The Liquid Radio Players improv group captures a bygone era of live radio shows where shouts of “golly!” and “gee-whiz!” propelled stories of outer space, the old west, or a gumshoe’s important case, and captivated millioas of listeners.
The brainchild of director and founder Stan Morse, the Liquid Radio Players brings together some of the top improv talent in Los Angeles who once a week recreate the mystery and ma.y-hem of a live radio show. With performances at ACME Comedy Theatre and the Museum of Television and Radio, the show starts the moment the audience enters as they are encouraged to buy sweets from a candy girl and then escorted to their seats by an usher, both dressed in period costuming. During the show’s intermission, singers, swing dancers, a magician, or even a dog who does tricks, entertain the crowd while reviving the true “variety” atmosphere of the old radio productions.
Morse has been involved with improv since the t980s. Interested in doing a type of improv that hadn’t been done before, he drew upon his experience as an actor in a [940s-style murder mystery touring group and created the concept of a live radio show.
“I always had [an idea] in the back of my mind I wanted to do something from then.” said Morse, who moved to Hollywood from Cleveland three years ago. “It was a cleaner society. [Performers] never got to cuss, but they did allow innuendoes and that’s what makes this era so fun.”
When news of the unique concept hit the improv community, over 100 of the top improvers from such famous venues as ACME, the Groundlings and Second City auditioned to join the troupe. Only a dozen were selected, including ACME member Travis Oates, a Park Labrea resident who has been performing and teaching improv for 17 years.
“It’s an extremely high level of talent and what we’re doing hadn’t been done before.” Oates said, “It’s kind of like a live play. except you make it up as you go along.”
Before each performance starts, audience members suggest the show’s genre (detective, mystery, wester, kid’s adventure, soap opera, or sci-fi), the plot premise, the location and the names of the characters. the actors take it from there, and with the help of a narrator who propels the action along, foley artists who bring the sounds Of the situation to life, and musical accompaniment by pianist Peter Zachos, a hilarious radio show takes shape before the audience’s eyes and ears. The only pause in the action is the oh-so-important sponsor commercials (improvised by the actors) and the intermission entertainment.
While the resulting show brings laughs and good, clean fun with seemingly little effort, it is a constant challenge for the troupe to be authentic to the era. Before the first show last OctobeL there were four months of rehearsals in which Morse inundated the perfom~ers with tapes of old radio shows, lessons in the format, and most importantly, training in the vernacular of the time.
“Like any good improvers, they had to do their homework.” Morse said.
According to Oates. stepping back into the past presents a unique challenge to the performers. The troupe devised a timeline from 1850-1950 showing the politicul and social events, as well as the inventions that marked the time. While dropping modern slung in favor of 1940s idioms is difficult. Oates says the bigger challenge is remembering what devices and items existed at the time. During one recent performance, a churacter said he had jet lag. The rest of the troupe had to cover for him and attributed his use of that strange word “jet” to his status as a foreign national.
“You have a tendency in improv to speak before you think about it.” said Oates. who teaches his students that improv is 50 percent listening. “This kind of improv is more like 80 percent listening because if you are not aware of what’s come before you, you are in big trouble.”
Now in their fourth month of performing, the Liquid Radio Players are hitting their stride in terms of chemistry, according to Morse. They are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses as well as their individual styles.
“They’re building as an ensemble and getting to know each other as people. You have to really like each other or its death on stage,” Morse said. Oates said performing only once a week made it difficult to get the chemistry rolling early on. but things have come together and look to be even stronger in the future. He is excited about the group’s potential and is proud to be a member.
“I think right now we’re magical. In a couple of years, we’lt be amazing… It’s an extremely high level of talent. Im very happy to be part of this. I think it’s one of those things where the right people came together with the right idea at the right time,” Oates said. “Plus the swing dancer is hot.”
The Liquid Radio Players perform every Thursday at 8:00pm at the ACME Comedy Theatre, 135 N. La Brea Ave. Future performances at the Museum of Television and Radio will be announced. Recordings of performances can be heard at www.liquidradioplayers.com