By Dean Vanderkolk

No doubt your grandparents have fond memories of gathering together around the family radio and listening to macabre programs like Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, Suspense and the Detroit-produced The Weird Circle. Shows like these created some of the most memorable examples of horror ever to haunt an imagination, and for over a decade now, Flint City Theater has provided their own homage to the glory days of old time radio with their annual production of Scream Theater.

The brainchild of Flint City theater director Dan Gerics, Scream Theater is an anthology of spooky songs and macabre theater pieces performed in the manner of an old radio broadcast complete with live sound effects created on the spot. The performers, who also write the pieces, find the experience very liberating. “We're free to experiment with format and content—nothing has time to wear out its welcome, so we can take creative chances,” says Dale Dobson, a five year veteran of the show. Past years have featured tales of sadistic dentists, Lovecraftian horrors, and pieces done in the style of E.C.’s classic horror comics like Tales From The Crypt. “And,” says Dobson, ”there's not a lot of "production" overhead, so almost any idea that comes up can be incorporated."

But that doesn’t mean the format is without its challenges. For Kristina Lakey, "the biggest challenge is finding a new way to express each character. As one of two women in the show it's especially important that the sound of my voice remain distinct for each character." Dobson agrees. “Having to put everything across vocally can be difficult, but it's very rewarding—the actor can't rely on some of his or her usual tricks, so it often leads to new and different characterizations and discoveries."

Scream Theater remains one of Flint City Theater’s most popular productions, selling out nearly every performance. For many of the attendees, Halloween just isn’t Halloween without it. “I was an audience member for Scream before I became a performer,” says Stephanie Roach, who returns for her seventh year as a performer, “and what I loved about the show was that it was downright good fun. I always left feeling satisfied by the time I spent there. I knew when I went to Scream I would laugh and start to really feel the season. When I came out of Scream, I felt like ok, it is really fall, and it's  time to carve a pumpkin.”

Some people may scoff at the idea that a simple radio play can inspire terror, but the cast of Scream Theater feel differently.  "I love closing my eyes and being transported to that dark forest or busy café or deserted highway,” says Roach. In Dale Dobson’s eyes, the medium is just as effective as ever. “It's always fun to be scared and amused… Human beings are storytellers and story listeners, and the radio anthology is a great way to package a variety of experiences.”

Scream Theater runs for two nights only, on October 28th and 29th at 8:00 pm at the Good Beans Café, located at 328 N. Grand Traverse in Flint. Tickets are “pay what you can” and may be reserved by calling (810)-237-4463.

© Dean Vanderkolk, 2011