Radio theater recalls imagination

Darkness Visible Radio Theatre, WPRK-FM (91.5), 9 p.m. Tuesdays, 1997

There is, perhaps, no traditional American art form more neglected these days than the lost art of radio theater. Apart from a handful of college troupes and a couple of semiprofessional groups, Garrison Keillor's weekly program, "A Prairie Home Companion," stands almost alone as homage to a medium that once captured the public's imagination -- and still does in many other countries.

Rollins College professor William Boles, a radio actor from back in his college days at the University of Knoxville, is breathing some life into this comatose art form with his new project, the Darkness Visible Radio Theatre. This student-based troupe of actors airs their weekly, same-named program at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on the college's radio station, WPRK-FM (91.5).

The inaugural season debuted on Sept. 2, with plans for 15 weeks of hour-long shows. The first five were written by Boles and alumni who have experience in the form -- including the Sept. 30 offering, "Fefu and Her Friends (cont.)." Written by by Marcos Stafne, "Fefu" is described as a gender switch on Maria Irene Fornes' award-winning play.

The remainder of the shows, for better or worse, will be student productions. From music and sound effects, to scripts and acting, the troupe will be totally responsible for bringing the written word to life over the airwaves. The Darkness Visible project will be evaluated each semester as both a class and a contribution to the community.

"We will be presenting ... comedy, dramas ... and perhaps a five-minute weekly soap opera," Boles says. "We picked Tuesdays deliberately because most of the city's theaters are dark on Tuesdays ... and we think that audience might find us and enjoy us."

The group is a relaxed bunch, with a theater major or two here and there, but mostly it comprises students with a real desire to try something that -- in their lifetimes at least -- has been largely untried.

"Right now there are very few listeners," Boles admits, "but I believe that if the material is strong enough and we are professional enough, we may move people in the right direction." That direction is away from soul-sapping distractions like TV, video games and life's other time-killers and toward the active participation of the listener's imagination -- a job Boles and his students agree is a tough battle.

"Ultimately," Boles says, "I'd like to see it succeed without being a class -- to have the community drive the demand for this kind of program."


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