Foley operator Dave Dauphinais and his assistant Serena Darland have their hands full this weekend at Fire Hall Theatre.
The two are creating live sound effects for The Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre’s presentation of “It’s A Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play.”
This adaptation by Joe Landry features condensed scenes from the Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart and casts its audience as listeners of a 1940s radio studio production, where 17 actors portray 41 characters.
The show within the show is brought to life by Dauphinais and Darland, the Foleys. And if one closes their eyes and imagines the evocation of the period-dressed actors on stage, you are perhaps drawn back to your grandparents’ old living room, curled close on the carpeted floor, listening to the small, magical transistor broadcasting from old WBFR in New York.
“Realistically, a 1940s radio production like this would be performed by maybe three or four voice actors,” said Kathy Coudle-King, executive director of the theater. “Marcus has a big heart and casted many actors.”
“Who doesn’t get the warm fuzzies from this story?” explained director Marcus Woodard. “It’s unique as a live radio play, and it gives the actors a different opportunity to be expressive through their voices and intonation. And when do you ever get to see a live Foley operator?!”
“This time of year is often difficult for people in so many ways, and I think the creators of this story really had their finger on it, a reminder of the joyful stuff that life is all about,” Coudle-King said.
Foley, the reproduction of everyday sound effects added to radio and film to enhance the audio experience, is named after Jack Foley, who started working with Universal Studios during the silent movie era and developed live sound effects for live broadcasts of radio drama in the early 1920s. These reproduced sounds can be anything from the blowing of the wind and roaring motorcars to squeaky doors and breaking glass.
“We wanted to make the sound organic as possible ― everything analog,” Dauphinais explained. “We made the decision to do everything the old-fashioned way, nothing prerecorded or digital, and we were figuring stuff out as we went along with the cast through the script.”
For example, the sound of chirping crickets is quite realistically produced by a combination of the female actors’ voices making a high-pitched roll while the Foleys provide a chorus effect from scratching a saw blade across a metal rod. The closing of the lid of an old tool box sounds just like a slamming door of a Beford Falls jalopy. A pinched box of cornstarch creates the sound of footsteps running on snow. A cash register “cha-ching!” is made not by a cash register but by a sliding typewriter carriage punctuated with a desktop service bell. They even found an old wind machine, a wrap of canvas hand-cranked around a large, ribbed barrel, in the back of the theater.
“We found it back there, and Dave was the only one who knew what it was,” Woodard said.
This is the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre’s first performance of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” although it has done several radio show-style plays in the past.
The cast is having fun, and with signs of healthy turnout and positive audience reaction, talks about ideas for future Christmas season performances, perhaps of “Miracle on 34th Street” or “A Christmas Story,” segue into the night.
“It’s A Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play” runs Dec. 17-20 at Fire Hall Theatre in Grand Forks.