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Director lends her formidable experience to radio shows on Whidbey
Elizabeth Herbert says she learned to walk on a train while on the road with a show.
The Greenbank resident grew up with a show business dad and made her television debut at the age of 4. Since then she’s adopted a life in the business as actor, director, writer and teacher, and has stepped onto countless stages and in front of (and behind) cameras from New York to Los Angeles to Las Vegas for more than 50 years.
Now, settled comfortably into island life, Herbert turns her formidable talents to theater on Whidbey, taking the reins as director of both last year’s and the upcoming “Old Time Radio — Live on Stage,” an annual benefit for KWPA radio.
Added to that yearly endeavor, is Herbert’s ongoing production of “Postcards from Whidbey Island” a “Prairie Home Companion”-style monthly variety show series that features the working actors, musicians, writers and other creative types of Whidbey Island, co-produced by KWPA founder William Bell and the pair’s Penn Cove Productions.
But for now, Herbert is focused on the fundraiser for the radio station, which takes the theme “A Day on the Radio in 1946.” It features episodes from the classic radio programs of the 1940s for two Saturday evening performances on May 21 and May 28.
“I’m directing five (episodes) shows with a cast of 30 actors,” Herbert said, with a bit of “whew” gesture.
“I like being able to give everybody a chance because there’s so much talent here on the island,” she added.
The show features the full gamut of old-time radio shows in a period-style production in which the actors’ voices are rounded out with side effects from an onstage foley artist to recreate a treat for the audience and their imaginations.
“This year’s show will give people a wonderful feeling for what it was like to gather around the family radio on a typical day in 1946,” said Harry Anderson, president of KWPA’s board of directors, who is also one of the producers and the narrator of the show.
The script includes portions from a 1946 newscast when Harry Truman is president, the United Nations holds its first session, Republicans win control of Congress, the first Tupperware dish is sold, Damon Runyon dies and the bikini is introduced.
Also on the program are scenes from “Jack Armstrong – The All American Boy,” an episode of the popular daytime serial for teenagers about atomic power and a possible Russian spy; “Fibber McGee and Molly,” one of radio’s most popular comedies in which Fibber and Molly decide to celebrate their
50th wedding anniversary 25 years early; “Boston Blackie,” a sophisticated and humorous “film noir” detective show featuring a murder witnessed by Blackie and his gal pal Mary on an exotic new medium called television; “The Romance of Helen Trent,” a popular afternoon soap opera of the time; and “The Top Hits of 1946,” a live recreation of a radio big-band show performed by Whidbey Island’s own Loco-Motion band.
Herbert is encouraged by the success of last year’s fundraiser, and hopes to gather another good crowd for these two performances in Langley and Oak Harbor in order to bolster the support and maintenance of the station.
Rehearsals are going well, she said.
“I love comedy,” Herbert said, adding that she loves working with a cast who range in age from 10 to the mid-70s, which makes not having to memorize scripts a blessing.
“The actors have the script in hand and it’s less stressful for everyone involved,” she said. “People can act without having to freak out about memorizing lines.”
Though most of the actors are “newbies” to the stage, Herbert has been able to work privately with some from last year’s cast, which is encouraging to her as an experienced director. Having once owned her own acting school during her years in Las Vegas among other teaching stints, she knows first-hand how to help beginning actors. She hopes to extend her teaching abilities in the future to those who enjoy being onstage, but who may not have had any real acting lessons.
“Once the actors trust me, they are willing to take a risk the next time,” Herbert said, “and the actors that take risks are a joy to work with.”
Ultimately, with her regular installments of “Postcards” picking up steam and other visions for theater, Herbert and Bell’s goal is to turn Penn Cove Productions into a professional theater company for the island.
“There should be theater in every area of the island,” she said, “and there shouldn’t be any competition, just a real working relationship.”
Herbert said another part of the fun of working on radio plays is the magic of a variety of voices working together.
“People can keep their eyes closed if they want to, and just listen,” she said.
“Old Time Radio — Live on Stage … A Day on the Radio in 1946” will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 21 in the auditorium at South Whidbey High School, and Saturday, May 28 at Oak Harbor High School.
Tickets cost $20. The show is the principal fundraiser for KWPA, Whidbey’s noncommercial public radio station, broadcasting around the Penn Cove area at 96.9 FM and streaming and podcasting worldwide at www.kwparadio.org.
Get tickets and more information at www.kwparadio.org or at South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore and Moonraker Books in Langley, Bookbay in Freeland, Local Grown, Bayleaf and Lavender Wind Farm in Coupeville, and Wind and Tide Books and Bayleaf in Oak Harbor.
The next “Postcards from Whidbey Island” with a theme of “Dear Dad” will be performed on June 18 and 19, Father’s Day, at the Coupeville Performing Arts Center featuring musical guest Coyote and the Henhouse Raiders.