The Banana Hour nods to the past with satirical radio play
The theatre department had a dilemma. The safety restrictions surrounding COVID-19 made the traditional spring production impractical if not impossible.
What to do, what to do?
Fortunately, the theatre department is known for its creativity. Their answer? The Banana Hour, a performance event styled after the old-time radio shows from the golden age of radio. Think “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” or, more recently, “Prairie Home Companion.”
“This seemed a great way to still explore performance and do so safely under the current circumstances,” said theatre coordinator Margie Anich. “This format requires very little in the way of sets and costumes, it's budget-friendly, and it does not require nearly as much rehearsal time as, for instance, putting together a musical.”
The radio play format has also been more forgiving for students who are juggling a lot of unexpected pressures as they deal with virtual and hybrid classes and other changes brought on by COVID-19. It’s still hard work, but with a different emphasis.
“Since radio plays generally aren't memorized – they’re read – that pressure has been taken off the students,” Anich said. “We've really been able to focus on creating fun characters using our voices. It's been an opportunity to be playful, which is much needed these days.”
The Banana Hour will include two original, short plays with “advertisements” interspersed throughout. The original plays are a science fiction piece called “Dr. Sylvia Astor: Space Explorer” and a western called “Saddlehorn.” Both were written by colleagues of Anich. The advertisements were conceived and, in some cases, written by students.
Students and faculty spent the first weeks of the semester exploring old radio shows and their more modern take-offs. One of the students, Logan Grant, was reading a book by Edward Bernays, who some consider the father of modern public relations. The corporate banana wars of the early 20th century highlighted in Bernays’ Progaganda caught their attention and a corporate “sponsor” for their show was born, complete with the absurdity that comes with big business high jinks.
“Logan's idea essentially changed the entire trajectory of the piece – we created a fictitious fruit company, Banana Incorporated, and the show is called The Banana Hour, with short advertisements for fictitious banana products we created,” Anich said. “The result is definitely an absurdist piece that satirizes the corporate messages we constantly receive through the media we consume, and the way these messages influence our worldview and thinking.”