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Radio days

Readers Theater performs popular radio shows from ’30s and ’40s live

Created date

November 20th, 2014
members of the Oak Crest Reader's group

Akin to most kids his age, John Barnold dreamed of one day growing up to be Flash Gordon. That dream finally came true last month thanks to the Oak Crest Readers Theater, where John became the voice of the iconic comic book hero in Flash Gordon on the Planet of Mongo.

“I recently joined the Readers Theater group, and this was my first performance,” says John. “I was especially excited at the chance to play Flash Gordon because I used to listen to the show on the radio when I was a kid.”

John is one of about two dozen men and women who make up the Readers Theater, a group of Crest residents who perform well-known shows from the golden age of radio. The group performs every other month in the Acorn Pub located at the Parkville, Md., Erickson Living community.

Rediscovering a favorite pastime

“I was a member of a Readers Theater group years ago,” says Louise Kaufman, one of the organizers of the group. “It was just a bunch of married couples who had young children and no money, so for fun we would put on plays. When I moved to Oak Crest, I was looking for something similar, but there wasn’t anything like it.”

So Louise recruited neighbors Bob McKeever and Harvey Jacob, and the three set out to organize the Oak Crest Readers Theater group.  

“We found a website with dozens of old radio scripts,” says Louise. “We printed out the ones we liked and passed them around to residents who had expressed an interest in participating.”

Louise directed and Bob starred in the group’s debut production, an episode of The Shadow: Blind Beggar Dies. Seated behind microphones, dressed in black, Bob used the inflection and intonation in his voice to bring The Shadow to life. 

“I was Lamont Cranston, who also doubled as The Shadow, who had that devilish laugh,” says Bob, who in January will star and direct in The Thin Man: The Case of the All-American Menace

Lend me your ear

Melva Zeman, who directed last month’s Flash Gordon performance, has spent most of her life involved with theater, first in college and later performing with local dinner theaters. Melva says the great thing about the Readers Theater is it takes the pressure off remembering your lines and focuses on having fun. 

“It’s great because you don’t have to memorize a script; you just need to be able to read well and inject personality into the character you are reading for,” says Melva. “We even have an announcer who does all of the original commercials just as they ran back then.”

Melva has fond memories of her family gathering around the radio as a child listening to her favorite radio shows. 

“My family would all stand or sit around our radio just like you would do with your television today,” says Melva. “My favorite show was I Love a Mystery With Jack, Doc, and Reggie. Fibber McGee and Molly was also popular.”

In the few months since the Readers Theater formed, they have continued to enhance their performances with the addition of an antique wooden radio that Melva borrowed from a collector friend and through the use of sound effects. 

“I began gathering a collection of man-made sound effects when we did the performance of Fibber McGee and Molly: Fibber’s Closet,” says Bob. “I asked a resident who works in the Oak Crest woodshop if he could build me a miniature door that we could use for the sound effect of a door opening and closing. I filled a trash bag full of stuff and shook it to give the illusion of stuff falling out of a closet and I also found the original music online and downloaded it so that I could cue it up at the appropriate time.”

Bob recently acquired a new digital sound library, which he purchased online, featuring 3,000 different sound effects. 

The shows run from 30 to 60 minutes in length, and admission is free. Louise urges any Oak Crest residents who are interested in performing, producing, or directing to join them and hopes that their following will continue to grow. 

“Who knows, if our audience continues to grow, we may have to move to a larger venue,” says Louise.