PICT Radio Dramas: Producing Theater in a Pandemic

The COVID-compliant quadruple recording booth at WQED Studio B used to record Pittburgh Irish & Classical Theatre’s first radio drama, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll, available for streaming October 15-31, 2020.

We jokingly refer to it as the TARDIS after the fictional time machine/spacecraft from the Dr. Who series. But it’s one way that has helped make theater possible in the new normal. It’s where I got to spend a day and a half with my fellow actors Marty Giles, Tony Bingham, and James Fitzgerald cutting our scenes for the upcoming The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll, an audio adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic written by Alan Stanford, artistic director of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre.

Just a week before, the AEA audition call went out, followed by a flurry of call backs, castings, and COVID testings. Then two evenings of Zoom rehearsals and union meetings with the rest of the 9-member cast to go over all the new socially-distant protocols that had been put in place. All weirdly fascinating. Rehearsing by Zoom is just odd for people used to being in the same room, hearing each other in the same space, seeing expression, and salivating all over each other. Yes, dear audience, that’s the price of enunciation and p-p-p-passionate diction to be clear for you in the back row. I say that as a particularly spitty actor. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t aerosolize.

The Tardis has four entrances, one each side, leading to individual booths separated by plexiglas from the chest up and wood framing covered by heavy blacks on the bottom half. Each actor was given a personal pair of earbuds we had to keep with us. And the spaces were all wiped down between actor changes. Outside, in addition to being masked, everyone was spaced at individual tables about twelve feet apart and had a clockwise walk path around the recording space to follow. There were weekly COVID tests to be taken and daily temperature checks on the way in to the building. I really have to hand it to both the union and the theatre company for working really well together with a great deal of care, clarity, and camaraderie to make it all possible.

I’ve only heard stories about when the Orson Welles’ radio drama of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds originally aired and scared the pants off people. But I do remember listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of it as a kid one Halloween, and huddling under the covers as the sound of the first Martian cylinder ominously unscrewed on an imaginary Horsell Common and Richard Burton intoned the depiction of black slathering bodies that glistened and writhed in the pit before the coming of the heat ray.

What we call “radio” is really audio production and internet streaming, but the effect is the same as any of you who consume audiobooks already knows. Theatre of the mind is incredibly powerful and personal because it enlists the listener’s own imagination as it brings a scene to life with the sounds of the actors and magic of foley. And it’s one of the many reasons I’m thankful to be part of this production. In an industry that’s been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, its just one way theatre is being done together, yet apart. We hope you enjoy it.

Dr. Jekyll is the first of a series of radio dramas PICT is producing between now and Christmas and is set to stream between October 15-31. TICKETS ON SALE NOW at www.picttheatre.org.

Featuring the talents of Martin Giles, John Michnya, Tony Bingham, James Fitzgerald, Karen Baum, Cotter Smith, Ken Bolden, Carolyn Jerz and myself. Written by Alan Stanford. Cory Goddard, Stage Manager. Catherine Kolos, Company Manager. Patrick McCall, Production Manager. Sound by Kristopher Buggey and Foley by Reed Allen Worth.

About Darren Eliker

Freelance Voiceover Actor with over 27 years of experience in the industry. Award-winning Creative & Production Director at a midsize market radio cluster. Private Studio Specs - Neumann TLM-103 and AT4047 Condenser Microphones, Grace M101 Preamp, Focusright Clarett AD Interface, Pro Tools, SourceConnect and Phone Patch available
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