News Column

Clock is ticking toward The Radio Hour

December 4, 2013

YellowBrix

Dec. 04--"The 1940's Radio Hour" opens on the Chipola College stage this Thursday for a three-night run and Sunday matinee. The curtain opens nightly at 7 p.m., and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for the 18-and-under set. They're available online at www.chipola.edu, and at the theater box office from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. through Thursday, from 9 a.m. until noon on Friday, and one hour while they last before curtain at each performance.

The show revolves around a live radio show from the 1940s, during a broadcast of a long-running Christmas presentation. It is a bittersweet time for the radio cast; this will be the last time that some of its members will perform together. One is going off to war, and others are making their exits for various reasons.

But for one character, the broadcast will be her first performance with the troupe as she steps in to take a role. The young actress who plays that part, Kate Burke, said transforming herself into the starry-eyed ing nue Connie Miller was not a big leap at all.

That's because this show marks her debut in a full-out Chipola production. Having had a small taste of Chipola theater in her first performance there earlier this year as a freshman in the annual Showcase , a presentation of various disjointed skits, Burke said she's still quite a bit starry-eyed herself.

"My character is a lot like me," Burke said. "I was so excited to be able to come to Chipola. The theater facilities are just amazing. I'm blown away by it all and I still walk around amazed. Theater is my life, and for me to be able to come to class here and do rehearsals and perform in this space, well, it's pretty exciting. I can totally relate to how she feels."

As the Miller character, Burke gets to sing a lot of the solos. She's used to that, to a certain extent. He was the go-to performer when her hometown of Vernon needed someone to sing the challenging National Anthem. A soprano, she sang it at all football games in high school and at annual Veteran's Day events, and she did a lot of musicals in high school that put her in the spotlight.

And although she sang her share of duets as a youngster at church and school, this show includes a more challenging romantic duet than she's used to. "The music was not as difficult in the earlier things I've done," Burke said. "He and I have to match our voices and harmonize perfectly, and it's really a challenge getting it just right."

Students from Burke's old high school are coming to a traditional pre-run special performance for students on Wednesday. She's both a little nervous and excited about that day."Of course I want to impress them, you know, to let them see how much of grown, and to perform well so that some kid out there might see me and maybe think, 'I can do that, too'," Burke said. Auditioned for the Chipola College theater program on the recommendation of her theater leader at Vernon, Kevin Russell, Burke said she plans to pursue theater as a career.

"My main goal, five years from now, is to have a job on Broadway," she said. "I hope I'll have a job in the industry someday, and I think I'm in a great place to work toward that goal. I'm learning so much, and I have made some of the greatest friends I've ever had in this program. We're like family. We sometimes out to eat after a show, or just hang out at somebody's house. Everyone here was really open, welcoming me as a newcomer."

And some of her biological family will be in the audience during her big debut. Her grandmother is one of those. She contributed one special piece for her granddaughter's wardrobe for the show. It's a grey sweater that she passed down from Burke's great-grandmother. Except for a pair of saddle shoes she had to order, Burke put the rest of her attire together shopping at Goodwill. She had the time of her life doing that, too, she said.

One of Burke's stagemates in this show is Nick Cessna. He plays sound effects man Lou Cohn. For Cessna, the role created some big challenges. He, theater director Charles Sirman and his assistant Chris Monasco sat down and created a roughly two-page list of sound effects that Cessna would have to create on stage to mimic certain sounds for the radio audience-things like the sound of someone walking in crunchy snow, of various doors locking, opening and unlocking, of wind blowing through a certain environment.

After the list was made, Sirman and Monasco set Cessna free to figure out how to make them. In the theater's prop shop, Cessna and others built a mini door and outfitted it will all kinds of locks. He stashed some sandpaper to create the sound of someone doing an old soft shoe dance. He found a bottle to blow through in order to create a certain type of wind sound. He employed his body to make certain other sounds. An actress in the show contributed a couple of plastic coconuts that she found for him use in representing the sound of horse hoofs on a street.

Cessna said he found it an exciting creative task, and one that used his natural bent toward improvisation. It was that skill that may have won him the part, actually. When he read for it, he added some sound effects using just his voice. He could bark like a dog, he could sound like a creaky door. He's not sure if that's what sealed the role for him, but he suspects so.

His other big challenge is time and motion management. He has to quickly move and re-position microphones often in the show, as singers of varying heights share them. Once in rehearsals, one of the other actors accidentally pulled a plug from the wall, leaving a singer briefly with no enhanced audio during a number with lyrics of critical importance. Cessna dashed across the stage and solved the problem. Instead of letting that crisis create an uncomfortable situation, Cessna turned it into a comic bit. As it happened, his character doesn't like the character that the erring actor portrays. Cessna reacted in the way he thought might be natural under the circumstances if it had actually happened in a live radio production, where he could scowl if he pleased. For the handful of audience members who'd been invited for a sneak peek at the show during that rehearsal, the moment was taken as an intended part of the show.

Cessna said being prepared for those opportunities and other, known challenges of the show will keep him on his toes on show nights. He said it's a heightened state he enjoys.

After Chipola, the Blountstown native plans on moving with his bride-to-be to Orlando, where he hopes to get work at Disney in the technical end of show biz there and later find a job in sound for movies.

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