Retro Review: Stop the World, I Want To See THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Presented by Enjoy the Film and Cinevision!

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2014 By:

Ultimatum_a_la_Tierra_-__-_The_Day_the_Earth_Stood_Still_-_tt0043456_-_1951__-_FrTHE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); Dir. Robert Wise; Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe; Thursday, Oct 23 @ 7:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room (visit the event page for address and directions); All tickets $10 (Atlanta Film Festival members save 20%); Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let’s kick off the Halloween season in retro style, and take a trip to 1951 and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film has partnered with the Cinevision Screening Room for a series titled Monsters in Black and White, delivering three classic features screened in optimal presentations. Special guests introduce each picture, and the series promises to give an intimate “film club” type experience that is sure to make viewers wish that every film they see could be shown with as much care.

In the years immediately following the media coverage of 1947’s mysterious crash in Roswell, New Mexico, the “flying saucer” became a symbol of mankind’s fears and hopes for the future. After seeing both the possibilities and dangers of science entering the atomic age at the close of World War II, and with nations looking toward the skies as they ushered in a new era in rocket technology, we gazed into the unknowable distances of space and wondered what an advanced technology might usher onto our tiny planet. Sure, there had long been stories of alien visitors landing on our world, ranging from H.G. WellsTHE WAR OF THE WORLDS to Siegel and Shuster’s SUPERMAN comics. But the speculation around the events in Roswell brought the topic of extraterrestrial invaders directly into pop culture’s field of vision. And while so many of these tales dealt with hostile attacks from Little Green Men, one stands out as a plea for peace from the heavens: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

gal-bot-gort-jpgThe film sees alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot sentry Gort arrive on Earth to warn us against using our growing technological capabilities as a vehicle for greater violence, yet in a familiar turn, the benevolent visitor faces nothing but violence, resistance and persecution from the time of his arrival. The Klaatu-as-Christ metaphor (Klaatu—who also dies, is resurrected, and then ascends into heaven—even takes on the pseudonym of “Major Carpenter”) somehow escaped director Robert Wise’s view, but screenwriter Edmund North was clever enough to make the metaphor merely an emphasis of the movie’s universal themes. After all, the worries expressed in the movie knew no religious boundaries. We had just put the horrors of World War II to bed when the Cold War began, with tensions escalating between East and West. America had involved itself in the Korean War. Meanwhile, the US and USSR had started working seriously on competing space programs, and both sides had concerns that these programs would be of primary use as respective platforms of attack. All of these elements came together and formed the subtext of this film. And while the roots of the film’s themes are set deeply in the 1950s, the larger message of the movie—a call for understanding and cooperation between competing nations and ideologies—is something that never loses its poignancy.

…All of which makes the film seem far preachier than it actually is, when you get down to it. The movie itself is more than simply its message; it is also a compelling drama with nuanced performances from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It is also thrilling, quickly paced, gorgeously photographed and full of groundbreaking special effects (few “flying saucers” of the era look as impressive as Klaatu’s, and Gort’s streamlined design is timeless in its elegance). Not to be overlooked is Bernard Herrmann’s classic score: a masterpiece of eclectic orchestration utilizing two theremins and a variety of electric instruments. It, along with the scores to 1950’s ROCKETSHIP X-M and ‘51’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, would forever link the theremin with the eerie sounds of science fiction.

A movie this impressive should be seen in the best conditions. And a well-preserved 35mm print with stunning sound, viewed with an eager audience, is the best way to experience THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Lucky for you, then, that Ben Ruder, Enjoy the Film and Cinevision are giving you the chance to see it under precisely those conditions. Don’t miss out on catching this, one of the most impressive of all the classic 1950s sci-fi yarns in its natural habitat.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Kool Kat of the Week: Watson, The Game Is Afoot! Investigating 221B Con with Founder Heather Holloway

Posted on: Apr 10th, 2013 By:

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Painting by Mark Maddox and used with permission.

By Anthony Taylor
Contributing Writer

This weekend (April 13-14) marks the inaugural edition of Atlanta’s own “all Sherlock Holmes” convention, 221B Con at the Holiday Inn Select Atlanta-Perimeter at 4386 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The name is a reference to the famous detective’s address at 221 B Baker Street, London, which is a few blocks from one of H.G. Wells’ apartments as well.

