Arts & Leisure

Addison County Radio Players tune into the holidays

AMATEUR SOUND ENGINEER Lisa Powell used her sound-editing magic to save an audio performance of “The Thirty Nine Steps” earlier this year. It worked out so well that a group of stage performers has coalesced into the Addison County Radio Players, which is readying free online holiday radio plays. 

LISA POWELL

Do you ever plop on the couch at the end of a long day hoping the TV would bring you a calm and relaxing 24 minutes? If you get this reprieve, count yourself lucky, because many of us sitting in front of the boob tube find our eyes strained, our shoulders tense and our knuckles white around a poor can of seltzer. If you’re looking for entertainment without all the flashing, high-def imagery, consider this: radio plays.

That’s right. Think back to the time when old radio knobs twisted back and forth through static to settle on a program. And now bring that idea forward to today, where you’ll find the Addison County Radio Players, which brings us radio plays via digital stream.

Lisa Powell of Bristol has been involved with the group since it began a couple of years ago. 

“With the closing of public spaces to large crowds came the realization that watching actors on a stage live was going away for a while,” explained Powell, who has “done just about every job you can do in theater” with the Middlebury Community Players, The Committee (a theater group in Bristol) and the Bristol Gateway Players over the past 50 years. “The Bristol Gateway Players decided to do Joe Landry’s ‘The 39 Steps, A Live Radio Play,’ which was based on Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Thirty Nine Steps.’”

The plan was for it to be recorded over Zoom and live-streamed. Powell was a “jingle singer” in the show and did several rehearsals via Zoom, but something stalled and it was radio-silence until spring 2021. 

“Rehearsals had finished, but we didn’t know what had happened beyond that,” Powell said. “We were beginning to wonder, but understood that things were strange and getting stranger as the world dealt with the ongoing pandemic.

“Turns out that the person who was doing post-production (cutting tracks together, and music and sound effects) had felt that the recordings were too much of a ‘spaghetti mess’ to be viable to be used,” Powell explained. “The director said there were three options: 1) We could get together and record it all again in one session, 2) Wait until it was OK to perform live, or 3) Find someone who was willing to put together the recordings we had already.”

You guessed it. Powell was that “someone.”

“I had some experience in sound editing, having put together demo tracks for a singing group I had been in years before,” she said, referencing her past music groups The Flames, and The Girls Next Door. “I thought it couldn’t be much different than that, so I told the director I’d give it a try… I soon realized that it was indeed a mess, but nothing that I couldn’t handle.”

Powell, the single parent of a 19-year-old daughter and the sole baker for a catering service at St. Michael’s College, spent about a month putting tracks together on nights and weekends. 

“I was very pleased with the result,” she said. “So was the director. I had even made it sound like the listener would be hearing it through an old radio — with the hisses and pops and white noise. It’s amazing what a person can do with a free editing program and time.”

That radio play was streamed online in June.

“I enjoyed the challenge of putting it all together,” Powell added. “I connected with the idea that old radio plays could be enjoyed again, and decided to put together a group that was dedicated to bringing this style of entertainment to the public.”

So she put a feeler out to see if anyone else was interested in making more radio plays with her… it worked and Addison County Radio Players was born.

The first official play Powell’s group performed was the Screen Guild Theater’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” 

“We had about eight performers, with some handling multiple roles,” Powell said. “That production was recorded and finished with post-production by September of this year. We launched right into our next one, “Favorite Story: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was recorded and put up on our new website by Halloween. This one had about the same number of performers, but not all the same ones as the first.”

Powell gets it. “Life get’s hectic and we all have other commitments,” she said. “The group is always changing… We mostly live in Addison County (I think), but where you live doesn’t matter. As long as you can show up to the Zoom meetings, you can participate. We take old radio shows in the public domain and bring them new life, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Up next for the holiday season, Addison County Radio Players will present “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a reading of the editorial “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Clause” and “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”

“I think these radio shows are great, because they give you the necessary points without all the unnecessary filler characters,” Powell noted. “I think you have to work harder to portray these characters because you can’t rely on people seeing you; you have to convey the emotions using your voice only; you don’t have props to use except your voice. 

“This group of players is great at that, it’s fun to listen and hard to not get the giggles sometimes and ruin the recording,” she said, adding that the group reading “It’s A Wonderful Life” has 13 players, including seven men tackling 27 male roles. “Nearly everyone is doing at least two roles, with some doing five or six, as well as six women handling 12 roles.”

Powell records the actors via Zoom over at least four sessions. Then she works her editing magic and publishes the radio play on their website addisonradioplayers.org for anyone to listen to free of charge. Powell said she hopes to have all their holiday offerings available by Dec. 17. 

After listening, you may find it was just the type of relaxing entertainment you were looking for; you may even want to join in! Contact Powell through the website and ask how you can get involved. 

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