This month All Ears Theatre begins it 19th season — and my 11th with this talented group. Having performed, written and produced for this fantastic troupe (serving alongside Don Ramlow, Jeff Mais and Sharon Mais), I was asked by Encore to name my five favorite things about an All Ears Theatre show. I like it all, but here are specific reasons why:
Our Co-Creators and Writers
Old-time radio (OTR) was the original “appointment” programming. Night after night, the entire country would join together to listen to and laugh at Jack Benny or thrill to the secrets of The Shadow. More than 20 years ago, Donald Ramlow and Rick Hughey, a couple of guys with a passion for the classic OTR broadcasts, asked a really good question: What if Kalamazoo could host a resurrected art form, staging classic and brand new audio-only scripts in front of a live audience? Before long, a local team of collaborators — the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, First Baptist Church of Kalamazoo, WMUK 102.1 FM, Education for the Arts, Brown & Brown Recording Studios and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation — created a new stage for audio theater. No scenery, no props, no costumes. Just very talented actors presenting sometimes silly, sometimes scary, but always engaging, voices behind microphones, flanked by equally talented sound effects artists and musicians. For 18 seasons, our local writers have been whisking us off to faraway places where even animation and the latest CGI cannot go — the boundless fringes of our own imaginations!
Our Actors and Sound Effects Artists
It may look like cheating, listing both of these in the same entry, but it confirms the fact that our characters are inhabited by two sets of performers: voice actors and sound effects artists. On the one hand, our actors bring a wide array of theater experience and ridiculous amounts of versatility. Indeed, part of the fun of an All Ears show is watching to see how many voices might pour out of a single actor. On the other hand, sound effects artists play key roles in bringing characters to life. How menacing is the villain? Listen for his heavy, ponderous footsteps. How anxious is the person under threat? Listen how urgently she fumbles as she picks up a telephone to dial for help. These artists are also incredibly sharp, intuitive performers with amazing outside-the-box thinking. Ever try to create the sound of a bow and arrow with a rubber band, dowel rod and punching bag?
Our Composers and Musicians
As someone whose own scripts have come to life at All Ears Theatre, I’ve witnessed Hal Hobson-Morse and his band of composers and musicians do more to make our stories “real” than anyone else on stage. The writers and actors create alternate universes that are strange and exciting, and the musicians are the pilots who take us there. Setting, mood, character, scenery — all are formed from their instruments. Nothing sweeps us away and convinces us of the world we’ve just been transported to quite like the inventive music these artists deliver.
It is the energy of our live audiences that brings a show to fruition. Most importantly, it is the audience’s imagination that brings along all of the evocative landscapes, the crazy contraptions and the excitement of the unknown. There is nothing quite as funny, or indeed as scary, as the things that surprise us in our own minds. When you join an All Ears Theatre audience, you are engaging with us through your laughter, gasps of delight and keen imagination.
Our Recording and Playback Engineers
Without Lester Batts of Sound Solutions, Martin Klem of Kalamazoo Recording and our like-minded friends at WMUK 102.1 FM, All Ears Theatre would not have the legacy it enjoys today. Thanks to these folks, our posterity continues well beyond our live performances. Audiences have two chances to catch our shows: live and via subsequent radio broadcasts. And much of our audience prefers to catch both. After all, a live performance provides a behind-the-scenes perspective of its production elements, while listening to it on the radio brings out all of the nuances captured by the recording and playback engineers.
About the Broadcasts
You can listen to All Ears Theatre every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on WMUK 102.1 FM. Current season shows air the first Sunday of the month, and classic favorites air on the remaining Sundays.