Making his debut in 1887’s A STUDY IN SCARLET, Holmes is one of the most well-known fictional characters in history. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective appeared in four novels and 56 short stories written by Doyle, and countless dramatic and derivative works. Holmes fans are legion worldwide, with clubs and societies extant in just about every major city. Currently there are two popular television series airing featuring Holmes and his sidekick Watson in modern settings; the BBC’s SHERLOCK, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and CBS’s ELEMENTARY starring Johnny Lee Miller.

ATLRetro spoke with convention organizer Heather Holloway about the lasting impact of Doyle’s creation and to investigate what to expect this weekend.

ATLRetro: Tell me about your personal relationship with Sherlock Holmes. How did you first meet him? What’s your favorite story? Favorite film/television adaptation?

Heather Holloway: Sherlock Holmes and I met about three months into Mrs. Bright’s ninth grade English class.  I was 14, and the assignment was to read “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.”  Mrs. Bright told us how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle always knew the ending of the story before he wrote it so he could properly lay out the deductions and clues. That particular point struck me, as I had never given much thought to the plotting and structure of a story. Afterwards, I decided to read the Canon on my own and was pretty much hooked from there on out!

It is so very difficult to pick a favorite story.  I was recently rereading everything with two of the other directors of 221B Con, and it was pointed out that about two minutes into every discussion I would say ”This is one of my favorites!”  I suppose if I’m made to pick I would go with “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.”  It’s so gothic and creepy, complete with a wronged woman and a man, possibly, buried alive.

Heather Holloway. Photo courtesy of Heather Holloway.

Every time someone asks who is my favorite Holmes, I always say “the one in my head.”  It’s very difficult for me to completely get on board with a TV or film Holmes, because I was first introduced through the stories. I have a platonic Holmes and no one has ever completely lived up.  I suppose that is why my favorite film versions are YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES (1985) and WITHOUT A CLUE (1988).  They aren’t really supposed to be Holmes, so I have no cognitive dissonance.

What about the Holmes stories appealed to you, and what about them has made a lasting impression ?

I think the most important thing I have ever taken from the Holmes stories, and what sticks with me the most, is that prejudice is the death of mind.  Holmes observes, he doesn’t prejudge or allow petty beliefs to interfere with his process.  He takes what he sees at face value and interpolates from there.  If you believe you know the answer before weighing the evidence, you have already lost.  I think it’s a lesson many people today could stand to learn.

It’s been said that Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes are the most widely known fictional characters in history. More than 100 years later, what makes Holmes relevant to a modern audience? Why has he not only survived, but thrived?

Sherlock Holmes is, to me, the great modern hero. There is nothing immortal or superhuman about his abilities. He has an approachable genius. He never claims others can’t mimic his abilities. While you might not see it at first, after a possibly condescending, explanation you realize that you could have seen it.  Sherlock Holmes will be beloved so long as society admires effort and genius.

Why a Holmes convention?

Sherlock Holmes fans have been banding together for years. The only thing unique about 221B Con is the fact that it is a con.  Most gatherings, while a ton of fun, are more academic in nature; big catered dinners and keynote addresses. The other convention directors and I wanted an event with a more relaxed atmosphere.  We wanted regular fans to be able to speak, not just professors and biographers. Hopefully, we’ve hit a happy medium between fandom and academia.

What will happen at 221B Con? Who are the guests and speakers? How can people get more information?

We have over 40 hours of programming scheduled, including a live podcast by The Baker Street Babes, a performance by the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company and dozens of wonderful panels.  We will be joined by several author guests including the Edgar Award-nominated author Lyndsay Faye.  You can visit www.221bcon.com for more information, or follow us on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

Lucy Liu as Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes in CBS's ELEMENTARY.

Finally, it all comes down to this, doesn’t it – Benedict Cumberbatch or Johnny Lee Miller?

Benedict Cumberbatch FTW.

Anthony Taylor is a writer and an expert on retro-futurism, classic science fiction and horror films and television, and genre collectibles. He is the author of ARCTIC ADVENTURE!, an official Thunderbirds™ novel based on the iconic British television series by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. His website is http://Taylorcosm.com.

