Photo Credit: Amanda Kulczewski
If you had visited Chicago’s Public House Theater on a recent June evening, you would have witnessed a most curious sight: a dozen actors and actresses adorned in 1940s-era suits, hats, and dresses gathered around microphones and performing an old-time radio comedy in front of a cheering crowd. You would have met a bearded ex-pirate named Captain Jonathan Sunset, four harmonious women sounding strikingly like the Andrews Sisters, the voluptuous Southern Belle, and a space-traveling detective named Joe Jupiter. Welcome to the world of Locked into Vacancy Entertainment (LIVE), a Chicago acting troupe that has re-imagined vintage radio shows for a digital society. In an exclusive interview, LIVE Founder Shane Hill shares with me lessons for making content from another era relevant and engaging to the Millennial generation.
LIVE, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, consists of actors and musicians who perform a mix of comedy and mystery just like radio programs of the 1940s and 1950s used to do. The group — described on its Facebook page as “Harnessing the Sticky Goo of Inspiration” — conceives of, and delivers, a whacky series of adventures featuring characters like the time-traveling Joe Jupiter (portrayed by Hill),who encounters a random assortment of aliens and oddballs while swapping random one-liners that sound like a cross between Adventure Time, Doctor Who, and radio noir. As Hill explains in the following interview, LIVE shows are geared toward families, both parents and kids alike. In doing so, LIVE has a seemingly formidable task: make an entertainment format relevant to Gen X, Y, and Millennials who were not alive in the golden era of radio.
According to Hill, entertainment from the analog era, if done well, feels fresh because it’s new to the digital generation. And in a sense, by developing characters like Joe Jupiter and Captain Jonathan Sunset, LIVE is doing what Marvel Comics has accomplished on a larger scale by making World War II-era archetypes such as Captain America appeal to the present day.
Unlike Marvel, LIVE relies on no computer-generated special effects. The LIVE shows are performed in the manner of vintage radio, using live music and sound effects in front of a live audience. LIVE then makes the shows available via podcast on its website and social channels — thus tapping into the surging podcast market.
LIVE performs every few months at the Public House Theater, with its next show occurring September 14. As Hill explains, LIVE is steadily expanding its audience beyond Chicago by sharing its shows digitally. The live shows reward an in-person audience with the visual appeal of a cast mugging as they read scripts into microphones, relying on their voices, clothing, and body English to create energy. On podcast, listeners create their own intimacy with the LIVE team and fill in the details with their imaginations as was done in the radio era.
“LIVE provides theater of the mind,” Hill explains. “Theater of the mind will appeal to anyone if it’s done right.”
Read on for our interview, which provides insight into an imaginative theater experience.
Describe Locked into Vacancy Entertainment in one sentence.
Locked into Vacancy Entertainment is an old-time radio experience with a modern-day approach.
Where did the idea for LIVE come from?
LIVE was inspired by The Thrilling Adventure Hour, a production in Los Angeles also captures the spirit of old-time radio. I have always loved those great radio comedies and mysteries that flourished decades ago, when radio was the primary way that American families brought entertainment and information to their homes. About a year ago, I found some old radio scripts for the holidays that inspired me. Some fellow actors and I agreed that those old scripts would still sound great in a podcast environment. We were inspired to create our own shows with original material. Conducting LIVE shows is like time travel: the audience and the cast together experience a form of entertainment and cultural expression that was popular many years ago.
Where did your love of radio entertainment shows originate? Read more »