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Radio dramas revived

Children raised in the last 30 or 40 years don’t remember the large wooden console that used to have a spot of prominence in a living room or a smaller version that sat on a table or counter in the kitchen. That appliance was called a radio and there was a time when it, rather than a television, was a family’s connection to the outside world. The radio was not merely something that was affixed to the dashboard of a car. News, music, comedies, variety shows and dramas came into the home over the airwaves and family members would gather around the wooden boxes to listen. Some of the world’s most serious moments were transported over the airwaves to homes around America, the bombing of London in WWII or the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And some of the nation’s dramas played out over the airwaves as well. Johnny Dollar, Gunsmoke and The Shadow were all popular and just as attractive to an audience then as a popular television drama is today. And there were many more. An Alexandria group is working to recreate those days with weekly dramas recorded and played at 12:30 p.m. Sundays on KXRA radio in Alexandria (1490 on the AM dial). Lakes Area Theatre is the brainchild of Mike Roers, an Alexandria appraiser and performing arts enthusiast, who has enlisted Ann C. Hermes to help coordinate the day-to-day functions. Roers is the executive producer, Hermes the artistic director. “This is brand new for everybody,” said Hermes, who studied broadcast news and production in college and worked at a television station in Fargo and for a sound studio in the Twin Cities earlier in her career. Doing radio drama is called voice acting. There are no props, costumes, makeup or lines to memorize. Feelings cannot be demonstrated by facial expressions or gestures, they must come through the tone, accent, inflection or volume of voice. Sound effects and music can be added to voices to create different experiences for the listener and add to the impact of the words. And while there are no props, makeup or costumes, there are other skills necessary to work in front of a microphone, like being careful with breathing to avoid gasping sounds over the air or rustling of script pages. The group was formed this summer as Hermes was considering heading to the Twin Cities to be closer to children and grandchildren. Roers had this idea for the radio dramas and had the space at his office. Although the group just started in July, nearly 65 voice actors, people with experience in sound engineering, directors and others have participated. They hope to have a group of 100 so the weekly schedule doesn’t burn people out. “Our vision is that we would have original, regionally produced scripts,” said Hermes. “And with a lot of people involved a person would be involved in five or six shows a year.” The troupe is currently working on a version of “The Christmas Carol” which has been scripted and directed by Kevin Lee. The plan is to broadcast the program in three parts beginning Sunday, December 5 with the second two programs airing on December 12 and December 19 at 12:30 p.m. on KXRA. The process of producing a program begins with a director and a script. Most of the voice actors have recorded readings on file with Hermes so the director can select his or her actors based on what voices will best tell the story. Rehearsals are held evenings during the week and recording sessions are on Friday nights.  Recording sessions are before a live audience at Roer’s office building. The public may attend. Admission is $5 for a single show and $10 for a show that is part of a series. Schedules of times of the open recording sessions can be found on the group’s web site, There is room for up to 30 people. The organization’s email is Audience reactions, such as laughter, become part of the show and also provide some feedback for the actors. From that point it could be a couple of weeks before the final show is broadcast. Among those who have participated to date include Alan Hayes, Alex Blaser, Ann C. Hermes, Anne Clark, Becky Byrne, Benjamin Roers, Becky Ostenson, Bob Piotrowski, Bruce Wegner, Caroline Roers, Cathy Weber Zunker, Christy Meier, Chuck Grussing, Claudia Bursch, Cody Saurdiff, Courtney Bitzan, Curtis Deterding, Daniel Roers, Dedra Zwieg, Gary Lund, Gene Meier, Haley Thull, Haley Wegner, Irma Brockberg, Jessica Benson, Jill Wagner, Jim Odden, Jim Thoreen, Joe Korkowski, John Thalmann, Kara Gerdes, Karen Gladen, Kathy Ray, Kelly Smith, Keri Mohror, Kevin Lee, Lars Markeson, Leah Drexler, Leila Preston, Mary Pohl, Mike Roers, Miriam Thornquist, Nancy Berns, Nelly Delarosby, Paul Schoenack, Pete Woit, Philip Goellner, Quincy Roers and Rachel Capistrant. They come from as far as Fergus Falls and Morris. “I do a lot of work at night so I have listened to a lot of old time radio,” said Roers. As he worked one recent evening he could hear the actors in another room rehearing The Christmas Carole. “Isn’t that great?” he asked. “I could listen to that all night.” “Ann and I have done a lot of theatre,” said Roers. “This was a way of having more theatre in town. We’re interested in getting a lot more people involved.” Roers’ theatre passion has generated an idea he calls “Theatre Buddies,” people who would pick up others who don’t wish to drive after dark or go out alone at night. Some legal issues about liability nixed a formal organization, but that wouldn’t prohibit friends from making sure others get out to enjoy local arts events, such as recording nights at of Lakes Area Theatre events. A longer term view of the theatre work would be that after a significant collection of programs are recorded they could be offered to other radio stations looking for programming. “We’d remove the shows that weren’t quite so good and see what interest there is in the rest,” he said. Lakes Area Theatre tries to raise $150 sponsorship for each show. Some of this goes to actors and directors. “It helps them buy gas,” said Roers.

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