News Column

Granite City Radio show: 1 good turn deserves another

October 3, 2013


Oct. 03--Granite City Radio Theatre returns to Pioneer Place on Fifth this month with its second season.

It will keep some things that worked well last year, including Dan Barth's trivia segment, the Shade Brigade, which does a sort of radio noir complete with voices and sound effects. Collective Unconscious will continue as house band.

Organizers also will continue to use local writers and actors. They're looking to include a special musical guest each time, with as many local artists as possible.

"It's a neat group of actors and musicians. Everybody brings a little bit of something to this process," said Jeff Carmack, KVSC's arts and cultural heritage producer. "It turns out to be a pretty fun show."

The original idea for the show was conceived by KVSC and Pioneer Place staff. KVSC funds the show with the help of a grant.

KVSC Station Manager Jo McMullen said the first year went really well. Three of the four shows sold out, and the fourth had 20 tickets unsold.

She said they had a lot of repeat audience members -- a lot of St. Cloud State University faculty and staff and KVSC members.

The last show with musician Nicholas David was a big hit as he did a live performance and brought in a little different audience from his "The Voice" fame.

Carmack said audiences should expect a few surprises this year.

"It's also an examination of Central Minnesota culture, too. How do we express ourselves, what makes Central Minnesota a fun and unique area?" Carmack said. "People just enjoy being here. We've got a lot to celebrate around this area. ... It's not self-deprecating humor, but bringing some of the more silly things in our lives to light, so we can all laugh about it. ... If you can't laugh at yourself, who are you going to laugh at?"

As with many performances at Pioneer Place, the radio theater performers set-wise are at the mercy of whatever show is being produced at the theater. When Granite City Radio performers take the stage in October, they'll be doing so on the set of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Along the way, organizers have learned some lessons. For example, though most of the jokes are audio-related, they can have sight gags for the audience.

"Radio is theater of the mind, so this is just an adaptation," she said.

Carmack said one of the challenges stage actors have had is simply standing still and close to the mic.

"Everything is now verbal ... no visual cues, it all comes through what's told to you by the actor," Carmack said.

Jay Terry writes for the show and is the artistic director for the Pioneer Place Theatre Company.

"You have to paint a word picture," Terry said. "That's its own challenge. ... All you have is your voice."

There are only so many situations you can write, Terry said. Then you pick a character -- think the seven dwarfs, Sleepy, Dopey, etc. -- and imagine how they would react in those situations.

They also have to keep it family friendly, a little different than the humor they could write for the comedy hour.

Terry likes the challenge of comedy writing -- it's all in the timing.

"Comedy is so delicate," he said. "Comedy is a science. It's very technical, very fragile."

He said he does well writing for himself, because he knows how he'd deliver a joke.

He prefers to write in groups of two or three; he finds that kind of back-and-forth to be the most constructive.

"The trick is not to get too married to a script," he said. "You may find that only one small piece of the entire thing is good."

And they are fluid and dynamic.

"Scripts can change up to the day," Terry said.

Ideally, that's not the case.

"Sometimes we don't know something's not working until it's not working," Carmack said.

"The content of the show was evolving over the last year. We figured out what works and what doesn't work," Carmack said.

There's a fun aspect to it though.

"You can make up anything on the radio side of it ... like a pet giraffe is rampaging through the backyard. You don't need a giraffe in the theater. ... People can imagine it," Carmack said.

So it goes both ways.

"It's a lot of work. I love that it's local, a St. Cloud thing that was born here," Terry said.

For every minute of the show, Terry estimates it takes about an hour to produce. So, for the hour show, that's 60 hours of work in writing, rehearsing and technical aspects.

"It's more time than you'd expect," he said.

Altogether, about 20 performers and musicians work on the show, and they need at least two technicians to run the show.

For McMullen, the hardest work came last year, figuring out what they needed to perform in front of an audience while airing the audio live. And she had to figure out how to pay for it.

They strive to pay a livable wage to performers and artists while still allowing students to have a hands-on approach.

"It's also about supporting artists," she said.

Now the organizers know what to expect. Last year, the question was, "What is this thing?"

But they weren't starting from scratch. The station has done a Monday Night Live show on the road at Pioneer Place.

"We had a relationship, we knew we could do live there and broadcast it," she said.

The question was, could they also do theater?

"We had proof that we could do that, we needed to escalate it, elevate it to a performance audience," she said.

So they cultivated people who put together the Veranda Variety Hour at Pioneer Place.

"We had this idea of 'Hey, we could maybe do this on the radio,' " Carmack said.

The show is now funded for this year and next.

"It's really about getting the right people on the stage, and growing it to focus on Central Minnesota musicians with a complement of Minneapolis performers," she said.


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