Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on creating RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE for the 2015/16 Season

RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERERADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE by Matthew Ivan Bennett receives its world premiere in a co-production with KUER’S RadioWest on October 30, 2015 featuring Doug Fabrizio and Jay Perry, with original music by Dave Evanoff, directed by Cheryl Cluff. This is the only thing that will be written about this year’s 10th anniversary episode of RADIO HOUR—we’re hoping for a WAR OF THE WORLDS moment, so we have to tell you somewhere, at least once, that it’s not real.

During my undergrad days, a favorite late-night pastime of mine was listening to AM radio talk shows. Particularly, I liked listening to Coast-to-Coast AM, with fringe topics ranging from UFOs to dreams to free energy devices. Actually, the title of my first play came from Coast-to-Coast AM, when host Art Bell asked everyone to “send white light to Terrence.” He meant Terrence McKenna, the psychedelic researcher. I didn’t write a play about him, but I jotted down WHITE LIGHT OF TERRENCE and that sparked the idea for a play about a young man who has visions.

The entertainment value of Coast-to-Coast is that, even if you don’t believe a word some guest is saying, it’s obvious that he believes it. And that’s very scary to contemplate sometimes. For instance, one of my all-time favorite shows was when Art Bell opened a line specifically for the Anti-Christ. He got several of them—and some of them sounded…well, convincing. They may have merely been good actors, or people with personality disorders, but they seemed to believe themselves.

When Jerry and Cheryl approached me with the idea of writing a fictional guest for Doug Fabrizio’s RadioWest—for Halloween—I immediately wanted to write the sort of person I might have heard on Coast-to-Coast. Besides Anti-Christs, I have heard: a man claiming to be the Maitreya of Buddhism; a woman claiming to represent an alien race called Zetas; a man claiming that angels are, in fact, evil and demons benevolent (the Bible got it backwards); and on and on. I settled on creating a channeler named Dr. Arlen Childs. The idea of channeling, or trance-mediumship, has always had an eerie appeal to me. Usually, the notion of another being occupying your head-space is regarded as categorically icky. There’s a whole genre of horror movies about possession! But channelers insist, no, sometimes it’s okay to let your consciousness be occluded by other beings.

I mean, if we take for granted that this is even possible (and we should for Halloween on the radio), how do you know which beings you can trust and which you can’t? How do you know positive from negative? In writing OTHERWHERE, the hope was to highlight just how easily we suspend our judgment on that very question. Look how willing Christians are, for instance, to overlook the mass killings of Yahweh in the Old Testament. If a single human being did something equivalent to Sodom and Gomorrah, he would probably go down in history with a place next to Hitler. Believers, however, can accept a god who burns whole cities as benevolent. How? Are they being deceived? Is everyone else, who feels horror at those stories, wrong? What is your personal rule-of-thumb for discovering others’ intentions? Do you have one?

Matthew Ivan BennetIn OTHERWHERE, I tried to put horror right next to the promised land. So much of spiritualism—even if we don’t acknowledge it—straddles horror and peace. It’s not just the dichotomy of Hell and Heaven, but the disturbing inner dichotomy of conformity vs. autonomy. The struggle between being authentic and being pure (which can mean a tortuous artificiality).

As a writer, when I really try to understand something, my go-to tactic is: Be Gullible. You can’t pry your way into every attitude with the intellect. Sometimes you just have to assume your subject’s point of view is accurate and look around and live a little with his ideas. When you listen to RADIO HOUR this year, do that. Be gullible. Listen as if it’s all real. Let yourself believe—and you just might learn something about belief.

Matthew Ivan Bennett has premiered four episodes of RADIO HOUR: LAVENDER & EXILE, FRANKENSTEIN, ALICE and SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNCLE and his plays BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, MESA VERDE, ERIC(A), DIFFERENT=AMAZING and A/VERSION OF EVENTS at Plan-B. RADIO HOUR EPISODE 4: FRANKENSTEIN received a Utah Broadcasters Association Gold Award; MESA VERDE was nominated for the American Theatre Critics Assocation/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York; ERIC(A) toured coast-to-coast and was named Best Drama at the United Solo Theatre Festival. His play THE CAUSE was read at the Great Plains Theatre Conference and his play A NIGHT WITH THE FAMILY was read at Salt Lake Acting Company and received its world premiere at Omaha Community Playhouse and was also produced by PYGmalion Theatre Company. Click here for more information on RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE.

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