Arts Garage Plays Celebrate the Golden Age of Radio
Decades before HDTV—or even plain old television, as a matter of fact—millions of Americans huddled around the radio every evening.
This nightly ritual took listeners along for the ride with the Lone Ranger and the crime fighter Green Hornet, elicited laughs at the antics of Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist dummy, Charlie McCarthy, and drew sobs at every melodramatic turn in many popular soap operas.
Arts Garage will celebrate the golden era of radio with a series of one-night-only radio plays beginning Thursday, Aug. 15 with the Judy Garland classic, A Star is Born.
“From Orson Welles and the thrilling Mercury Theatre broadcasts of the 1930’s to Guy Noir and the hilarity of A Prairie Home Companion, the radio play has been one of America’s most beloved art forms,” said Arts Garage Artistic Director Lou Tyrrell. “These shows provide a nostalgic trip to the past with a modern twist.”
The series, which will also include It’s a Wonderful Life, Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard later in the year, is produced by John Watts of Arts Radio Network, a website devoted to the Palm Beach County arts scene, and a former on-air personality with WXEL radio.
Watts became interested in the old radio plays after listening to recordings that belonged to his father: “As I did research, it was exciting to learn that these radio plays were being made right there in the studio. All the sound effects, all the music, every play had to be written that week (for the broadcast).”
He and his wife, Caroline Breder-Watts, a familiar WETA radio personality, originally produced Orson Welles’ legendary War of the Worlds as a pledge drive break for WXEL in 2002 and would later produce other shows for the Kravis Center starting in 2007.
“We start off with the historic scripts. A lot of the scripts are still in existence. Orson Welles donated his whole collection of CBS scripts….and a lot are available online,” explained Watts.
Noting that each production includes three elements, dialogue, music and the all-important sound effects, Watts also consulted three encyclopedic books on sound effects from the 1940s.
“That’s about all there is, as much information today as there was then,” he said, noting he had assembled a number of car and house doors, bed springs, bells, telephone ringers and special effects to mimic the sounds of a car engine running and even screeching to a stop. All are painted bright colors so the audience will recognize when they are in use.
Just as was done decades ago, Watts and his cast and crew must put together the show in just days, a task made easier by the lack of scenery and staging, and of course, the ability of the actors to read their lines from a script. But, he points out, the biggest challenge remains timing as the actors often must portray multiple characters and navigate the myriad sound effects.
This week’s production, A Star is Born, was never originally conceived as a radio play, but at the time, companies would adapt popular movies for radio and then hire the movie stars, including Judy Garland, to step in for the broadcast.
Tyrrell and Watts planned the show to coincide with Arts Garage’s wildly successful recent production, Beyond the Rainbow, based on Garland’s iconic Carnegie Hall concert.
“We started with the idea to do one play,” recalled Watts, “but Lou said, ‘Nope, you’ve got to do a series’.”
If You Go
A Star is Born
Thursday, Aug. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Arts Garage, 180 NE 1st St., Delray Beach
Tickets $15 in advance, $20 at door