Monday, February 28, 2011

Under the eyes of the law

Last night, Radiostar had its first recording session in one of its new homes. See, up until now, we've been recording in the rehearsal room of the Off Market Theatre on Mission St. in San Francisco. In fact, we ran the room until about a year ago, renting it out to other groups and generally being supportive members of the Off Market family. Well, after losing a lot of money (renting to poor theatre companies isn't exactly lucrative) we passed control over to PianoFight productions. We continued to record there until the owners of the building decided that they wanted to raise everyone's rent a TON, effectively shutting down the entire enterprise.

Episode #184, Secret Roof Party, was recorded in the last week of a series of shows designed to bid farewell to the Off Market Theatre.

Since then, we've been trying to figure out a home. The fabulous Diana Brown located a spot for us in the community room of a police station on the borders of Golden Gate Park. Dan Ronco has also located us a spot in North Beach, but we haven't had a chance to try it out yet due to everyone getting horribly ill with one thing or another.

Regardless, the police station will very likely become our quasi-permanent home. It's quiet, there's parking, private bathrooms, a whiteboard, and a nice pub just down the block for afterwards.

So, while we're still posting shows from our extensive backlog of recordings at the Off Market, know that we have survived the loss of our recording studio and continuing to bring you the best improvised plays on the 'net for years to come.

Friday, December 11, 2009

quiet blog, busy podcast

It's true, we haven't put a lot on the blog since it's inception, but we've been cranking out episodes pretty regularly! We recently posted our 156th show. That's a lot of improv!

As always, we want to thank everyone for listening and invite you to let us know what you like about the show (or what you don't, if you wanna be mean). And please, forward, digg, and share our stuff. We don't get paid for any of this, so we have to settle for the vast fame that only improv radio can provide.

(clearly we need a new business plan)

Dan Wilson
(Producer, editor, and voice monkey)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rate us!

You may have noticed that we've implemented a five star rating system on our podcast archive. Please feel free to let us know what you've liked, and what you haven't. We always welcome email of course, if you want to be specific about what keeps you listening. In fact, if you want to write reviews about us on Yelp or (even better) on iTunes, that'd be GREAT.

We've seen our numbers grow a lot over this year, and we'd like to see how far we can go with our eccentric show.

At the moment, all we really know for sure is that we've got a steadily growing audience in Japan.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I've been the Artistic Director of Improv for Radiostar for all of our existence, somewhat over two years and eighty episodes, and now I'm moving on. I'm headed off to live in Africa for a year with my amazing life partner Ann. It looks like the project will continue in my absence, which is a good thing. I've never felt much sense of ownership about theatre as a product. I'm more interested in the process of making it than what happens afterward, which makes for a good split of responsibilities between me and our producer Dan, who does all our editing and postproduction.

Radiostar started out as a chance to continue improvising with a dramatic focus with like-minded folks. It's turned into something different than that, something good and interesting in its own right: a weekly improvised radio show with a distinct format and content. The shows tend to run under half an hour, the material is usually humorous, and the characters an unpredictable mix of everyday (ourselves on the mic) and the extraordinary (turtles, swans, Grand Viziers, inventors, archaeologists, and even God a couple of times). To date, we're up to about eight thousand downloads a month, the current peak of a dramatic upswing in popularity that started earlier this year. We even got hit with a denial-of-service attack that downloaded one episode a few thousand times last week before Dan caught it. But as far as we can tell, aside from this, the downloads are legit. People out there are listening to us.

I always suspected that if you do what you love doing in theater, people will eventually catch on, that they'll eventually find out about you and enjoy what you're doing because you enjoy doing it. So I always figured if we just stuck with the show, people would eventually discover it. And here we are. I've heard that about 20,000 listeners is the threshold for a really big podcast. Nobody else seems to be doing what we do, and our numbers keep climbing every month, so there's no reason Radiostar couldn't get to that level if it continues. That might be interesting.

I record my last 2 episodes on the coming 2 Sundays, and I'm off. I've learned a few things during this project:

- you can't make improvisors do anything; if you're going to try to lead a project, the best thing you can do is empower people to do what they love, and not try to control anything

- improv will send you home in the depths of despair or on the heights of exaltation, and you never know which from night to night; acting just isn't this extreme

- people do actually listen to us, but we have no idea who; it would be fun to hear from a few of them sometime

- none of this is what I had in mind at the beginning, which is the whole point of improv, and it's all been good

- downtown SF needs a few more places to sit and have dinner and a quiet drink with your friends at 10pm on a Sunday night

So long! Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Adventures in Editing

If it's edited, is it improv?

This is one of the fundamental questions that we dealt with back when we first started Radiostar. It boiled down, ultimately, to what works for the medium. On stage, the joy of improv is watching performers create something from scratch before your very eyes. Digressions, losing composure on stage, messing up... all these things are part of the fun, as the audience discovers the story with the performers. This doesn't work so well on film, and doesn't really work at all on an audio-only recording. The short form games of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" is heavily edited, and the Christopher Guest films are not only edited up the wazoo, but the plot is pre-scripted. Still, these are undeniably improv.

