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Opening Night: CCHS to present old-time radio show

Opening Night: CCHS to present old-time radio show
By James Grob,

The drama department at Charles City High School is taking over the airwaves — for a little while.

While the era of live radio entertainment is largely an all-but-forgotten thing of the past, the CCHS players will attempt to rekindle the spirit of radio Friday and Saturday.

“I hope people are exposed to a different type of drama,” said director Michelle Grob. “Most people today probably didn’t grow up during the great era of live radio entertainment.”

The CCHS Drama Department will present “The North Cedar Old Tyme Radio Revue,” with shows on Friday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 31, at 2 p.m. at North Grand Auditorium. A freewill donation is requested to attend, and social distancing and masks will be required.

The show is on old-style replication of a live radio program, and will include five comedy radio plays, a bluegrass band performing live, local live radio commercials featuring local businesses and additional music by the CCHS vocal ensemble “Rhymes With Orange.”

The cast has been working with KCHA radio’s Erik Hoefer to livestream the show, both online and on the radio. Friday night, the show will be broadcast live on KCHA radio, and it will be live-streamed online both Friday and Saturday.

“The cast and the crew have really risen to the challenge of safely putting on a production amid this COVID-19 pandemic,“ Grob said. “They are so passionate about what they want to do, and I hope people can see how much they care about getting to perform.”

Typically, Charles City High School presents a musical in the fall and a play in the spring. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Grob and musical director Derek Sturtevant decided to flip that around, and push the musical back to the spring.

Grob then decided that the CCHS actors could re-create an old-fashioned live-broadcast radio show, with nothing pre-recorded, everything happening live. The cast is essentially 25 actors, playing actors.

Grob said the format allows for fewer practices, smaller groups together at once, no memorization and no need for an elaborate set or costuming.

“I think the cast has really enjoyed it,” Grob said. “Even though they don’t have to memorize, they still have to develop their characters, and it took some of them a while to discover that.”

She said several actors are reading multiple roles, so there is a lot of scrambling, and all the actors need to be ready to jump in if something happens — to either read another part or to ad-lib — just like the historic live radio shows of the first half of the 20th century.

“The whole concept of sitting in the living room and having the whole family gather around the radio and listen to a play — that’s very much a novelty for a lot of us,” Grob said. “If I didn’t have to be here, I’d very much want to listen to this on the radio, to try to get that feeling.”

Senior Rosie Baldus, a veteran of several CCHS productions, said she’s enjoyed the opportunity to do something different and unusual. Baldus is among the crew creating live, on-stage sound effects for the production.

“It’s really fun and stressful,” Baldus said. “I work with two other amazing people and we have to make sure that we have good chemistry together.”

Baldus voices a couple other roles in the production — including a version of herself, telling a selection of Vaudeville-style bad jokes.

“It’s really weird this year. We’re taking as many precautions as necessary to make sure we can have a play,” she said. “We don’t have all the fancy stuff like props, or costumes or an elaborate set, because it’s a radio show.”

She said working on the production has been a true learning experience.

“It’s really cool to learn a little bit about how they used to do this, back in the olden days. It’s been really a great experience for everyone here,” Baldus said. “It’s fun to jump back in time a little bit.”

Grob said it’s been a learning experience for her as well.

“It’s actually been quite interesting, because the typical things we have to worry about — like sets, costumes and makeup — all those things do not factor into this at all,” she said.

The thing she does have to worry about, far more than usual, is sound. At last count, Grob said the cast is using 16 clip-on voice microphones and there are 15 other microphones on the stage. All 32 channels on the CCHS sound-mixing board are being used, which is something the drama and music departments at CCHS never thought would happen.

“That is a whole new thing — I’ve never seen our stage so congested with sound equipment,” Grob said, and added that sophomore Hannah DeVore has stepped up to the challenge as the sound engineer for the production.

“She is doing a phenomenal job for us,” Grob said. “She is having to run all those mics, and also running some sound effects and music, basically doing that all alone. She is a true sound wizard up there, and we’re thrilled to have her.”

DeVore is also having to mix the sound for the musical acts that are part of the show, which are CCHS vocal ensemble “Rhymes With Orange,” and a bluegrass band pieced together by Harrison Sheckler, called “Sergeant Floyd and the Traction Engineers.”

Baldus said she hopes that the audience will be supportive and appreciative of the work the cast has put in to make the show happen.

“I’m hoping that people see that our talents go beyond just stage acting,” Baldus said. “We’re good voice actors, too, and I hope people can see that we do all we can to still have a good drama season, and act our hearts out.”

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