STORY BY SCOTT MIMS
When Central Alabama Performing Arts Guild president Mary Schiermann realized there would be no stage productions this year due to COVID-19, she could have done nothing.
But what she and the group’s participants came up with was nothing short of a Christmas miracle — a radio play and a drive-in experience featuring the voices of actors from Chilton County and far beyond.
In short, CAPAGuild will broadcast a radio adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” dubbed “A Radio Christmas Carol 2020” on Dec. 19 at noon on local WKLF 95.5 FM, 1000 AM and WKLFradio.com (or ThePeach.Live). A drive-in listening party will coincide with the program in the parking lot of
Senior Connection in Clanton’s Park Plaza.
The program will also air on Jazz Hall Radio in Birmingham, WON The Apple in New York
City and several other broadcast and internet radio stations. After the show is broadcast,
CAPAGuild will put it up on their official YouTube channel.
“We are really coming to terms with how to mix old ways, old technology and old approaches with new ways, new technology and new approaches, and finding that blend is becoming our new normal as performance artists,” said Mary Schiermann, who organized the program alongside her husband, Mike.
Case in point, auditions for the production were announced via Facebook — and people from areas across Alabama as well as Iowa,
Georgia and Tennessee responded. Even one child actor auditioned from Africa over Zoom, but unfortunately when the time came to record his part, the Schiermanns could not get back in touch with him.
Voice parts were recorded by phone, and Mike said he was surprised by the good quality of the audio. Once all the lines are recorded, he will go into the editing process and begin assembling the entire show.
“Radio is one of the oldest ways to do storytelling,” Mike said. “Radio has been around for 100 years, and nobody ever really thought about the fact that we would have a pandemic like this that you would need something like radio to put on (a show) safely.”
The age range of the performers is vast — from 7-year-old Abby Chastain of Clanton to 70-year-old
Bill Meyer, also of Clanton. All in all, there are a total 39 speaking parts for the production involving performers from multiple states.
“That is a large number, but we have so many wonderful voices that tried out and auditioned,” said Mike. “We even made some script revisions and built in some new parts that were not originally there just so we could give these great performers a chance to be part of us.”
Even one grandparent and grandchild pair — Ernest Fike and his 9-year-old grandson, Forrest Fike — are participating together. Ernest plays The Ghost of Christmas Present, and Forrest plays Tiny Tim.
Ernest Fike said “A Radio Christmas Carol 2020” is his first production, but he was attracted to the format because it requires less memorization than a stage play. He said he read for several parts and was chosen for the one that best suited his voice.
“I think it’s unique for the radio now,” Fike said.
“It used to be very common, and I’m glad the radio station is participating in it. I think that’s a good thing for them to do for folks for Christmas.”
Fike also loves the classic Dickens story, another reason he was interested in doing a role.
“I think if you haven’t heard it or read it or seen it, you haven’t had Christmas yet,” Fike said.
Radio plays are nothing new to the CAPAGuild.
This will be its sixth radio production, and in a way, they are coming full-circle. The very first play the group did was “A Christmas Carol” in 2014.
CAPAGuild is a nonprofit organization focused on the performing arts in Central Alabama, based in Clanton and radiating outward as far as they can go and still find people to participate in music, theatre, dance, puppetry, improv, standup comedy — every facet of the performing arts.
While COVID-19 put some of their plans on hold, Mary Schiermann had an exciting new opportunity to learn and share with the group. She was one of just five people in the world recently selected to work with a professional puppeteer mentor in Los Angeles, Robin Walsh. Walsh’s resume includes Sesame Street, the Emmys and a production of “The Magic Flute” with the Boston Symphony.
Schiermann gets to work with Walsh once per week in hour-long sessions conducted online. She will use her training to help shape CAPAGuild’s future endeavors.
Virtual CAPA Guild productions will be available on YouTube — providing more worldwide exposure and exponentially increasing the nonprofit’s potential.
Meanwhile, Mike invites everyone to listen on Dec. 19 at noon and, if possible, to drive out to Senior Connection and listen on their car radio.
There, prizes will be awarded for the best Christmas decorated vehicle and more.
The runtime of the program is approximately 30 minutes.
“A community can come together and enjoy the radio program, and nobody has to leave the safety of their pod or their group or their home,” Mike said. “You can stay close to the people that mean the most to you, and it can still be a meaningful holiday experience. Christmas is going to be a tough one for a lot of people. We just thought this was something that the community needed right about now—a common Christmas experience that everybody can share without putting anybody at risk.”
Past radio plays are listed on the CAPAGuild website capaguild.org, and anyone who misses the upcoming live airing can hear it on the site.