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Fear of Hitler and Channel Flipping: Why Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS Radio Broadcast Ignited a Panic in America on Halloween 1938

Posted on: Oct 31st, 2012 By:

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

Orson WellesWAR OF THE WORLDS radio broadcast (1938), the most famous of all media hoaxes, was, in fact, not a hoax at all.

It starts, 40 years before the incident, with the publication of H.G.Wells’ novel WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898), which was almost the first – and certainly the earliest that is still influential – science fiction novel of alien invasion. It was part of a larger genre of Invasion literature,” a body of proto-SF novels concerning England being invaded by its more familiar enemies, generally the Germans. The other Invasion novels tended to be propagandist to the point of jingoism, and Wells, who always was internally torn regarding the subject of militarism, chose to deconstruct the literature. It is almost, but not quite, an anti-war novel. Though it featured feats of great heroism by the English military, it devoted significant real estate to human hypocrisies, cowardice and cravenness. It challenged the nationalistic/colonial myths that drove most other Invasion novels.

Wells told his tale with potent verisimilitude, using real and exactly contemporary settings, and employed literary devices like its first person narrator addressing the reader directly as if he’s discussing events familiar to all: “It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days…The storm burst upon us six years ago now.” He referenced other sources when there were story details that the narrator could not have been expected to have directly witnessed, “As Mars approached opposition, Lavelle of Java [observatory] set the wires of the astronomical exchange palpitating…He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, ‘as flaming gases rushed out of a gun.’…A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the Daily Telegraph.” These were effective devices for creating a faux-realism, as it mimicked the style of a history book and the epistolary novel more than the then-evolving fictional narratives of most modern novels written in a close third person POV.

The Mercury Theater must have been drawn Wells’ narrative when they chose this work for their 1938 Halloween-eve broadcast. Another was probably related to [the fact that] Universal Studios had established that Americans had a taste for being scared, but by the late 1930s, their great franchise monsters slipped towards self-parody because folklore-based supernatural thrillers were not the best platform to address what was really scaring America at the time. The rise of fascism played a large role in science fiction replacing supernatural tales as the fantasy of the Zeitgeist.

The cover of a 1970s LP of the broadcast.

In the Mercury Theater version, scriptwriters Howard Koch (CASABLANCA [1942]) and Anne Froelick (HARRIET CRAIG [1950]) used real and exactly contemporary settings, this time in the U.S. and within the range of the New York City broadcast tower. They heightened the immediacy by presenting the first half of the broadcast entirely in the form of faux-news bulletins interrupting “regularly scheduled programing,” which was also fictional. The bulletins came with increasing regularity, then took over the programing entirely as the war turned hot and people started to die. There were emergency response bulletins, casualty figures, evacuation instructions and reports of millions of refugees clogging the roads. A government official makes a statement, and the actor mimicked President Roosevelt’s voice, though the character was given a different name. The story didn’t use the device of real-time, wherein the events of the narrative covered the same length of time as the experience of audience, but the time-compression was deftly disguised. As the audience listened for minutes, they never questioning that hours of story-time had elapsed (or months, if you include the reports of the observations “of the colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet” Mars).

As the story moved to its pre-intermission climax, Orson Welles (producer, director, and starring as one of the reporters) claimed to be transmitting a view from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper, and described an apocalyptic scene: “five great machines” wade across the Hudson River to New York City, spewing poison gas. As the smoke drifts from west to east, he can see people “falling over like flies” while others, panicked, dove into the East River “like rats.” Finally, the gas reaches Welles. The last sound is the voice of a desperate ham radio operator, “2X2L calling CQ. Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there… anyone?”

A thing about these bold devices, though they have the power to captivate, even overwhelm, the audience, is that they limit options for complex storytelling. The more conventional devices are more flexible, which is why they are used more often and which is how they became conventional in the first place. When the story became more complex and character-driven in the second act, more conventional dialogue and monologue were used. It marked a bold dramatic shift, akin to how innovative and overwhelming the Omaha Beach sequence was in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), but as that sequence told us very little of the actual plot and specific characters, as soon as audience was properly impressed and completely tamed, and the action moved away from the beach, a far more conventional WWII film unfolded.

Orson Welles performing WAR OF THE WORLDS.

