News Column

Armstrong Community Theater pays tribute to fright master Hitchcock

October 27, 2013


Oct. 27--Anyone who still feels the heart skip a beat when a flock of birds hovers, or becomes a bit paranoid when a noise interrupts a shower, has Alfred Hitchcock to thank.

While the late film director and producer may be gone, his spirit lives on, says Emily Younkins of West Franklin, a member of the Armstrong Community Theater cast paying tribute to his legacy in "Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play" on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 2 at Worthington Civic Center.

The evening of adaptations of three early films directed by Hitchcock ("The Lodger," "Sabotage" and "The 39 Steps") will come to life in the style of a 1940s radio broadcast, with 13 actors playing dozens of characters and creating sound effects, and musical underscoring.

"This year, we knew the opening night of our fall play would be Halloween, and so, we wanted to do something a little more spooky," Younkins says. "And what better than three stories from the master of suspense?"

The stories and screenplays were written by different authors and brought to life with Hitchcock's directing and producing finesse.

The production harkens to yesteryear, when families sat together to listen to these stories on the radio, she says. "They were dependent on their imagination to see in their mind's eye what was going on in the story.

"Families these days don't always spend time together like that, and, even if they do, everything is so visual and everyone is distracted by smartphones, computers and video games."

Theater founder Paul Wright of North Buffalo likens the production to an entertaining history lesson for young people who attend. It's a reminder, he says, "that there wasn't always television" and people regularly tuned in to their favorite programs on radio.

A 1947 survey by the C.E. Hooper Co., which measured radio and television ratings, found that 82 of 100 Americans were radio-listeners.

"This show is a live radio play. The audience is watching actors do a radio show in the 1940s," he says. "Basically, we are actors playing actors playing various characters." And that will be accomplished primarily by voice and sound.

The triple feature includes vintage commercials, a daring train chase, a serial killer's ominous presence and a devastating explosion through the magic of live sound effects and musical underscoring.

"It is a perfect way to spend Halloween," Wright says.

Who doesn't like a good mystery, director Laura Lloyd of Vandergrift asks, especially one from "a classic tale-teller" like Alfred Hitchcock. "His way of unfolding a storyline is unparalleled."

Her goal is to make the show, which, she says "is quite the endeavor," as authentic as possible. "I remember my grandma telling me how precious it was to have a radio and how the different generations would gather around it," she says.

She says she was drawn to the challenge of doing a show like this and the thrill of Hitchcock's stories. "I tell people it will be a whole new experience. I would love to actually "watch" the whole show with my eyes shut, just to be able to pretend I'm sitting in front of a 1940s radio," she says.

She has stressed to her cast members that it is their voices that she needs to shine. "Their speech and inflections matter more than facial expressions or body movement," she adds. "This show is absolutely more challenging than a regular play."

It is different from any show the community theater has presented, Jaley Oesterling of Cowansville says.

"Most of us have never had the opportunity to be in a live radio play, which means we are learning as we go, and that's one of my favorite parts."

Those who appreciate the nostalgia of the golden era of radio certainly will enjoy it, Marjorie Thomas of East Franklin says and adds, "Young people will get to use their imagination. This theater community never ceases to amaze me with its talent and creativity," she adds.

Kendall Peters of Kittanning is new to the group and says she is up for the challenge. So is Lisa Camerlo-Myers of Freeport. "A challenge is always the enjoyable side of new parts," Camerlo-Myers says.

She has been helping the theater address one of the significant challenges for this show -- finding items from her antiques store in Freeport that will work for sound effects.

Cast members also are re-purposing items from their homes. "We've had a lot of laughs learning what does and does not work," Karissa Lloyd of Vandergrift says.

"I've discovered that my grandma's butter churn sounds like an old car when you turn it on," Karissa's mother, Laura Lloyd, says. "It can make the car sound fast or slow. You can bet it is in our show."

Karissa Lloyd believes the actors' scurrying to select the correct sound effect will provide visual entertainment.

"There is murder and intrigue in this show, but there is no stage violence, unless you count hacking at fruits and vegetables (to achieve a desired sound)," she says.

"I think the audience will enjoy watching the efforts of the sound-effects people making noises in an era when you couldn't just press a button and make a computer do it," she says.

"Young people will get to see how it was done way back when," John Wigle of Craigsville says.

Hitchcock's appeal remains timeless for everyone, he adds. "He always knew the best way to give a good scare."

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or


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