Live From Austin, Texas!
The sound man counted down slowly: "Five . . . four . . . three . . . " I watched
as his fingers pulsed two, and then one, and then all I could hear was the crackling
sound of an old radio dial spinning. Snatches of song, people speaking, and
then we were "broadcasting" live. For a second, I felt like I was
really doing a radio show in the 1940’s, rather than recreating a show
in the twenty-first century.
This whole thing came together so fast, I didn’t have time to be nervous
or scared. Cathy literally called me up one afternoon while I was at work and
said, "We’re going to read for a radio show thingie tonight."
"We are?" I said. "Okay, sure." Hey, whatever she wants,
naturally, I want as well.
Cathy had found out about a new group of people who wanted to put on old time
radio dramas in front of a live audience, with guys at the tables doing sound
effects while the actors read along with the scripts. In other words, just like
they used to do it. We wouldn’t be broadcasting live, but other than that,
it was pretty much the same thing.
The last time I had acted in anything was about ten years ago. I had a theater
scholarship in Waco, Texas, one that I pretty much squandered. I might have
been pretty good at acting, but I was never going to be as great as the people
who were naturally gifted. Besides, I wanted to write. My final scene in my
acting class was from "Deathtrap," by Ira Levin. I played it with
my buddy Dwight, and we nailed it. Everyone loved the scene, and I thought it
was a good high note to go out on.
I left acting with nary a care in the world. Writing and life, not necessarily
in that order, beckoned, and I followed along. Doing plays in college amounted
to my "glory days" that I regularly visited in my reminiscing. And
periodically, I would get the itch to act again. I mean, it was fun. Stage fright
never bothered me, and I was good at thinking on my feet. But, I found that
time routinely got in the way of any plans I had to act or be involved in local
The fact that I love old-time radio didn’t hurt, either. As a kid, I
used to listen infrequently to the pre-recorded shows when the AM stations would
play them as part of their late-night line up. The first radio show I ever heard
was The Shadow, and well, that pretty much hooked me for life.
All of these thoughts bounced through my head as we drove up to the church
where the try-outs were taking place. And so in we walked, into a group of friendly
faces that I had never seen before in my life. After the introductions were
made, everyone gathered up parts to read for and we did it quickly, round robin.
It was fun, and I know for a fact that I hammed it up, but I didn’t think
anything would come of it. Besides, I didn’t have time for a lot of rehearsals.
I have a job with weird hours. I just did this for Cathy. It was a lark, is
Of course, I got the lead in both shows.
I was playing John Bickerson in an episode of "The Bickersons" (a
role previously played by the late, great Don Ameche) and Ronald Adams in "The
Hitchhiker" (a role played by Orson Welles for the Mercury Theater). So,
no pressure on my end.
We were only going to meet four times before the show, a fund-raising dinner
that would benefit the church. Our rehearsal days fell fortuitously into my
schedule, so there was no way in hell I could get out of it.
I was a little anxious going into our technical rehearsal. I mean, we’d
only met four times. Each time amounted to a single read through with notes
and discussions about what we could use to make good sound effects. There was
a rash of sickness going around (something in the Austin water; I swear, it’s
like a liberal virus or something). We had all thrown together costumes at the
last minute. Would this even work?
Like every technical rehearsal I’d ever been involved in, no, it didn’t.
Stumble, trip, Oh, that’s my cue, dammit, I dropped that line, cough,
gasp, okay, let’s stop and back up. Typical. I still had a positive attitude
about it, though. This was a lark for me. A nice diversion. Cheap thrills.
And as I watched the people stream in and fill up the performance hall on Sunday,
I put my hand on Cathy’s and said to myself, "Oh, shit, this is a
performance. There’s people out there."
I panicked for just a second. Frankly, this crowd of around a hundred or so
wasn’t even close to the largest number of people I’d shown my ass
This time, I’d be sober and fully clothed. It was a walk in the park.
The lights went down, and the intro started, and lo and behold, we put on a
radio drama. It was flawless. You’d have thought we had been doing it
for months, it was so good and tight. I was sorry it was over so soon. Lots
of people came up to me afterwards and congratulated and thanked me. A couple
of them even talked old radio shows with me, guys twenty or thirty years my
senior, at that. I really enjoyed the surprised look on their faces when I started
mentioning shows and actors that they remembered.
The whole thing got a little media coverage from the local channel: http://www.news8austin.com/
There’s talk of an encore performance, as well as a Christmas show. Eventually,
the Violet Crown Radio Players want to branch out and produce their own shows.
This interests me the most (though I still want to act). I think I finally found
a home for The Blue Menace.