No Scrooges for Christmas: Students perform radio show at Queen Theatre

It’s a cold December afternoon in the 1940s. Kids are playing in the snow outside, you’re bundled up in front of the fire with someone you love, and you decide to turn on the radio. When the static clears, you begin to hear the sounds of voices playing characters, telling a timeless story you’ve familiarized yourself with. Some seventy years later, students at Bryan High are taking the stage at the Queen Theatre to recreate one of those moments.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a timeless story that has touched many hearts across the world through countless variations. The tale is told yet again as Viking Theater performs it as a radio play. As opposed to direct movement and visual aids, this show relies on actors’ voices and sounds as they take to their microphones.

“Radio shows ask the audience to engage with creative imagination,” theater director Jacob Justice said. “Onstage we just have three microphones, people in tuxedos and dresses, and live sound effects, so it relies on the creative imagination that we all have. I think it’s more difficult for the cast because they’re just standing in front of a mic telling the story, not showing the story, and I think blocking helps casts a lot.”

In this double-cast show, each character is played by two actors, who will take turns playing the role in each performance. This doesn’t reduce the amount of time needed for practice, though, as there are a lot of expectations in place for anybody involved in the show.

“Most of the work we’re doing is outside of rehearsal on our own,” senior Trey Weltens, one of the actors who plays Scrooge, said. “We have to make sure we’re memorizing our lines and know how we’re going to do our voices for each character. To make sure that we’re prepared for a performance, we need to be looking at our scripts like an hour every night.”

Trey isn’t the only veteran of the radio show concept; senior Lara Cohen has been in almost every show since her freshman year.

“I was one of the founding members that got to participate in the radio show last year,” Lara said. “It was such a wonderful experience, that’s why I’m excited to do the radio show this year.”

Lara is also similar to Trey in that she has had struggles preparing for the performances.

“It’s been a challenge trying to differentiate all of the different characters” Lara said, “and sound different from not only my characters, but other people’s characters. It’s also been a challenge to develop the characters.”

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, for junior Christian Lloyd, this will be not only his first radio show, but his first scripted theater show.

“I think that it’s a pretty good introduction to theater,” Christian said. “It’s a way to show that people can expand upon their voices and how they can function, how they move around, and how they portray a character based just on voice, a minor description, and some lines. I think, as an introduction, it’s probably one of the better things, other than Faces of Viking Theater.”

Some people in the show aren’t acting with their voices at all. Foley artists are people in charge of making the live sound effects onstage, using props such as bells, shoes, and a small door. 

“People underestimate the tech side of things,” junior Aaliyah Carter said. “Tech can be fun, and when it’s something like this, being a foley artist, people still watch you, but it is the tech side and we handle most of the sounds. It’s not something that a lot of people would like to do, but it’s still a fun thing.”

There have been a lot of versions of A Christmas Carol that people connect to. Some love the animated Jim Carrey movie, some love Patrick Stewart’s version, some love The Muppets. It’s a widely-revered tale that has been passed down in many ways.

“Everybody has a favorite version of the story that they connect to,” Justice said. “I’m hoping that the way we perform it, people will be able to remember their favorite version as they experience the radio show.”

Another of Justice’s goals includes putting on a wide variety of shows every year, which supports his belief that the more kinds of shows and exposure to acting that kids have, the better. The radio show is a prime example of a unique type of theater that isn’t seen often.

“The radio show allows us to focus on a show that really focuses on the technique of voice acting,” Justice said, “which I think is beneficial for our kids, and it highlights some students who maybe don’t get highlighted in other shows.”

 Director, cast members, and technicians alike are fully prepared for their performances all week once they get back from Thanksgiving break.

“It’s a different kind of experience for a different kind of audience,” Trey Weltons said. “Usually we attract a group who listens for the nostalgia, because we do shows associated with Christmastime that bring up a lot of memories and a lot of people enjoy it for that reason. We get a lot of people who listened to those radio shows in the 40s.”

Even with an average of just two rehearsals each week, the cast has pushed themselves to improve and work together, which has brought them closer than ever to each other as a community and as a family.

“We may have our ups and downs, but it’s something you want to be a part of because of the bonds that it created,” Aaliyah said. “You don’t have that anywhere else. We all get each other, we all understand each other, we all work well, we have the same schedule, we’re always together. We see each other more than we see our actual families.”

The cast is performing the week after Thanksgiving at the Queen Theatre, a local staple in Bryan/College Station, Texas. Audiences will sit in a vintage theater with a vintage atmosphere, topping it off with a vintage show. Shows will be at 6 PM Tue-Sat, 8 PM Thur-Sat, and 2 PM on Sat.