New theater company takes action with radio-play version of ‘A Christmas Carol’
The greater Fresno area welcomes a new theater company (always a good thing!) in the form of Action Community Theater (ACT) and its first production, “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.” (It opens Friday, Dec. 13, and runs through Dec. 21.) The company has its roots in past shows put on by Action Community Church of Clovis, which for several years has provided theater productions without charging admission. Now, the church’s creative team is debuting a “new theater entity that operates with the additional goal of raising funds for local and global needs,” according to Max Debbas, one of the founders. Any donations collected will go to the Refugee Response Project.
“A Christmas Carol” boasts several well-known names in local theater besides Debbas, including Sara Price and Brianne Vogt Debbas.
If you’ve never seen a live radio play, it can be a fascinating experience that brings another level of warmth and insight to the material. When I attend a production, I often find myself alternating between closing my eyes (to imagine what it’s like listening to it on the radio) and watching how the cast achieves various sound effects.
I caught up with Max Debbas via email to talk about the production and the company.
Q: What is the KACT Studio, where the production is staged?
A: The KACT Studio is Action Community Theater’s HQ for our live radio production, complete with authentic 1940’s equipment including classic recording microphones and hand built Foley sound effects.
Q: Tell us about Action Community Church in Clovis.
A: The lead pastor of Action Community Church, Jason Fuller, has passions for many things, but four of the main passions that I have seen are: caring for children; building stronger families; bettering not just our neighborhoods, but many across the globe; and the arts. Those passions drive the vision of the church and have also driven the concept of Action Community Theater.
Q: You have a lot of experience with radio plays. Will this genre be a theme for the new company?
A: For as long as I can remember I have been captivated with radio dramas, and I have been blessed with many opportunities to take part in them. With that experience and with the experience that the ACC team has with radio dramas, I would like to think that ACT will continue to produce radio plays among our other endeavors.
Q: What do you think makes an excellent radio play?
A: An excellent radio play should be enjoyed both live in the studio and simply as an audio production. The key is using the four building blocks of radio drama: speech, sound effects, music, and silence. Our cast has worked hard to create multiple character voices to enhance the speech element of this show. With only six of us performing over 40 roles, we wanted to make sure we had specific voices for each character.
As for sound effects, the team has spent countless hours collecting items and building foley props for our live sound table, making sure each sound accurately represents the action of the play. We are so lucky to have Ellyse Walczak in our cast to bring the musical element to life! She is an amazing pianist, who will be onstage with us providing live underscoring to the show. And of course, we use silence where needed to provide drama! As a live play, we need to balance all of this with the visual aspect as well. Expressing visual elements in a subtle way that do not detract from the audio, while also providing a second level of entertainment for the audience.
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Q: Can you give me one radio-play “sound effect” that you will use in “A Christmas Carol”? Are there any behind-the-scenes tidbits you can share?
A: Choosing just one is hard! As we began notating the parts of the show where sound effects could be used, we discovered “A Christmas Carol” has a ridiculous number of doors opening and closing! In order to get those sounds right, the set team built a full size door into the set and an accompanying creak box. The creak box is crafted from simply wood, a wooden dowel, rope, and a lever. By wrapping the rope around wooden dowel tightly and pulling the lever, friction is created and a creaky door hinge effect is produced.
Q: Tell us about the Refugee Response Project. Why did you pick it for your charity?
A: The Refugee Response Project is a non-profit relief group that works with World Vision, the Socal Network, and CityServe International. Action Community Church is part of the Socal Network, a network of about 400 churches pulls resources each year to create a larger impact on global needs. In the past The Socal Network has fought against human trafficking, built wells in Liberia and are now working together to help the Syrian Refugee crisis, focusing on Greece. The need is overwhelmingly great. Basic necessities like clean water, food, shelter, as well as health services are immediately necessary. We knew we were called to help and that it was our time to ACT on their behalf. After some thought and prayer, we felt like we could use one of our churches greatest gifts to raise money for this enormous need. That’s what launched Action Community Theater.
Q: Give us a rundown on your cast and some of the major characters you play. How tough is it to voice Ebenezer?
A: The cast includes familiar faces from local theaters, as well as a few individuals who are seasoned performers in their own field. Brianne Vogt Debbas, Sara Price and I have all directed and performed at various companies across town, including: Roger Rocka’s, 2nd Space, CMT, Selma Arts Center, Reedley River City, and Centerstage, among others. Keith Hartman is one of the finest photographers in the valley as well as singer and has experience in radio plays having been in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Jason Fuller, in addition to serving as the lead pastor at Action Community Church, performs in multiple shows a year at ACC and has served as our set designer. Ellyse Walczak is our pianist, and she has been part of many theater productions along with being an incredible musical talent! Our final cast member is Deon Vogt, and this is his theatrical debut!
By keeping our cast as small as I could, there are some very entertaining scenes where cast members must play multiple roles back to back. A few of these exchanges that stick out are when Jason must handle conversations between Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit and when Deon is handling the voices of Fred and a young boy.
As for voicing Ebenezer, it was a bit of a struggle at first! Since this is a radio play, I am unable to use many tools that an actor would typically use to convey the emotional transformation that takes place within Scrooge. In order to create those changes without physicality, I divided the show into specific beats in which Ebenezer’s voice expresses different qualities as he moves from the quintessential miser, to learning his errors, and finally learning of hope and forgiveness.
Q: You plan for admission to be free at your productions, and all donations will go to relief efforts across the globe. Where will your production budget come from?
A: Every penny raised is going directly to relief efforts! In order to make as much of a contribution as possible the ACT team has pooled our resources to put on the show with a minimal budget. Members of ACC donated time and supplies for our set, the cast has put together their own costumes, the concessions being sold have been donated from local companies and members of ACC, and so on. Even Playscripts Inc., the publisher of the script, gave us a large discount on the rights when they knew our fundraising goal for the show. This is not your typical theater company, our hope is to keep production budgets minimal by welcoming talented artists who are willing to donate time and energy for a good cause while putting on a great show!
Q: What are the company’s future plans? Will you announce a season?
A: The creative team has many great ideas and plans for our next productions, but none we are ready to announce just yet! I will say, we have shows on the horizon and we are excited about the future of ACT.