Students to create live radio play and podcast

Alan Frechtman, stage manager at the Fitszgerald Theater, teaches a sound effects class to the original Shire Audio Drama Team. Frechtman will direct The Shire’s upcoming radio play. (Submitted photo)
Alan Frechtman, stage manager at the Fitszgerald Theater, teaches a sound effects class to the original Shire Audio Drama Team. Frechtman will direct The Shire’s upcoming radio play. (Submitted photo)

Two generations of an art form will meet at the Water Street Inn this July. Students on the Audio Drama Team at The Shire Literary Center for Youth will put on an original, live radio play that will later become the first episode of a yearlong podcast series called “Hush.”

Radio plays date back to the first half of the 20th century, with “War of the Worlds” among the most famous for the panic it caused. Podcasts, which are essentially radio shows distributed on-demand via the internet, have recently become popular among teens and young adults. Hit podcasts include “Serial” and “Welcome to Night Vale.”

“The older generation would remember sitting around their radios listening to plays,” said Stephani Atkins of Stillwater, executive director of The Shire. “Interestingly, there’s been a resurgence because of podcasts.”

“The really cool thing is they’re interchangeable — they’re the same material, or they can be,” said Stephani’s daughter, 10th-grade Emma Atkins, who will serve as head writer for the play and podcast series. “It’s cool that you can have the same material … but it’s going to two different places. … We want to be careful as we write it that we have things that both the older generation and younger generation will enjoy.”

The series will be created from scratch by area secondary students.

“There are three main teams,” Stephani said. “There will be the writers, the composers and then the sound effects team. The actors will come in toward the end, and we will be holding auditions later.”

The Shire is currently recruiting students to participate in the writing, sound effects and composing teams, with some meetings starting next weekend.

A core group of Shire students already has experience creating a live radio drama and podcast. The students wrote and produced an episode that aired on the radio program Voices of the Valley on KLBB in April. That episode will become the prologue for the “Hush” series.

“We basically were setting a premise of our main character, Andy, moving to this new town, called Edellen, and it’s based on Stillwater,” Emma said.

The writers came up with the concept that an as-yet mysterious character called Silence will narrate the whole show, but the writers haven’t yet determined who — or what — Silence is. That will need to be ironed out as part of the upcoming writing process.

“Even though we have this great base (of writers), the story has not yet been developed,” Stephani said. “Students who want to be on the writing team will be part of developing a yearlong story arc for a podcast series.”

But the existing team members also learned a lot from creating the prologue, and they believe the knowledge will help the yearlong project go more smoothly.

Lee Menzel, a 10th-grader from Lake Elmo who will be the show’s student director, said significant lessons from the prologue included learning to write cooperatively in a group and seeing what it’s like to direct.

“I didn’t really see myself as someone who would be a director,” Lee said.

The one-time radio drama on KLBB turned into a larger project thanks to a grant from the St. Croix Valley Foundation, and support from other sponsors.

The Shire has brought in Fitzgerald Theater stage manager Alan Frechtman to serve as the director of the July radio play. Frechtman worked on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” for more than a decade, and also works with the theater department at Wayzata High School.

Frechtman said he enjoys watching the students blossom as they learn, and he looks forward to his first production in the role of director.

“I’m excited about directing this play,” he said. “I hope it’s not the last one.”

He also looks forward to seeing which students gravitate toward sound effects, which he considers one of the most interesting — and most challenging — aspects of a live radio play.

Other adult staff for the production include musician Robert Frost III as  composer mentor, KLBB operations manager Jenna Yaron as producer and Stephani Atkins as executive producer and writing mentor.

The writing team will have its first meeting 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at ArtReach St. Croix.

Frechtman and Stephani Atkins will give an overview of the project for anyone interested from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 15, in the Margaret Rivers Room at Stillwater Area Public Library.

Participation in the yearlong program costs $175.

To RSVP for the May 14-15 events or get more information, email Stephani at steph@theshireonline.com or call 651-351-0804.

For more information on The Shire, go to theshireonline.com.

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com