Penfold Theater gives live readings of radio plays in Ransom Center archives: company dusted off Shakespeare, Fitzgerald and Thackeray radio adaptations for the 21st century to hear – live – arts


The last time we heard about the Penfold Theater Company, it was about bringing the future to the present, having a scientist 100 years from now who will call members of the audience for help winning. time via telephone drama The control group: a mission in time. Today, the company is bringing the past back to the present, taking audio dramas from the golden age of radio and presenting them live for contemporary audiences. From Sunday, September 5, Penfold will stage readings of three radio adaptations of literary works first broadcast on On-Air Theater Guild in the 1940s and 1950s.

On-Air Theater Guild was one of many programs at the time that sought to draw listeners to radio with familiar stories from the page and from the stage – Orson Welles Mercury Theater on the Air being one of the most famous (and after the War of the Worlds hysteria, most inpopular). To get people to listen to the great novels and dramas, the radio versions were usually shortened to one hour and reinforced with stars, and On-Air Theater Guild was able to rely on Katharine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, Jimmy Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Fredric March, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, Charles Laughton, and even Austin homeboy Zachary Scott. Regardless of how the show did it, it drew those listeners – some 10 to 12 million a week a year after its 1945 debut – and she spent eight years on the air before jumping ship to this television reached, where it lasted another 10 years. as the Steel Hour in the United States.

The Ransom Center at the University of Texas has, among its extensive collections, the Theater Guild Archives, which include files for the On-Air Theater Guild shows, and that’s what led Penfold to resurrect a few of the shows to kick off the company’s 2021-22 season. Penfold is actually a regular at radio drama, having made his annual holiday tradition a recreation of a radio show from a classic seasonal movie. Actors in 1940s outfit stand in front of microphones and play Miracle on 34th Street Where It’s a wonderful life Where A Christmas Carol, with live sound effects, an announcer and commercial breaks.

The Penfold presents Theater Guild on the Air readings will employ the same techniques for its interpretations of Shakespeare Macbeth (original broadcast May 11, 1947, with Judith Anderson and Maurice Evans), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This side of paradise (aired April 8, 1951, with Richard Widmark), and William Makepeace Thackeray Vanity Show (aired March 8, 1953, with Joan Fontaine). However, there will be differences that a post-war audience would not have been exposed to. Reading by director Carl Gonzales of This side of paradise will be done with all Latinx actors. Directors Marcus McQuirter and Rosalind Faires both direct Macbeth and Vanity Show, respectively, with all-female casts. (Full disclosure: Rosalind Faires is a the Chronicle Artistic contributor and my daughter.) To reiterate, Penfold brings the past in the present.

The company is partnering with another institution that knows the past and the present: the Neill-Cochran House Museum. This 19th century home on West Campus will host all three readings, and Penfold has chosen it to open not only the new season but a new series, Great games in great places, consisting of site-specific events that “present conversational stories with places unique to Austin and the region”.

Each On-Air Theater Guild the reading will take place on a Sunday at 6 p.m., and the hour-long reading will be followed by an artist-audience discussion, moderated by Penfold co-founders and artistic directors Ryan Crowder and Nathan Jerkins, with – if you are lucky – Ransom Center commissioner and dramatist Eric Colleary. Oh, and last but not least, all readings are free, although reservations are required. To book tickets, visit

Penfold presents Theater Guild on the Air

Neill-Cochran House Museum, 2310 San Gabriel
Macbeth: Sunday, September 5, 6 p.m.
This Side of Heaven: Sunday, September 19, 6 p.m.
Vanity Fair: Sunday October 3, 6 p.m.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 3, 2021 with the title: Radio you can see

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