For the most part Radiostar shows are not heavily edited. I take out pauses and "um"s, remove off microphone character name checks, microphone adjustment noises, and the pauses between scenes. A scene may climax ten seconds before the performers walk away from the microphones, so I'll cut the scene on the punchline. But by and large, a nineteen minute recording session will yield a sixteen minute show.

The shows "Foreign Film" and "Family Fundamentals" are the exception. For a couple of weeks we experimented with really taking our time with the characters. We're always striving to really ground these people, and be as real with them as possible, no matter how insane they or their situations are. So we were encouraged to let scenes spin out longer and longer in order to see what we would find. This technique often results in great material, but great material that serves as punctuation amidst a lot of wandering. Artistically, it's very rewarding and a great thing to play with, but it can make for a somewhat meandering listening experience.

So here is where the editor really comes in. Both of these shows clocked in, in the final edit, at around 20-22 minutes. Very long shows for Radiostar. The original recordings were 40 minutes and a little over an hour long respectively. "Family Fundamentals" is literally only about a third of the original material that we recorded.

So, what gets lost?

At the beginning of a recording session, we have no idea what the plot is going to be about, or who the main characters are going to be. With four or five characters, this gets worked out pretty quickly, but "Family Fundamentals" had eight characters. They all need to get established before we can even begin to know who is central and who is support. This show ended up being about Julie, Bryce, and Dan's characters (the blasphemous daughter, fundamentalist father, and amorous son). They were the ones who went through major changes and took plot driving actions. Anything in the show that supported their story needed to stay in. Fun bits about Diana's character's obsession with the Gun and Doll show and Turkey Jerky were lost, although fragments remain. Zack's Bible-believing geologist's theories about Genesis were lost, as was most of the running gag about Anasastia's equation of pregnancy with ice cream and her obsession with Splenda. None of this was cut completely, but none of the running gags were allowed to run as far as they wanted to. Chris's wail about finding yourself in a conversation that doesn't make any sense is a bit funnier in the original, because Julie and Dave had been free associating for almost two minutes in the original cut about nothing in particular. Also, Julie's decision to start working at the yoga studio is mentioned at the end of the show, but never became a major plot point. Even the main characters lost things, like Julie's tattoo of "Bathing Jesus", an internet figure who was being talked about off microphone before we started recording.

On and on it goes. Some of the bits that got cut might have been left in a shorter show, but when confronted with an hour long, fairly involved and complex plot, the editing choices are merciless. It's like trying to adapt a Harry Potter novel. Some characters get short shrifted in order to keep the pace brisk.

Still, while it makes for a lot more work for the editor, the process of the long scenes produced two extremely grounded and complex shows. A lot happens in these pieces and much of that subtlety might not have been developed if we had kept it sharp and snappy. It's something I'm sure we'll do again in the future.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Always looking for help

Over the last few months, we've been seeing our download numbers climb rapidly. So first off, WELCOME! I don't know how many people are actually watching the blog, since it's on a different server than the shows, but if you're here I hope you'll have a seat and I'll bring out the milk and cookies.

Improv, like all theatre (with the possible exception of the "one person show") is a collaborative artform. We're fortunate here at Cassandra's Call Productions to have an amazing ensemble of performers, and the tools to make this show a reality. But that doesn't mean that we can't always use a little more help.

Are you a musician? Would you be interested in contributing scene change music to one or more of our upcoming shows? Are you a sound editor who would be interested in working on our scripted material while Radiostar founder, Improv Director, and Off the Page editor is away in Africa for a year? Better yet, are you an improvisor with audio editing experience who would like to try your hand at a show or two, or even to work with us on new podcasting projects? Are you an artist, feeling inspired by a particular show who would like to turn it into a "comic"?

Radiostar has lots of ideas for expansion, but at the moment we're limited by manpower concerns. We aren't getting any money off any of this (yet), after all. But if you like what we do and want to be a part, let us know.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Catch Julie Kurtz in Anna Bella Eema

I've been encouraged to use this space to publicize my own upcoming show Anna Bella Eema, opening Saturday June 9th (tomorrow), so here we go:

Come, enjoy this world of fantastical and menacing adventure, underlined by a beautiful mother-daughter and coming-of-age story.

Anna Bella Eema

a trailer park gothic for three voices
Written by Lisa D'Amour, Directed by Rebecca Novick

First week all tickets 1/2 price! June 8th - July 1st @ TJT, 470 Florida Street, SF

About the Show: A reclusive mother and daughter's trailer park is doomed to destruction for the sake of a new highway. As menacing inhabitants of the outside world bear down on the tiny family, Anna Bella Eema, the muddy alter ego of Anna Bella, is born. And then the true odyssey begins. A spoken-and-sung three-character gothic, Anna Bella Eema asks us to listen, and listen carefully.
Starring: Cassie Beck, Julie Kurtz, & Danielle Levin Design by: Jarrod Fischer, Melpomene Katakalos, Cliff Caruthers, Wendy Lynn, and Scotty Arnold