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The vocal talents of UAlbany student actors bring back a radio drama of the 1940s

Dorothy Sweeney and cast at WOR in NYC

Dorothy Sweeney and cast at WOR in NYC (Photo courtesy of Schenectady Museum)

Before Fear Factor and The Brady Bunch, before television became mainstream entertainment, radio dramas captured audiences of all ages across the nation. UAlbany students are expanding their theatrical experiences as they work with faculty and two local sound effects producers to bring back this rarely performed genre in a presentation of The FBI in Action: Recreating an Original 1940s Radio Drama on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center. The performance is part of a two-day conference, Researching New York 2004: Perspectives on Empire State History.

The idea for the radio drama came to self-described “radio buff” and history professor Ivan Steen after he interviewed the two local women, Dorothy Sweeney and Margaret “Peg” Miller, and learned about their work as sound effects producers for radio in the 1940s.

For expertise in casting and directing the radio drama, Steen turned to Kristina Bendikas, a voiceover artist who teaches voice in UAlbany’s Department of Theatre. She cast seven student actors who presented a variety of vocal types, as well as those who had good ‘cold reading’ skills. “This is a wonderful project for many reasons,” said Bendikas. “Radio drama, like voiceovers, requires actors who can just jump right into a character without the benefit of physical movement and interaction. Since the actors don't memorize their lines, their eyes are on the script, rather than on the other actors. Each actor remains self-contained physically, but must find a way to connect. I think that's where good listening skills and a vivid imagination help.”

The student actors appreciate the unique challenges that the radio drama presents. UAlbany senior Brandon McKown, who is a criminal justice major with a theatre minor, auditioned for The FBI in Action because “I thought this would be an interesting project.” Since he and the other cast members can’t rely on facial expressions or gestures during the production, they are learning “to be conscious about how we say things -- to emote through our voices,” he said.

WGY cast and crew in January 1949
 

WGY cast and crew in January 1949 (Photo courtesy of Schenectady Museum)

 

The radio drama, co-sponsored by UAlbany’s Department of Theatre and the New York State Writers Institute, will be as authentic as possible – Sweeney and Miller will produce sound effects, and organist Ned Spain will provide musical bridges between scenes. There will be a few differences between the 1943 version and today’s, according to Steen. Modern microphones will be used; vintage studio equipment couldn’t be located. The cast will wear business attire for the performance, as the men and women in the original production would have. There will be no soundproof studio booth, but there will be a live audience and there may be some photos of the original FBI in Action actors on display.

Admission to The FBI in Action is free and the public is welcome. For more information please visit http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/fbi-in-action_radio_play.html.


Related Links:

Researching New York 2004 Conference
New York State Writers Institute
Department of Theatre
Department of History
Performing Arts Center

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