Because of the scandal, the very fine second act is under-appreciated. Especially notable is a sequence where the narrator (again Orson Welles) hides in the basement with a madman. It’s a scene in the book (and I should note that the Mercury Theater version, for all its changes from the original, displayed the most fidelity of any of the major adaptations of Wells’ novel). Mercury revised this sequence to address contemporary concerns. The madman is clearly traumatized by the violence inflicted on his nation, and rants delusionally of taking revenge by creating a cult of personality around himself and training a generation of ruthless warrior children. This was a pretty explicit reference to Europe, traumatized by WWI, falling in goose-step behind fascism. Mercury’s WAR OF THE WORLDS, like H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS, articulates the fears of the coming World War; they just happen to be talking about two different World Wars. The stressing of the poison gas over the heat-rays was another change from the original novel, reflecting that the world had changed since 1898.

The fact that this was a fiction was made clear before the play began, and it was announced again at intermission, and at the end Orson Welles breaks character to state once more this was fiction, “the equivalent of dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and saying, ‘Boo!’” Yet reportedly more than a million Americans believed it was all true (later attempts to come up with more realistic estimates put the number in the thousands). The not-a-hoax had unleashed THE NIGHT THAT PANICKED AMERICA (a title of a 1975 ABC TV movie that recreated the events).

OK, so what the hell happened?

Well, the Mercury Theater had fairly poor ratings as it was put up against the very popular CHASE AND SANBORN HOUR on NBC radio. About 15 minutes into CHASE AND SANBORN, the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began. Apparently the musicians weren’t that talented and many listeners started “channel flipping” (a truly degenerate cultural pastime that was introduced with the corrupting new technology of radio, and even today has yet to be purged from our civilization). When the listeners hit CBS, they encountered music they liked better, the fictional “regularly scheduled program” of “Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra.” It’s not a surprise they stopped, as it was actually the CBS Orchestra directed by the great Bernard Herrmann (CITIZEN KANE [1941], PSYCHO [1960]). They had missed the opening announcement that this program was fiction and part of the story’s set-up. When the next faux-news bulletin came in, all hell started to break loose.

A poster for the George Pal-directed, best-known movie adaptation of WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).

Oops.

But wait, that’s after the 15-minute-marker. It was only about 20 minutes before intermission and next announcement that this was fiction.

Yeah, but that was still after the announcement of the “evacuation instructions.”

Oops, again.

The New York Times reported, “In Newark, in a single block at Heddon Terrace and Hawthorne Avenue, more than 20 families rushed out of their houses with wet handkerchiefs and towels over their faces to flee from what they believed was to be a gas raid. Some began moving household furniture. Throughout New York, families left their homes, some to flee to nearby parks. Thousands of persons called the police, newspapers and radio stations here and in other cities of the United States and Canada, seeking advice on protective measures against the raids.”

Things were worse in Concrete, Washington, when the power and phones went out with disturbingly convenient timing with the radio play’s unfolding narrative.

Future TONIGHT SHOW host Jack Paar was on-air at Cleveland’s WGAR. As panicked listeners called the studio, Paar attempted to calm them on the phone and on air, “The world is not coming to an end. Trust me. When have I ever lied to you?” The listeners accused him of being part of a government cover-up.

One of the lessons of that night was the dangers of the malleability of the public in the hands of a powerful mass media. This was an early lesson, but not the first. On the other side of the ocean, Germany’s leader, Adolph Hitler, had already spent years successful molding the will of millions with media propaganda no more honest than a deliberate hoaxes like ALTERNATIVE THREE (1977), GHOSTWATCH (1992) or ALIEN AUTOPSY (1995) but far more effective than any here listed. Effective to the point of permanently altering the course of human history. One can hear Hitler gloating as he cited the panic as “evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy.”

One last note: If you read about this incident today, you will likely be reminded by the writer that WWII would erupt just months after the broadcast. Most American writers of this subject are myopic to the point of error and trivialization. You see, by the time of the broadcast, the Nazis had already intervened in the Spanish Civil War, Germany had already taken Austria, Italy had already taken Ethiopia, etc, etc. For tens of millions in Europe, the war was already underway; and most of the panicked Americans didn’t think we were being invaded by Martians, but Germans.

