Phones figure prominently in NWAAT’s evening of suspense

Phones figure prominently in NWAAT’s evening of suspense

Telephones figure prominently in the next two stories that will be told by Northwest Arkansas Audio Theater — but not the kind of phones you put in your back pocket. These are the sturdy, grounded kind of phones that hung from walls and sat on tables and didn’t have caller I.D. That part is particularly important in the production titled “Death on the Line.”

Two short plays, “Voice on the Wire” and “Sorry, Wrong Number,” make up the production, which will be presented March 17-19 in the way it might have been heard in the heyday of radio — with sound effects, plenty of suspense and the magic of imagination.

The premise is simple, says director Amy Hardin: “When two women receive several strange phone calls from eerie, unknown callers and their lives are threatened, they must both race against the clock to prevent disaster from occurring.

“In both stories the telephone is used as a plot device,” says Hardin, who has been working with NWAAT for about eight years. “It’s an important part of the stories and how the plots progress, but it could also be considered a character in the show, in a way, particularly in ‘Sorry, Wrong Number.’ The way the characters interact with the telephone and how it’s used to create tension and suspense in both stories is done in a creative way that will appeal to audiences.

“There are many effects involving the telephone,” she explains. “Lifting and hanging up the receiver, dialing, and the phone ringing. Footsteps and opening and closing a door are also featured. Sfx team members use props to physically create those sounds, similar to the way it was done for radio programs in the 1930s-1950s.

“Recorded effects are used in the show as well, such as a car door opening and closing and gunshots,” Hardin adds. “Recorded effects were used in the early 20th century radio programs as well. They used a gramophone and records to incorporate their recorded effects into a production. We use a computer to incorporate the effects into our productions.”

Northwest Arkansas Audio Theater was founded on the idea of presenting plays in the style of radio drama, and Hardin says she saw the first production, “The Canterville Ghost,” and was immediately captivated.

“The show was done well, and everyone involved was having fun,” she remembers. “I enjoyed the experience and wanted to participate. I auditioned for their next production and was cast in the show. I have been fortunate to be part of many of the audio theater’s productions, since then.”

It was not, however, Hardin’s introduction to the genre — or to the idea of the voice as an instrument.

“It’s an interest that has grown with me since childhood,” she says. “In watching animated movies in my youth, I was drawn to the characters’ voices. The actors’ abilities to be expressive and convey emotions and intent within the story resonated with me.”

And, she adds, she’s a musician with a background in choral singing.

“Singing, like acting, uses the voice to convey the sentiment behind or message of the piece of music to the audience,” she explains. “Because of these influences in my life, I’ve always appreciated aural forms of entertainment. When I was introduced to radio programs of the 1930s-1950s, I enjoyed them a great deal. I was excited to learn more about this form of theater and listened to archived broadcasts to further my education on the subject.”

Now, she’s putting that knowledge to work.

“The suspense genre is suited for audio theater because there’s so much you can do to create a tense moment,” she says. “Tension can be conveyed by the emotion in an actor’s voice, an eerie sound effect, or a dramatic silence. All these components work together to create a strong connection to the story for the listener.

“I hope audiences are entertained and have fun seeing ‘Death on the Line,’” she concludes. “I hope they gain an understanding of what audio theater is and how it works … interests are piqued and some individuals are motivated to audition for a production … [and] I hope they appreciate the art form and the talented individuals who work in this medium.”


NWA Audio Theater:

‘Death On The Line’

WHEN & WHERE — 7 p.m. March 17 at First Presbyterian Church in Springdale; 2 p.m. March 18 at the Fayetteville Public Library; and 2 p.m. March 19 at The Medium, 214 S. Main St. in Springdale

COST — At the church, $5-$10 or a food donation; free at FPL; $5-$10 at The Medium


Categories: Theater