By Gari Voss
The live radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol: a Radio Production by the Allegan Community Players will be on stage at the Griswold Auditorium Friday, December 9, 2022 at 6 and 8pm, Saturday, December 10th at 7pm, and Sunday, December 11th at 2pm.
Each audience will be invited into a radio studio to view a radio broadcast of Charles Dicken’s beloved story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the examination of his interaction with the Christmas Spirit.
As the story unfolds, actors will be moving in and out through various characters. Without the assistance of physical movement, story characters will be portrayed through vocal nuances.
This type of production is quite different from a stage performance in that actors are not interacting with each other using their body language or even making eye conduct. Voice qualities must assist the audience is identifying characters and following the storyline.
“This is more like students participating in Forensics,” commented Marne Sieber. “You are carrying on conversations, but not interacting with the other actors. This has been a difficult adjustment for me.”
Actors Marne Sieber, Jane Holewa and Marie Lallinger-Smith graciously reviewed the process of transforming a stage performer into a radio celebrity.
Marne has portrayed a number of characters on the Griswold stage. One of her more notable would be Ado Annie in Oklahoma, but she has also done more serious roles – all through body posturing and physical interaction with other actors. In the radio production, Sieber brings to life the radio announcer, a visitor to Scrooge, a fan, and Mrs. Oliver.
Marie has done a variety of roles. There have been comedic roles like Mrs. Kirby in You Can’t Take it with You; Nellie the Maid in Dracula, the Musical; Vernadette in Dixie Swim Club; and Mother Superior in Drinking Habits. Her favorite was Vernadette who was the most difficult because she has dementia. Now, Lallinger-Smith portrays Fezziwig, the 2nd Spirit, Broker 1, a child and a person.
Jane has been cast in singing roles like a mother character in Crazy for You at the Kalamazoo Civic. At the Griswold, Glorious and Anne of Green Gables gave her straight acting roles. Currently, Holewa embodies the Narrator, Scrooge’s Sweetheart, Mrs. Cratchit and Broker 2.
How did these actors make the transition to create a voice unique to a character and entertain a radio audience? It began with some one-on-one with Director Tonya Tucker.
“Tonya shared how she envisioned each of my characters. The radio announcer had to have an ‘airy’ tone but perky, and keep the listening audience engaged,” Sieber explained. “Tonya gave me documentation on the voice qualities of a child. Ms. Oliver is a poor person who is rather sullen and has the job of removing ‘valuable’ items from dead bodies. Once I better understood each character, I had to work on developing those voices.”
“Knowing the story has helped in developing my characters,” Lallinger-Smith believes. “Tonya gave great ideas and suggestions to assist with voices. My voices have to match the age, gender and personality of each individual character. I go from Fezziwig, a jovial, foppish man who Scrooge apprenticed under, to the 2nd Spirit to a serious Broker to a Child. Each has a different quality. ”
Jane’s primary role is the narrator. “I wanted to try a London English accent as Mrs. Cratchit but the director said that everyone in the show would have to have that accent so she said why not use it for the narrator. My accent is unique. It is as close as I can get, but it is not perfect.”
At the same time Holewa pulls out a motherly tone in her voice for Mrs. Cratchit, a young woman voice for Scrooge’s young sweetheart, a rough voice for a broker who dislikes Scrooge and shows it, and a gentle, matter of fact voice to say, “God bless us and everyone.”
When reflecting on radio productions, a positive was that the actors had a script which meant not memorizing lines. “My brain just does not remember lines the way it used to,” quipped Sieber.
On the challenging side, there is the vocal development and engraining the voice of each character to memory. “I believe that this role is the most challenging because you don’t act, you read many parts and try to get the audience to look back in time when you only had radio to listen to. Then we make them feel like they are right there in the story.”
As the rehearsal process unfolds, the development of the production company is what often brings actors to new levels.
“I have learned during the acting process how much fun it is to be back with a director who is very organized and dedicated,” stated Holewa. “Also, it is reconnecting with past actors who seem like family. We all work together to make this play inviting.”
“Radio style is totally different. It’s a new experience, just reading. No acting with our bodies or faces,” Lallinger-Smith reflected.
Sieber did share that the actors will assist the studio (Griswold) audience with tracking characters. “We have chosen some simple costume items – a bow, scarf, jacket – and change posture for each character.”
During the final weeks of rehearsal, the cast has worked with technician Ryan Burza on sound effects. There is a prop table with sound devices. Plus, several recordings have been made to create a mood or enhance what is happening at the microphones.
To sum it up, Marne invites, “We have worked hard. Come in, sit down, relax. We have decorated the Griswold for Christmas. Get taken away for a short period of time and enjoy a different adaptation of A Christmas Carol. There are all different version or interpretation. I do believe this one, written by a local writer, will entertain people. In addition, the Jaycees are doing cookies.”
Performances of A Christmas Carol: a Radio Production will begin on Festive Friday, December 9th at 6 and 8pm, Saturday, December 10th at 7pm, and Sunday, December 11th at 2pm. Tickets are $5 at the door for general seating.