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‘Radio’ theater project tunes up

Recorder/Paul Franz
Jane Williams of New Salem and Joan and Mike Haley of Conway, practice and invent sound effects for their upcoming show “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Recorder/Paul Franz Jane Williams of New Salem and Joan and Mike Haley of Conway, practice and invent sound effects for their upcoming show “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

GREENFIELD — Come with us now to the fertile imagination of radio drama, to the Legend of Pumpkin Hollow, where our thespian heroes of the air are launching a brunch theater with an on-air twist for families.

In a timeless, sound-effect-driven romp through yesterday, through the “magic” of sound effects, Old Deerfield Productions will launch what it hopes to be the first in a series of live performances recorded for online podcast with a Dec. 16 reinterpretation, Franklin County style, of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The noontime production at Greenfield Grille will be a first for Old Deerfield Productions, which in recent years has broken new ground with its Double Take Fringe Theater Festival in Greenfield and its staging of original, full-scale operas based on the lives of Eunice Williams and Sojourner Truth.

Now, with a family-friendly reading of the Hudson Valley classic reset in the Pioneer Valley, the production company hopes to launch an innovative series of short theatrical pieces in the style of 1930s radio adventures, recorded before a live audience by Greenfield Community Television.

“This is the very first time we’ve done something like this, but it’s been in my heart and on my mind for a while,” says Linda McInerney, Old Deerfield’s artistic director. She had wanted to find a way to present shorter works that could be presented with quick turnaround — since they can be read and presented with smaller casts reading scripts — and then made available on the organization’s website.

Along came Kevin Maroney, a former WGBY marketing associate who had played a role in Old Deerfield’s production of “The Madwoman of Chaillot” last June. He’d been struck by the rebroadcast of H.G. Wells’ radio drama “The War of the Worlds” a few years ago and thought something like that “would be a cool thing to do.”

“Because you’re doing a radio program, you have the scripts in front of you, and that really reduces the amount of rehearsing that’s necessary and you can also do a lot more with very little in the way of props or even cast,” said Maroney, a member of the ODP board. “Costume doesn’t matter. It gives you a lot more leeway to expand what Old Deerfield Productions does.”

He offered to produce and direct the first of Old Deerfield Productions’ “Radio Theater Series,” and suggested that “Sleepy Hollow” could be presented to families at a local venue like Greenfield Grille.

Searching for possible radio scripts, fellow board member Mike Haley of Conway turned up with one that seemed written for a grammar school audience, with plenty of Dutch names and not much drama beyond the straight narration.

Haley took the Irving story and, as he says, “twisted it around a lot,” throwing in plenty of Boydens, Graveses and other local names and lore to make it more of Legend of Pumpkin Hollow, a neighborhood in Conway. Most of the seven actors taking part double or even triple up on parts in his one-hour script.

“The idea is to have fun, let people have some fun,” says Haley, who is doing just that as he heads up a three-member team concocting sound effects for the script’s crackling fire, owls, wolves and marching soldiers.

“I was brought up with radio,” recalls Haley. “We’d sit and hear something, listening to ‘The Shadow.’ You’d hear footsteps and you could ‘see’ it visually.”

Haley and his crew have been having fun using an oil funnel to create an authentic wind sound, and turning a plastic water jug into a drum for British soldiers marching up along the South River. And there’s many more inventions so creative that Haley thought he’d even hand out blindfolds for the audience to get lost in their imaginations.

To help, and help the project raise some funds as well, there will even be “radio commercials” paid for by real sponsors that Maroney is trying to arrange.

Haley, whose decades of experience as an associate Hollywood producer and assistant director is less important than his experience growing up with radio plays, says, “This has always been sort of a love of mine. It’s been great fun throwing all these things together,” including Washington Irving and local lore.

Producing a series of plays for radio — or today’s version of it, the podcast — has been “something I’ve always wanted to do. If this is successful, there’s a string of things we’d like to do all over Greenfield.”

The ODT Radio Players already have their next production in mind for the Memorial Day : the a radio drama version of “Johnny’s Got His Gun,” a Vietnam-era story to commemorate all those who have fought in all wars, says McInerney.

And of courses, Maroney, who has visions of the series someday being broadcast on a local radio station, still wants to present “The War of the Worlds.”

“It harkens back, when you think about our own recession and the economic troubles we’re in, to the era of radio theater, and how they got through the hard times of the Depression,” Maroney says. “There’s comfort in that. There are certainly people around here who grew up listening to the radio. It all happens in your head when you’re listening at home or in your car. The audience is another character in the overall production. We don’t know what kind of responses there are going to be.”

McInerney says having these plays available for audiences to listen to over and over is a special part of this latest ODP project.

“I would have died for this while I was raising my kids,” she says. “There will be an archive so they can have it as much as they want. It will be great to have for families in the area when there’s so many cutbacks, and there’s so much less out there, as we make something that has meaning that’s of our community, for our community. You can listen again and again for story time. It will be this huge, crazy thing.”

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