By Randi Bjornstad
Beginning Radio Redux’s third year as a resident company in the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts after several earlier seasons at the Wildish Community Theater, founder Fred Crafts “feels like we’ve caught a wave and we’re just riding along.”
The troupe that recreates classic radio shows mostly from the 1940s and ‘50s and performs them for what back then would have been a radio station’s studio audience has hit its stride, Crafts said, consistently attracting nearly full houses that combine curious newcomers with a solid number of repeat customers.
“Every year, we get more season subscriptions — this year we already have 456, and that’s really important because we don’t really focus on making money,” he said. “We cover our expenses doing what we love to do, and we are able to pay the actors a stipend for their work.”
Up next on Nov. 4 and 6 is “Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s mind-bending story of a young girl who follows a mysterious white rabbit underground to a wild-and-crazy, even a bit sinister world peopled by characters ruled by a capricious and irascible queen whose subjects range from rabbits, mice and strange human characters to a hookah-puffing caterpillar and a perpetually grinning cat with the added talent to disappear and reappear at will.
“ ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is often considered a children’s story, but that’s not really true,” Crafts said.
Since Carroll — his real name was Charles Dodgson — wrote the story 151 years ago, some critics have analyzed it for possible allusions to sex, drugs, food, psychoanalysis and even humor, but most conclude that Carroll, who stammered severely except when entertaining children with his stories, merely wanted to create an especially entertaining tale for Alice Liddell, the daughter of a close friend.
Jane Brinkley, a freshman at South Eugene High School, plays the title role. She has appeared previously with Radio Redux, first in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and earlier this year as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Brinkley shares the stage with many of Radio Redux’s regular performers, who often take on multiple characters in each radio play.
Crafts often says as he introduces each new production, “Follow the characters instead of the actors,” even suggesting that audience members close their eyes to better simulate the experience of sitting by a radio to listen to a show.
He pulls out a sheet of paper with a long list of dozens of characters in one column and the names of the available actors for the production in another. Then he parcels out the parts, jotting down characters under each actor’s name.
“This is one of the hardest parts of the process,” Crafts said. “After I get my initial list, I have to go through the script line by line to eliminate conflicts where I’ve assigned characters who speak one after the other to the same actor. I have to give one of those characters to someone else and then start the process again.”
He also tries to give actors roughly equal numbers of lines while at the same time choosing voices that best fit each character.
“Figuring out the casting might be the most time-consuming part of doing the show,” he said.
Crafts also tinkers a bit with the original text, sometimes tailoring the commercials from the original performances to suit the local audience or occasionally inserting names of local places or people.
The productions also include sound effects, live music and the traditional “applause” sign, held up to cue the audience to its role.
The Radio Redux version of “Alice in Wonderland” first aired on the well-known Lux Radio Theater on Christmas Even in 1951.
The production also offers a free pre-show lecture by historian Patrick Lucanio and a meet-and-greet with cast members after the show.
At first, Radio Redux — “radio worth watching,” as Crafts is fond of saying — attracted mostly an older audience who view the mystery and magic of radio shows with nostalgia. They still come, but especially since the move to the Hult Center at Willamette Street and Seventh Avenue in downtown Eugene, Crafts said, the shows also have begun to attract a younger, more eclectic audience.
“Younger people’s ideas of radio are very different,” he said. “We’ve been getting an audience with way more variety — college age, young professionals, people bringing their parents or their kids along and more ‘tats’ and piercings and Mohawks than ever before — and we love it.”
Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for people 65 years and older and $15 for students, available at the door or in advance at the Hult Center box office, 541-682-5000, or online at hultcenter.org or radioreduxusa.com/.