Sound effects team

John Watts of Shaker Heights, sound effects artistic technician, left, and Ryan O’Donnell of Mayfield Heights, sound effects assistant, use various tools to create the sounds in “The Thin Man.” 

GATES MILLS — Decades before Netflix and live streaming became the go-to sources of entertainment, people searched radio channels for dramas and comedies. One of the classics is “The Thin Man,” a 1936 comedy-mystery radio play that follows the story of a married, crime-busting duo, Nick and Nora.

Gates Mills Players plan to present this captivating play during the weekend of March 8-10, taking the audience back in time.

Director Susan Wasserman explained that plays broadcast on the radio always had a studio audience that often interacted with cast members through sounds.

Mrs. Wasserman said that the performance by the community theater cast also will include opportunities for the audience to take part in the show.

“What makes it fun is that the audience interacts,” she said.

For example, Mrs. Wasserman said that during a scene where two characters are at a restaurant, a crew member will hold up a sign asking the audience to whisper “peas, carrots, apples and oranges.” When a group murmurs this phrase, Mrs. Wasserman said, it should sound like background noise. Sound effects artistic technicians John Watts and Ryan O’Donnell will hold up other signs prompting audience responses, such as “applause.”

Mr. Watts and Mr. O’Donnell explained that they will create the rest of the background using a multitude of items at their sound effects table located on stage along with actors standing at microphones. They may use a wooden hammer to make the sound of a door knock or shoes tapping on a tabletop for footsteps. In one scene where a man is shot, one of the sound effects technicians throws a bag full of sand onto the stage to make the “thud” of the man falling down. Mr. O’Donnell will be the voice of the barking dog in the play.

Mrs. Wasserman also noted several unique aspects of the presentation of “The Thin Man.” The cast, comprised of four men and four women, will use their scripts during the performance. They will stand on stage at microphones that have the authentic look of the 1930s and 1940s.

“They’re really playing to the mic as if it’s a live radio broadcast,” Mrs. Wasserman said.

She explained that the cast members are stationary at the microphone, and only move to return to a stool near the back of the stage, which is where the cast sits when they do not have lines to read. Several of the cast members play more than one part.

“It’s really exciting for an actor to be more than just one character in a play,” she said.

After “The Thin Man” was released as a movie, the director said, the script was rewritten into an hour-long radio broadcast. The one-act play is 58 minutes and 30 seconds to leave space for commercials. The Gates Mills Players are including commercials in their production, and they are scripted commercials for local businesses that will advertise in the playbill.

The C-Town Stompers, two couples who specialize in modern swing dancing, will open the show. Audience members may also stay after the show for swing dancing lessons, a wine and cheese party and a hands-on lesson with the sound effects equipment in the basement of the community house.

The Gates Mills Players will perform “The Thin Man” on March 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 at 2 p.m. The community house is located at 1460 Chagrin River Road in Gates Mills. General admission tickets are $15, tickets for seniors age 62 and older are $13, K-12 students are $10 and groups of 10 or more are $10. For more information and to buy tickets, call 440-973-6569 or visit gatesmillsplayers.com.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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