Little Women performed by Aimee White as Beth, Sarah Armstrong as Jo, Julie Kliewer as Meg and Cassia Labrecque as Amy. (Contributed)

Time Machine, Little Women retold as radio theatre

Two one-acts coming to Cloverdale’s Clova Theatre June 16 and 17

Imagine That!’s upcoming double feature is nearly guaranteed to transport its audience to another time and place.

H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will be presented as radio theatre at the Clova Theatre in downtown Cloverdale from June 16 – 18.

The two classic tales take place in the 19th century, and, in The Time Machine’s case, far into the future. But both stories take on new life as radio theatre, a format that was popularized during the 1940s.

The cast has been rehearsing the two one-act plays since March, getting comfortable with the unique challenges that come with putting on radio theatre.

The first act recounts H.G. Wells’ tale The Time Machine, first written in 1895. The science fiction novel details the adventures of the Time Traveller as he recounts journeying 800,000 years into the future to his group of disbelieving friends.

“I had just read The Time Machine last year, and I thought, ‘This would make a really good play, but how would I do it?’” said Faith Toronchuk, writer, producer and director of the upcoming double feature.

When Toronchuk directed A Christmas Carol as a radio theatre play in December, she knew she wanted to tell Wells’ story on the stage in the same manner.

As for pairing the play with Little Women, Toronchuk said she chose Louisa May Alcott’s classic coming-of-age tale to balance out the darkness in The Time Machine.

“What could I pair it up with?” she asked. “I needed something light, and something with women, as The Time Machine (features) mostly men.”

Toronchuk directed Little Women in 2006, when the Cloverdale-based production company Imagine That! was still in its first years. “It was just so much fun,” Toronchuk said of directing Little Women all those years ago. “(The story) brings out the delight in you.”

The actors will be in 19th-century era costumes, but will perform as if for a 1940s radio audience. The actors stand stationary at their mic on stage throughout their performance, which is the greatest acting challenge of radio theatre, according to Toronchuk.

“In some ways, it’s easier,” said Toronchuk, of the format. “The challenges come with encouraging the actors to only use their voice and facial expressions to tell a story.”

Behind the actors who are performing at the mics, cast mates operate foley effects – various instruments and gadgets designed to mimic everyday sounds to help the audience imagine the events the characters are experiencing unfolding in front of them.

Foley art was used widely in radio dramas to round out the story’s soundscape. Today, foley effects are still an essential part of post-production of many films, but they are used in subtle, invisible ways.

(Alternatively, they are satirized. The old trick of using coconut shells, cut in half and stuffed with padding, to create horse hoof noises, is famously parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.)

The cast members of The Time Machine and Little Women have created their own contraptions for making sounds. One actor made a wind machine by stretching material over a barrel, and another fashioned a small door, complete with locks, to fully recreate a door opening and closing. Metal bowls and whisks, and cardboard will also be used during the plays to produce sound effects live on stage behind the performers at the mics.

“It’s really quite fun,” said Toronchuk. “The people who came to A Christmas Carol were really blown away.”

The Time Machine and Little Women feature actors Mike Brownlee, Chellé Tanner, Ward Pervan, Austin Schwartz, Sarah Armstrong, Julie Kliewer, Matthew Armstrong, Aimee White, Anthony Labrecque, Cassia Labrecque, Shawn Ridout and Jaira Browlee.

There will be three performances at the Clova Theatre in downtown Cloverdale. Join the cast on Friday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m., or for one of two performances on Saturday, June 17 at 3 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.

For evening performances, general admission is $20 and seniors and students pay $18. Saturday’s matinee performance will cost $15 a ticket. Tickets are available for purchase at imaginethatplace.com or at the door.