2007-11-08 / Top Stories

"Lights Out" Plays Inspired By Golden Age of Radio

By Linda Steinmuller

"Lights Out" Plays Inspired By Golden Age of RadioBy Linda Steinmuller 

Actors Trey Lyford, Maia Dizzia, Ryan McCarthy (center)and sound designer Matthew Beals during Kingsborough's "Lights Out"production.
Actors Trey Lyford, Maia Dizzia, Ryan McCarthy (center)and sound designer Matthew Beals during Kingsborough's "Lights Out"production. Before television and movies with high-tech special effects became popular, radio was the main medium of entertainment for most Americans. Most Americans today know little, if anything, about The Golden Age of Radio - a period roughly between 1929- 1957 - when families would gather around the radio for hours listening to comedy shows featuring Jack Benny, Ozzie & Harriet, Red Skelton, each of whom later found success in the early years of television, as well as dramas like "The Shadow," "Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy," and "Captain Midnight."

Radio provided a means of escape for people through the Depression. Listeners relied on their imaginations with a little help from sound effects, such as creaky doors and heavy footsteps, to paint a picture of a story "all in their minds."

By 1935 two out of three American homes had radio sets. Fifteen years later, when television was in its infancy, 40 million American homes (94% of the population) owned a radio.

Sound plays have been around for over 20 years, but have become more popular over the past five years with increased interest in Orson Welles, whose 1938 broadcast of "War of the Worlds" on his weekly Mercury Theater program nearly caused a national panic. Many listeners believed a Martian invasion was in progress and they were hearing an actual news report since it was presented as a series of news bulletins.

Today's sound plays give audiences an opportunity to see how the old time radio shows were produced, as they combine traditional sound effects with modern digital technology.

Last Saturday's performance of Lights Out at Kingsborough Community College was reminiscent of radio's Golden Age. On a darkened stage, actors recited four short stories, from writers Edgar Allen Poe, Ray Bradbury, Arch Oboler and Ambrose Bierce, while sound effects artist Matthew Beals sat at a prop table and mixing board bringing the stories varied sounds to life for a rapt audience.

In Oboler's tale about a person turned inside out, the storyteller appeals to the listener's fear of monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night. Bradbury's "Zero Hour," set on a pleasant suburban street where only children under ten can play a game with a Martian getting ready to invade the earth, plays on everyone's fear that evil can happen in small-town U.S.A.

Perhaps scarier than monsters and ghosts is the darkness that lurks in one's mind. Bierce's story of a woman's murder and her husband's recurring dreams make the listener wonder who the killer really was while Poe's classic "The Pit and the Pendulum" makes the skin crawl as the listener hears the chilling tale about a convict crawling around a dark tomb amidst the sound of screeching rats.

Director Jeremy McCarter is a veteran of sound plays and specifically created Lights Out for Kingsborough Community College.

After seeing this production, it makes you wonder if the best scares are really enhanced by one's imagination or on special effects on the big screen?

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