RADIO HOUR EPISODE 11: YULETIDE by Matthew Ivan Bennett receives its world premiere in a co-production with KUER’S RadioWest on December 8, 2016 featuring Doug Fabrizo, Jay Perry and Teresa Sanderson, with original music by Dave Evanoff and eFoley by Jennifer Freed, directed by Cheryl Cluff.
One year, when I was a kid, the toy I really, really wanted was a toy microphone you could “broadcast” with over the radio. I don’t remember who made it — Fisher Price? Mattel? — but it was bright plastic yellow. I got it! And I played with it all day long in my Christmas pajamas. This is how it worked: you would select an empty static station on the radio, like 107.3 FM, and then you’d set the toy to 107.3, and you could hear yourself through the radio! It only had a range of 20 feet or so, but what I’d do was hide in the coat closet, behind my dad’s tan wool trench coat and under the boxes of Kodak slides, and I’d wait for my family to walk into the dining room before greeting them with what I thought was a booming phantom voice: “Aggghhh!” Usually, I gave myself away by panting heavily into the mic or snickering.
Another year what I really, madly, deeply desperately needed was the He-Man Snake Mountain play set. Again, I wanted it because it had a microphone. It had, I think, some sort of echo effect, so you could sound just like a cartoon villain in his lair. Probably, Mr. and Mrs. Claus regretted giving me these toys because they were loud and I used them until the batteries died. (Then asked for more batteries.)
Looking back, it seems odd that I wanted these toys. I was a quiet kid. But maybe I wanted them because they let me experiment with being loud in a context of make-believe.
I’m so, so grateful that I get to do as much theatre as I do. RADIO HOUR EPISODE 11: YULETIDE feels like an early Christmas present — one that I really, really “need.” Writing for radio is especially rewarding because . . . something about it connects me to that little kid who hid in the coat closet with a microphone. There’s a more intimate overlap, I think, between playing make-believe and grown-up, big-people theatre than we thespians like to admit. We want patrons and donors to think that it’s super-hard work, and believe me it can be, but our aim is always a kid-like surrender to to the snickering joyful gods of imagination.
We chose Christmas again for RADIO HOUR this year partly by necessity, but also because we wanted to do some programming for kids. I hit on doing GIFT OF THE MAGI and the LITTLE MATCH GIRL because the short-film versions of those stories loom large in my childhood, Christmas-time memory. I might have latched onto those narratives, and held onto them so long in my mind, because I had a pretty picturesque, middle-class, suburban upbringing and along came those stories — in the midst of the materialistic ’80s — showing me (1) that happiness did not come from things, and (2) not everyone had it good.
The third piece (which you’ll probably want to send away your kids for) is called THE BLACK KNIGHT, which I drew from the French-German legend of Hans Trapp, an evil undead monster of a man who punishes naughty children.
When I was writing, I didn’t read back the dialogue with an imaginary plastic yellow mic in my hand, but I might as well have. I always read back my writing aloud, even doing the sound effects with my mouth, because it helps me refine the beats but also because it’s fun. Even tragic or disturbing material should be fun for actors — it should be fun, on some level, to say the words, to get to be the villain, to get to hold the microphone.
There’s a lot I could say about what the stories mean, but . . . really I just hope you tune in on Thursday, December 8 to remember what Christmas was like when you were a kid, when you played make-believe and watched it, and when you were only beginning to understand this strange and lovely tradition we have called the Christmas season. AKA the Yuletide, or Yule time. You may not believe in Santa anymore, or feel like you’ll die if you don’t get that toy, but you still know what it means to go without, what it feels like to give, to receive, to be good. And, of course, we all know the dark, dire, Snake Mountain consequences of being naughty.
Matthew Ivan Bennett has premiered six episodes of RADIO HOUR: LAVENDER & EXILE, FRANKENSTEIN, ALICE, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNCLE, GRIMM and OTHERWHERE, as well as 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, received its world premiere at Omaha Community Playhouse and was produced by PYGmalion Theatre Company. Click here for more information on RADIO HOUR EPISODE 11: YULETIDE.