Travel back in time with audio performance by Piknik Theatre
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The radio has long been the center of holiday traditions, whether it’s listening to Bing Crosby’s warm raspy voice singing of falling snow, or tuning in to hear Alice’s restaurant or Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish recipe.
This year, Piknik Theatre is adding a free, original comedy to the airwaves with an audio production of “The Mail Order Husband.” The story, written by Denver playwright Jessica Austgen, mostly takes place in 1899 and follows a Steamboat Springs woman, Ida Brausen, as she orders a husband from a catalog.
“That’s what this is all about, is making a little piece of art with the tools we have available that are best for this environment,” said Stuart Handloff, board chair and executive director of Piknik Theatre. “We can’t do things face to face. It’s not going to work, and may not for quite a while.”
The comedy is family-friendly and about 45 minutes long, not including a brief intermission. The characters are all voiced by Piknik Theatre actors and actresses and is a submersible sound experience, best listened to with headphones or on a speaker system. Multiple sounds happening at once, from different distances in different locations creates the feeling of standing in the middle of the scene.
The performance will go live on Piknik Theatre’s website, pikniktheatre.org at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Listening is free, but donations to Piknik Theatre and the Yampa Valley Performing Arts Council can be made at coloradogives.org/yampavalleyperformingartscouncil.
There are countless references to landmarks and businesses in the Yampa Valley, while following the main character’s search for love in an old Western town full of cowboys and miners. The story is dug up by a mom and daughter visiting Steamboat in March of 2020, so the COVID-19 pandemic plays a small role.
“Right now, November 2020, I don’t want to think about COVID anymore than I have to, but it’s also a reality,” said Austgen. “I think one thing that made Stuart want to include that 2020 framework in this story was to acknowledge the fact that we are in an audio drama because of COVID. If there was no COVID, this play wouldn’t have been conceived, produced or even wanted.”
Finding the balance of mentioning COVID-19 while still offering a comedic escape for the listener was just one struggle Austgen encountered when writing the audio production.
The leading man, the mail order husband, had a flaw or a challenge to overcome while trying to win over the girl. In the writing process, the idea of a limp was presented, but that couldn’t be shown to listeners audibly. So, they ultimately decided on giving the leading man a stutter, something the actor that plays the character has in real life.
“We had a challenge with one character, he’s sort of the villain of the piece. When he entered, he sort of had a tobacco spitting sound, we were aware that the villain was in the world when we heard that,” said Austgen. “Then we realized that wasn’t the best choice because it’s hard to identify what a tobacco spitting sound is. … So we ended up having to change that to a jingle of spurs. The world had to be flexible.”
Austgen got to bring her character Ida Brausen to life through voice acting, something that really stretched her creativity and awareness as a performer. She found she tends to rely too much on her body to convey her character, so her vocal choices get lazy.
“I say 60% of the tools I use as an actor are physical,” she admitted. “Face, expression, physical choices and all of that is gone.”
While radio shows are almost a thing of the past, Handloff thinks they could be a thing of the future, particularly for Piknik Theatre.
“Hopefully, if this is successful and people really like it, then this is what we’ll do next year,” said Handloff. “After we get through the holidays, we’ll line up another group or the same group, get Jessica to write another story, and we’ll keep it going. … This is going to be, I am thinking, theater of the future.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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