Theater Killed the Radio Star

Willoughby Fine Arts Association's radio-style performance of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor

Imagine Shakespeare performed with copious sound effects in lieu of costumes or sets and an entire cast of elderly actors who can remember a world before television.

If your imagination isn't cooperating, take a cue this weekend from the Willoughby Fine Arts Association. In conjunction with the Great Lakes Theater Festival's "Total Willpower" program, the FAA will present an old-fashioned, radio-style performance of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, starring 19 area senior citizens.

"We're looking to give seniors a feel for the way they used to listen to theater, to give them a behind-the-scenes look at the way it came about," says Effie Tsengas of the Fine Arts Association as to why the cast is made up only of geriatrics.

But not to fear -- they won't all be shoehorned into a radio booth. The production isn't actually being broadcast, but will be dramatically read onstage for an audience, with youth theater students providing the appropriate sound effects to further the illusion of a 1940s radio program.

"It's been well-received so far," Tsengas says. "With the response to the auditions, comments by actors and other theaters, and ticket sales -- it's something a little more unique to our participation in Total Willpower."

"It's a cute idea," agrees director Donald Squires, hired by the Willoughby FAA for his specialization in Shakespeare. "At auditions I was blown away at how charming it's going to be." Still, his biggest hang-up is that the radio format -- even pseudo-radio -- just doesn't seem to fit the Bard.

"Shakespeare is meant to be seen, not read," he says. "I guess my powers as director come out more and more, line by line, word by word -- every nuance. [The actors] have to know what they want, how to get it, and know what they're talking about."

Fortunately, the actors -- some of whom are in their 80s -- are well-versed in the idea of using radio as a stage and brought their own childhood experiences to the project. "They're just loving it," says Squires. "About five [are] seasoned veterans; the rest haven't been in anything like this since high school. They're all so thankful to be a part of it. It's so refreshing."

And for once, it will be polite to sit back and close your eyes during a night of theater.