understood the content (finance, news, traffic) or the speaker (other than the station call letters), as the sound quality was clearly the reason why most folks ignored (and still do) the AM dial.

The first realization I had that there were other programs, story-telling programs was probably in A Christmas Story. Young Ralphie sits, practically drooling over the radio, hanging on every word of Little Orphan Annie, which arguably in the movie seems rather brief because the focal point really is the secret message at the end. What I couldn’t figure out was where the stories were on modern radio? I confess I didn’t look very hard, but when my uncle handed me a copy of Firesign Theatre’s The Further Adventures of Nick Danger, I was in love. I wore that cassette out.

It wasn’t till much later in life that I’d discover NPR and some of the amazing “story-telling” programs they offer.  Whether it’s Prairie Home Companion, The Story from APM, or The Moth, I’m never lacking for a good radio story these days, but it’s still just not the same. It’s not the radio world I saw in Woody Allen’s Radio Days. It’s not a few actors playing multiple parts relying on a narrator to move the story forward. It’s not the soundperson’s rattle of cellophane mimicking the drying of one’s mukluks by the fire.

It’s why I’m excited to see the Hangar Theatre reviving It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, running December 9-16. The production last year was a huge hit, with folks really enjoying the opportunity to see a recreation of a 1940s radio broadcast based on the now ubiquitous holiday classic. Imagine yourself in the seat of a theatre in the 1940s, fortunate enough to witness the exciting live recording of a story going out to millions, who sit in the glow of lights from a Christmas tree (or a stiletto heeled fishnet stocking wearing leg), like Ralphie, hanging on every word. And yeah, drink your Ovaltine.

Jennifer B. Brown is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=16156

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