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Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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Theatre without the stage? “Arsenic and Old Lace” proves it’s possible

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Courtesy of Resident Ensemble Players/THE REVIEW
The REP’s audio performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace” delivers thrills and laughs aplenty.

BY
Staff Reporter

It was another busy Wednesday. I sat down at my desk and clicked play on the Soundcloud audio file that was pulled up on my computer. I was first engaged by the lovely sound of upbeat orchestral music and a pleasant narrator describing the Brewster household, and for the next hour, I fully enjoyed listening to the comically homicidal story of the Brewster family, courtesy of The Resident Ensemble Players’ (REP) brilliant audio performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace”. 

I had never seen “Arsenic and Old Lace” before, and while I still have not technically seen it, I now adore the story because of the REP’s audio performance. I was impressed with the company’s ability to adapt the medium of theatre into an audio format — the REP knew that their production would only be heard and so they took advantage of the nuance of sound. 

The REP did an excellent job using a variety of sound effects that helped to simulate action within the audience’s minds.  The sound effects of the tea pouring or a knock on the door or the creaking noise the window seat made whenever it was opened helped me to figure out what the actors were doing. I was unable to see the actions take place, but the REP prepared for this so that I could listen to the actions instead. 

The actors deserve a lot of credit for their voice acting. Each character had a different accent, which made it easy to determine who was talking and also helped to give the characters more personality. I was impressed after looking at the cast list and seeing that some actors were playing multiple characters. I couldn’t even tell that different characters had the same voice actor because the actors were so creative with their voice acting — listening to Micheal Gotch as Dr. Einstein and Stephen Pelinski as Jonathan Brewster was especially enjoyable. My favorite parts of the show were when these two characters would interact. Pelinski’s gruff and low voice for Jonathan hilariously contrasts with Gotch’s lighthearted tone and the accent used for voicing Dr. Einstein. 

Despite the REP’s overall success, there were still times when I had trouble following what was going on in the audio and needed to look at the PDF of the script in order to be cued in. However,  “Arsenic and Old Lace” is a popular show that many people are familiar with, and so I’m sure that most people who experienced the REP’s production did not have a difficult time understanding what was happening. 

Writing for the ear is different from writing for the eye. Writing for the ear should be clear, concise and conversational in order to make it easier to listen to. Writers need to differentiate between writing for the eye and writing for the ear because reading something and listening to something are two different actions. In that same regard, watching a play and listening to an audio recording of a play are two different actions. When watching a play, you are primarily using your eyes to determine what’s happening onstage since there are many different visual indicators that cue you in, whereas listening to an audio recording makes you entirely reliant on your ears to provide the theatrical experience. There is a challenge of translation from the eye to the ear when creating an audio performance from a play that is meant to be performed live. The REP did a great job rising up to this challenge and provided an entertaining auditory experience through their production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made people, especially those who love theatre, more aware of its ephemeral nature. Up until this point, the greatest appeal of theatre as a medium was the fact it was meant to be seen live; however, live performance has not been able to be done for over a year now. Broadway has yet to reopen, and the rest of the theatre world must decide between unconventional forms of production or no production at all. Even when theatre has returned to normal, perhaps audio productions are still here to stay. So could audio theatre be the future of theatre? 

Audio theatre could be the future if the theatrical media is written for the ear or efforts are taken in order to translate it for the ear. It is entirely possible to create new or adapt old plays or musicals so that they are only intended to be listened to instead of watched. This could help to make theatre more accessible and less expensive, which are two big problems it currently faces. 

Listening to the REP’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” made me realize the obstacles in translation that can occur when going from live theatre to audio theatre. However, I do think that the REP did a great job overcoming these obstacles in their production. Having listened to that production and keeping the current state of the pandemic in mind, I think audio theatre could become the future or at least a bigger part of it. 

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