Editor’s Note: Robert Emmett Murphy is based in New York. This article is number 52 in a series of 100 essays he is penning, inspired by the British documentary THE 100 GREATEST SCARY MOMENTS (2003). It is reprinted with permission. The moment selected for the list can be found at the 1 hour, 36 minute marker. Listen to the entire original broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS here.

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Audio Wonderland: Imagining the Sounds of AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS with The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2011 By:

Ethan Hurlburt, Sara Lozano, Maddie Dill and Laurice White in ARTC's 2008 production of AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS. Photo credit: Caran Wilbanks

 

Much is made of the visual aspects of the holidays—all the lights, the snow, Santa in his suit of red. But with, the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company (ARTC)’s AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS, the sounds of the season take center stage Dec. 10, 11, 17 and 18 at the Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates. In the spirit of the season, tickets cost whatever you can afford, even if that means free, so it’s a great opportunity to experience the Noel nostalgia of not just city holiday traditions but also an enjoyable performance art form that came close to going the way of the dinosaur but is now enjoying its own Retro revival. However, ATLRetro hopes you will give what you can to support this hardworking community theater in tough economic times, and ARTC is donating 25% of all ticket sales to the Center for the Visually Impaired.

Back in the 1930s and ‘40s families gathered together in the evenings to listen to the radio. Much more than music, less-than-funny deejays and pontificating talk show hosts, radio channels used to air a wide variety of programs from adventure serials with iconic characters like THE SHADOW to dramatic productions like the infamous WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast narrated by Orson Welles, soap operas like STELLA DALLAS to comedies to FIBBER, MCGEE & MOLLY. But with the advent of TV, radio theater became all but a lost art form.

ARTC was one of the first of a handful of companies around the country who have embraced radio theatre, and for more than two decades, its members have worked passionately to afford it a new lease on life as a live performance medium. While listeners still use their imagination to visualize the action, the live stagings, at theaters and also often at science-fiction conventions, afford a behind-the-scenes peek into what it would be like to visit a vintage radio station. Actors read their lines live, and sound effects and music are added on the spot. Of course, you can also purchase recordings of ARTC productions, which run the entire gamut from dramas to comedies to new takes on the old SF adventure serials, to further take yourself back to the golden age of radio. Seems like it’d be bound to make that long roadtrip home for the holidays go a little faster, and once you get there, wouldn’t it be nice to get everyone to be quiet, gather around the fireplace and listen to them, too?

ATLRetro asked David Benedict, vice president of ARTC and co-director/coproducer of AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS by Thomas Fuller, why the holidays are such a perfect time to enjoy radio theater and why it should be preserved in a CGI-laden visual age.

Without giving away too much, what’s the basic story behind AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS?

The most basic summary I can give is that AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS is about Christmas inAtlanta. It is a series of short vignettes that detail how our unique city has celebrated the season throughout the years, beginning with the first appearance of the Christmas tree and continuing to modern day. It is framed by the image of a family gathered together for the holiday, passing their own memories along to their children.

David Benedict introduces AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS. Photo Credit: Caran Wilbanks.

This is ARTC’s 12th year performing AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS, so it’s becoming an Atlanta Christmas tradition itself. Why do you think this show has such enduring popularity?

Although the world has gotten smaller, people still hold a strong connection with their local community. AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS puts a sharp focus on the way the holiday and the way we as a city celebrate it has changed throughout the years, while also highlighting the things that remain constant: family, hope, renewal, and giving.

Why does the radio theater format work so well for this production?

Christmas, along with Halloween, are extremely imaginative times of the year and lend themselves well to the format. Radio theatre, or audio drama, calls upon the audience to use their imaginations to envision for themselves the settings and the appearances of the characters. We facilitate this through our use of well-written scripts, sound effects and music. During Christmas, people are more in tune with their imaginations, which is exhibited through our common references to elves at the North Pole, winter wonderlands and flying reindeer. These things, as well as the general joy and goodwill of the season, resonate extremely well with radio theatre.

Do you have a favorite scene in AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS—or should we say “segment”—and why?

