Ron Centers is a veteran at All Ears Theatre and has worked with just about every theatre in town. While actors in All Ears don’t have to memorize a script, Centers says radio acting comes with its own set of challenges.
“You don’t have facial expressions or movements with your body. Everything is with the voice. And it was in the beginning a little difficult not having those other crutches to work with,” says Centers. “Frankly I think it’s helped me become a better actor because I’m listening more to myself and understanding more how I’m being received by the audience.”
Another challenge—the theatre tries to produce everything live. And not just the acting, that includes music and sound effects too.
Don Ramlow is the founder and producer of All Ears and directs many of its plays. He says the theatre tries to make the sounds as authentic as possible. That means nothing you would hear in a Mel Blanc cartoon.
“You want your sound effects to be real, so that if somebody is listening—not watching but listening—they get between the dialogue and the sound they hear, ‘Oh, that’s exactly what that is,’” says Ramlow.
Ramlow recalls a time where the theatre needed to recreate the sound of a coffin opening up. Luckily, one of their members found an cooler with rusty hinges at a garage sale that made the perfect squeak they were looking for.
While the theatre will do some of their old favorites like The Green Hornet and The Bickersons, the highlights this year would have to be the local plays and adaptations. Ron Centers says he’s directing a two-part performance of Ramlow’s version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
“You won’t find very many similarities between the movies and the show that we’re doing because of copyright," he says. "For instance, there won’t be ruby slippers, they’ll be silver slippers like what’s in the book. It won’t be the yellow brick road, it’ll be the brick road painted yellow. But the whole essence of the story will be in our radio show.”
Another local playwright, Deborah Hanley, will be doing a 30 minute adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Ramlow says other versions of the play are usually at least an hour and a half long.
“As Deb said, ‘I took all the funny stuff and put it into this version,’” Ramlow says. “So what she’s done is lifted all of the key points—plot points—with all its very good humor and consolidated it down.”
All Ears Theatre will also perform one of Hanley’s original plays this season called The Adventures of Johnny Forrest and his Gal Pal Sue.
Local storyteller Von Washington’s work will also be in the schedule. His play is called The Cowfoot Stand Down. Ramlow says Washington drew some of his inspiration from stories in different cultures about a cowfoot woman with magical healing powers.
“Used to be when they made peg-legs and stuff, sometimes they would take and make legs out of cows and stuff like that—an artificial leg,” explains Ramlow.
One of All Ears regular actors Rick Fontaine will have his play The Ventriloquist Curse performed by the group as well. It’s about a ventriloquist dummy that might be possessed or maybe the dummy is simply a mystery.
Ramlow says All Ears enjoys doing original plays whenever they can because they get to see the creativity of Kalamazoo’s many talented writers. Centers says it’s also fun for the actors to play with new characters.
“Because no one else has done this character, you’re putting your stamp on it. You’re not trying to recreate what someone else has already done,” he says. “It’s your creation which is pretty exciting.”