If you were born in the decades before satellite dishes and remote controls made it possible to be instantly entertained 24 hours a day without leaving the house, then there’s a chance you remember what it felt like to park yourself in front of a radio with the family and settle in for a story.
The Midnight Mystery Players, a group that came together in 2004 to bring the oh-so-golden years of radio to local listeners, have been working ever since to recreate the magic of that bygone era.
Founder Stan Claussen, who devised the name of the group along with KMRE station manager Ed Moran in the weeks before the players made their debut on the airwaves of Bellingham’s smallest radio station, says the ensemble originally considered performing only “spooky nighttime mysteries.” After some discussion, however, it was decided they’d also focus on a broader base of radio plays.
Claussen says both the original cast and the current cast include actors who’ve performed everywhere from the Bellingham Theatre Guild to the iDiOM Theater, Upfront Theatre, Western Washington University, and Whatcom Community College.
Although some of the Midnight Mystery Players’ shows are produced only for the radio, the ensemble also performs, on occasion, for live audiences who can listen in—and watch, naturally—while the gigs are being recorded. That will be the case June 8-9 at Unity Church, when the players will present selections from Beauty and the Beast, I’m Herbert, and the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Purloined Ruby.
While the performances stick to some of the basic rules of theater—characters are fleshed out, cool sound effects are added in and entertainment is the name of the game—audiences should also expect a few changes. The performers will be in period costumes where suitable, but they’ll also be standing in front of microphones with scripts at the ready.
“In front of a live audience, actors must be careful to not make mistakes in delivery,” director Kathryn Murray says. “However, recording a show always allows the sound engineer to edit mistakes out and input new or different sound effects at a later time. These shows will be in front of a live audience and will be pre-recorded for KMRE.”
Murray says she’s observed audiences watching the performances, and notes that many of those in attendance close their eyes at some point during the show. “Their imagination propels them into the scene,” she says, adding that they also appear to like being included in the productions—such as when a stage hand crosses in front of the audience holding signs indicating when and where they should provide the APPLAUSE.
As the principal script adapter and the guy who chooses what’s going to be performed, Claussen has been at the radio drama business long enough to realize the art form the Midnight Mystery Players offer up is entirely different from anything else.
“You get the satisfaction of producing a unique play that many who come to see and hear you have never experienced before,” he says. “Radio drama is unique in that it requires the listener to imagine what appears in each scene based on voice sound only.”
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