It’s so hard to pick one. Thomas Fuller was a master at painting visual tableaus with nothing more than a well-chosen word or two. But if I had to pick just one, I would probably go with Davy Crockett and Me, which tells the story of two brothers who desperately want Davy Crockett’s coonskin caps from the classic TV show. The piece makes a point of contrasting the black and white television of the time with the colorful lights and decorations of the holidays that really stands out in my mind. Plus, I’ve performed it with my good friend Hal Wiedeman for the last few years. We’ve grown so used to the roles that we’ve taken turns being the other brother a couple of times, and we joke that we’re going to give the director a heart attack one year and try switching roles in the middle of the performance!

Jayne Lockhart and Rachel Pendergrass perform in the 2008 ARTC production of AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS. Photo credit: Caran Wilbanks.

ARTC has performed many plays by Thomas Fuller, and he was a key player for many years with ARTC. Can you share a few words about his impact on ARTC and why ARTC continues to perform so many of his works?

It is hard to overstate the importance of Thomas Fuller to ARTC and the loss we felt at his passing. Thomas had a complete grasp of the potential of radio theatre. He wrote compelling characters, he understood the medium for which he was writing, and he could use sound very effectively. Moreover, though, he was constantly pushing us to greater excellence. He would take new writers and offer them advice, encouragement, and help them make the most of their story. As for why we continue to perform his work, I think you only have to listen to one of his plays to know that. His work stretches us, and as we continue to develop new writers, we often use Thomas’s work as the benchmark against which new work can be measured and the heights they can strive for. One of our (relatively) new writers, Kelley S. Ceccato, has taken to this challenge and is currently writing some of our most immersive, lushly soundscaped work.

It’s pretty unconventional and some would say courageous if you actually want to cover expenses to have tickets that are “name your price.” Why do you do that, and what guidelines should people use to decide what to pay?

Radio theatre was largely abandoned in the United States back in the 1940s and 1950s, and although it is enjoying a comeback of sorts in the modern Internet age, people still don’t often think of it as a viable entertainment medium. And yet when people are exposed to our work and the work of other radio theatres around the world, they find the medium very enriching. At this time of year, we want to give the gift of imagination to people who might not otherwise have the financial capability to come to live theatre. In this economy, leisure expenses are not always affordable, but we feel that at this time of year we have something to offer and want as many people as possible to be able to receive and enjoy the gift of audio drama that we have to give.

In addition to that, we are also making a donation of 25% of all ticket sales to the Center for the Visually Impaired. We feel it’s a very natural fit with this particular nonprofit, and we’ve made a donation to them for several years now as a part of this show. Patrons who are not sure how much they should pay for a ticket should do what feels most comfortable to them. We invite people to come see the show for as little as $0, but we encourage them to pay as much as they like. For the truly undecided, we have a suggested price of $10.

Radio theater isn’t thought of as a visual medium, so why is it so much fun to see it performed live?

Live theatre is always an adventure, and even though we aren’t doing re-creations of the classic radio dramas, preferring to write our own material and do original adaptations, there’s still a nostalgia appeal to seeing a group of actors creating a scene right in front of you using nothing but their voices and the audience’s imagination. There’s also an immediacy that’s difficult to re-create with a recording. How many times have you stopped and listened to a song you heard on the radio even though you could have listened to it on your mp3 player any time you wanted? Lastly, there’s the controlled environment of the theatre itself. Life moves fast these days and even in the car it can be difficult to tune out the distractions and give your imagination free reign, and when you can do that, audio drama is at its best. Being in the theatre allows you to close your eyes and forget everything else except the picture being painted in your mind.

David Benedict, Bill Kronick, Rachel Pendergrass, Jayne Lockhart, Laurice White. Photo credit: Caran Wilbanks.

Plus, you never know what’s going to happen. One performance, which took place at Stone Mountain Park outdoors on a rainy day, called for a gunshot. We had a recorded sound effect ready to go for that, but as it turned out, there was someone at the festival demonstrating an actual black powder pistol and we worked it out with them to fire the gun on cue to add a little extra realism. We rehearsed it and it went off without a hitch, but during the performance the pistol misfired. You haven’t really lived until you’re in a situation where your sound effect hasn’t happened, there’s no way for it to happen, and your next line is supposed to be “She shot him!” As it turned out, on that particular occasion, he ended up poisoned.

