By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The Good Humor Radio Players will make its debut next week in a venue that is appropriate in many ways.
The new audio-drama troupe, led by Youngstown State University professor Fred Owens, will present the Good Humor Radio Hour in the ballroom of the Tyler History Center, downtown.
The Tyler, a museum of local history, is operated by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. Its building at 325 W. Federal St. was the location where the late Harry S. Burt first manufactured his invention the Good Humor Bar – the first ice cream on a stick confection – in the 1930s.
The Good Humor Radio Players, of course, take their name from the landmark treat. The type of entertainment they will provide is a modernized take on the “theater of the mind” radio shows that were at the peak of their popularity in the pre-television era. These early radio dramas include Fibber McGee, The Shadow, Inner Sanctum and The Lone Ranger.
The inaugural Good Humor Radio Hour will be presented at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is free but tickets must be secured in advance through the YSU Theater box office; call 330-941-3105. Only 144 seats will be available for each performance.
“We’re not charging admission because people don’t know what to expect,” said Owens. “We’re establishing the brand.”
H. William Lawson, director of the historical society, said the Good Humor Radio Players are “a perfect fit” for the Tyler because of “our connection to Harry Burt’s confectionary and the Good Humor story.”
Lawson said the society is always looking for opportunities to host cultural and social events. “When opportunities arise that tie in directly to the society’s mission, we are eager to form partnerships to bring such programs to the public.”
The Good Humor Radio Players is a function of YSU’s communication, and theater and dance departments. It includes YSU students and members of the community.
The show will feature four different stories that will total about an hour in length. Using old-time microphones, actors, Foley (sound effects specialists) artists, sound engineers and musicians will work together. The audience can watch the interaction of the performers, or just listen – as if hearing it on a radio.
There is also a third option: a very low-power FM radio transmitter on the site will broadcast the performance. Guests can also bring a small radio with earbuds and listen on radio while they watch it live in the “studio.”
Owens said the art form is meant to be “viewed” only in the imagination of the audience members.
“It’s an audio experience for the audience,” said Owens. “They can close their eyes and enjoy a theater of the mind, or they can watch the production being made, watch the actors interact with each other and the sound effects people creating sounds, and the musicians. It’s a dual performance.”
Owens hopes to make the radio players an ongoing twice-a-year part of the local theater scene. He is already planning a spooky Halloween show in October at the Tyler.
He has done a couple of smaller radio theater projects over the last year as a build-up to creating the Good Humor Radio Players.
The troupe will not only provide a new form of theater; it will give YSU theater students some valuable experience.
“The demand for voice actors nationwide is off the chart,” said Owens. “There is so much going on with TV, film, podcasting and audio books. The students realize that for them to be complete performers, they need these ‘booth’ skills. This gives another set of skills. It’s a chance for them to do something innovative and different.”
Owens teaches telecommunication skills – broadcasting, announcing, audio production – at YSU.
The inaugural performance next week will include four stories, directed by YSU theater professors Chris Hill, Todd Dickens and Matthew Mazuroski, plus percussion students from the Dana School of Music at YSU.
“Percussion was the origin of sound effects,” said Owens.
Though radio drama is an older form of broadcasting, the first Good Humor performance will have mostly contemporary settings.
“Kidnapping 101” takes place in New York, where a first-time kidnapper is trying to extort money but is doing everything wrong.
“Dating 2.0” is about two divorced middle-aged women who are trying to bet back into the dating scene.
“Bradbury’s Funeral Home” examines why it’s important to cherish our time together.
“The Lone Stranger” is a parody of “The Lone Ranger.”
A few “original” commercials will be inserted into the show. “We working on an Idora Park commercial, and another for Mahoning National Band,” said Owen, citing two familiar Valley institutions that no longer exist.
Guests to the performances will be treated to complimentary Red Ribbon Cherry Soda, a throwback soft drink from Natrona Bottling in Pennsylvania, and also Good Humor bars. Limited free parking will be available on the west side of the Tyler building.