For Ryan Crowder and the other folks at Penfold Theatre Company, producing old fashioned radio plays has become a holiday tradition. “This is our seventh Christmas radio show to do,” Crowder says. “We started out in downtown Round Rock in this little British tearoom. We took a radio script that was already adapted – of It’s a Wonderful Life – and had such a great time… we said, ‘Oh, we have to do this again.’”
Penfold restaged It’s a Wonderful Life for the next few Christmas seasons, but started to feel a little bored doing the same script every year. So they developed radio show versions of both Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol, and they’ve been rotating through those holiday classics in the years since.
This year, it’s A Christmas Carol, performed as always in the style of a 1940s radio play, complete with live sound effects and with a small cast performing all the characters.
“[Austin sound effects legend] Buzz Moran helped us that first year – well, who am I kidding? He helps us every year – put together our live Foley sound effects,” says Crowder. “And the actors, when they’re not voicing all of the characters in the story, they move over to the Foley and they do all of the sound effects live.”
Crowder says that the annual radio show has become a holiday tradition not just for the cast and crew but for their audience as well. “I think it’s similar to the traditions you have around putting up the Christmas tree and hanging stockings and ornaments and all of that,” he says. “There’s something about doing things on an annual basis that triggers some kind of feeling about what home is and what the holidays are. And this production probably heightens that kind of nostalgia because we are talking about a 1940s radio show. And it’s not often, but every now and then we get someone who’s like, ‘Boy, this is the stuff I grew up with!’”
While tradition is important to Crowder and the Penfold crew, they do work to keep things a little fresh and make some changes from year to year. “What we added this year, that past years have not had, is live music,” Crowder says. “So we also have carols that are sung all throughout the show, again by the cast. The richer we could make the soundscape, I think the better it is. And so over the years, we’ve added and added and added and now it’s got this pretty rich live sound. In fact, we have people who come to the show, and at first it was unnerving because they’d sit on the second row and they’d close their eyes. And we’d think, ‘Oh, these people have fallen asleep!’ But it wasn’t that – they said, ‘I wanted to experience it like I was listening to it on the radio.’”
'A Christmas Carol Classic Radiocast' will be performed through December 29 at Old Settler's Hall in Round Rock.