How long have you been involved in ARTC, and what got you started?

I honestly don’t recall the exact date, but it’s been a really long time. Probably in the early to mid-‘90s. I’ve been a Dragon*Con attendee for many years and ARTC has performed at every Dragon*Con since the first one [1987], but somehow I hadn’t been to any of their shows. At one particular convention I happened across the name in the program book and made it a point to attend. As I recall the performance was COUNTRY OF THE BLIND or possibly THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU. Even though I had heard of radio drama before, I wasn’t aware that anyone was still performing it and certainly had never seen it done live. The entire experience just appealed to me, watching the sound effects being created on stage by the Foley crew, hearing the actors perform with as much passion and skill as any stage theatre or movie I had ever seen. I sought them out and got information about joining just as soon as the performance was over and have never looked back.

David Benedict. Photo credit: Ben Thompson, Alexandra Photography.

All of ARTC’s performers and technical team do this as a labor of love. What do you do as your day job, how did you personally get involved in ARTC, and why do you think the art form is worth preserving in a visual era?

Currently I work as an assistant manager in Guest Programs at the Georgia Aquarium. My team is the one you are most likely to interact with on a typical visit as we do exhibit interpretation and help people to better identify and understand the animals and conservation issues. As I mentioned, I first saw ARTC at Dragon*Con and was immediately drawn to them. I’ve actually gone through several jobs while sticking with ARTC the whole time and they have played a pretty major role in keeping me in the Atlanta area.

As Thomas Fuller once said, audio drama is probably the most plastic of all the art forms, which means that it can be molded by a skilled writer, sound designer and actors to be whatever you need it to be. Without suffering from the budget constraints that limit all but the most well-funded big studio filmmakers, audio dramatists can set whichever scene they want and there are dozens if not hundreds of people worldwide who are producing it in their own homes. It’s also a much more active art form. Well-crafted films can draw the audience in, but even the best films don’t really involve the audience the way audio drama can. By allowing them to set the scene, radio theatre makes the audience an essential part of the creative process and, we hope, encourages people to be more imaginative in their daily lives.

Many of your previous productions are available as recordings and make great gifts. What 3 productions do you recommend for someone wanting to get a good introduction to radio theater and ARTC, and how can one purchase recordings?

We have a wide variety of genres to choose from, so while we primarily serve the science fiction/horror/fantasy fan base, there’s really something for everyone and it depends on what you’re looking for. My personal favorites, though, are probably ALL HALLOWS MOON (an occult western) by Thomas E. Fuller, RORY RAMMER, SPACE MARSHAL: VOLUME 1 (a science fiction serial) by Ron N. Butler, and THE PASSION OF FRANKENSTEIN by Thomas E. Fuller. I think it’s also worth mentioning that AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS is finally out on CD this year. One of the hazards of an all-volunteer small-press audio publisher is that sometimes things get caught up in the production cycle and never find their way out. AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS took five years to complete, but I think the end result is totally worth it.

Recordings can be purchased on CD at our live performances or by mail order at www.artc.org. You can also download our material from Audible.com, iTunes and Amazon. And for those folks who aren’t sure what modern audio drama sounds like, they can check out our free monthly podcast at http://podcast.artc.org and download mp3s of our past live performances. We also appear on Aberrant Radio Monday nights at 8:30pm.

The cast of AN ATLANTA CHRISTMAS takes a curtain call, including Alton Leonard on guitar. Photo credit: Caran Wilbanks.

What’s next for ARTC in terms of live shows and new recordings in 2012?

Our next live performance after Christmas will be March 3 and 4 at the Academy Theatre where we’ll perform THE TIME MACHINE by H. G. Wells, adapted by Thomas E. Fuller. After that we’ll be at LibertyCon inChattanooga, TN, in July and Dragon*Con in September. In between we’ll take a short break to get back into the studio. Titles for the studio sessions are still being finalized and we still have a bunch of things left from our last studio session to finish up, but I’m thinking strongly of taking in THE TIME MACHINE, which used to be in the catalog but is now out of print, as well as THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE by H. P. Lovecraft, adapted by Ron N. Butler, and if we get really ambitious we may attempt Brad Strickland‘s five-part adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s TREASURE ISLAND.

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