Monday, October 31, 2011

Out and About: The Big Broadcast of 1954

“I guess this is one of those weeks where you don’t get the upper hand!” -- ingenue Jenny Brennan to proto-paparazzi Leda Leaper, “The Frank Cyrano Byfar Hour.”

As I looked out over the small audience watching us in the theater on October 21, 2011, I smiled. I admit I would have liked more people in the theater, but that didn’t matter all that much. Our audience was receptive, and it was our biggest one to date for this year’s show. They laughed at our jokes, giggled at our antics on-stage, and held their collective breath during the second half of the show at all the right spots. This crowd enjoyed our show, and such enjoyment is meat and drink for an actor’s spirit.

Frank Cyrano (left) and the Chowderhouse Gang: Mayor Fitzcurley (center left), West End Wendy (center right) and Wordsworth Willy (right)
In August of 2009, the Post Meridian Radio Players put out a call for actors and actresses to audition for their biggest show ever, “The Big Broadcast of 1938.” The first part of the show, “The Frank Cyrano Byfar Hour,” had all of eight speaking parts for a full hour show, and I wanted to be in it. After using my best old-style radio pitchman voice, I landed the role of Charlie Kendall, the spokesman for the show’s one and only sponsor, the fictitious Beverly Beverage Company of Beverly, Mass. My role on-stage is to sell a fictional product that’s become real by audience demand -- we now sell bottles of rich, delicious Byfar Coffee Syrup at every show -- and making the audience laugh while I do it. It’s an excellent role, and I love coming back to it annually.

The stately and ancient butler Chelmsford (left) and Charlie Kendall (right)

“Yes, if we were to re-write the dictionary, we’d put Byfar at the top!” -- Charlie Kendall pitching Byfar Coffee Syrup, “The Frank Cyrano Byfar Hour.”

Each year the show has jumped 8 years into the future, specifically so the show will take place near or on Hallowe’en of that year. This year is no exception, with “The Big Broadcast of 1954.” Everybody able to come back who was a cast member in a previous Byfar Hour has returned. All of us want to wow the audience, regardless of how many people show up -- though, like me, we all would like larger audiences. The only people who didn’t come back this year were Michael, who moved to DC, and James, who has been redeployed. We all hope he comes back safely. 

We’re performing at a different venue this year, the Regent Theater in Arlington. Our previous venue, the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Somerville, wanted to handle Hallowe’en differently this year, with multiple shows coming in for one night only. Like main stage of the Somerville, the Regent Theatre is a classic theater that’s been restored -- with comfortable seats -- to look like a theater space from the 1930s, complete with a functional balcony. Admittedly the floor of the balcony is concrete instead of wood, but that’s a small price to pay for being up in the front row of a balcony. It’s a smaller space, but this has actually been an advantage. Our audiences have pulled together more. This means better group energy from them, which in turns means better performances from us.

“Ichabod was the darling of the Dutch wives and mothers. Flowers and honey dripped from his lips, falling on their ears like gentle kisses. But there were those who knew him for what he was. And what he wanted.” -- Ernst Kreitzer, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

There’s a pattern to our live shows with multiple playlets. The first act is a comedy, while later acts explore science fiction and horror. PMRP does not put on the goriest pieces of horror. There are no dramatic choreographed fights, no sudden gouts of blood gushing from dying characters that splatter the audience with fake gore. The stage consists of actors reading from scripts, Foley performers making live sound effects, and whatever band we can convince to play with us. Some audio effects are pre-recorded, but we use as many live effects as we can manage. The important part is, it works. The crew members dressed up in period garb, the cigarette girls selling candy in the aisles, the soundscape, the live actors, the anticipation -- all of these components blend to take the audience away from the theater and into the story woven before their eyes.  The only blood we have is make-up, and not drippy.

The Formerly Headless Horseman revealed, Ernst Kreitzer

“Why, because it is in the dark that HE roams... the Headless Horseman.” -- Brom Bones to Ichabod Crane, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

People clapped for Wordsworth Willie hitting a high note normally only heard from sopranos and countertenors. They laughed at most everything the ancient and half-deaf butler Chelmsford said. They gasped in fear at the ride of the Headless Horseman. I felt I was having a rough night that night during the first few minutes of the show, but most of it wasn’t noticeable to the audience. Despite having under five hours of sleep a night for three days in a row, despite wearing a suit and tie, even despite feeling initially off my game, I was psyched to be there. Most importantly, the audience loved the show. This year is done, but hopefully we'll come back in 2012 with The Big Broadcast of 1962.

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