Coming to You Live...

Imagine this: Actors perform a comic space opera that spans the galaxies, featuring a lone hero battling futuristic evil threatening to undo the galaxy. There are no blue-screen or computer-generated special effects. In fact, apart from cobbled-together sound effects, there are no special effects. There's just you and the actors reading their lines. How can that be any fun to a generation schooled in big-budget spectaculars like Star Wars, Alien and countless imitators? You just have to use your imagination.

Told you so.

Cliff Proton and the Creature From Quadrant 5 is a tongue-in-cheek "radio" drama that will be performed Friday at the Arlington Museum of Art by the Texas Radio Theatre Company, a decidedly low-tech group of local theater artists, storytellers and others who re-create the era of radio drama. They're so low-tech, in fact, that their performances aren't broadcast over the air, but performed for live audiences.

"I've always had a love of the audio medium," says Rich Frohlich, a founding member of the troupe and author of Cliff Proton. Though he's only 34, Frohlich remembers being enthralled by mysteries broadcast on CBS radio as late as the early '70s; he can still see the mental image he conjured up as a boy for one show featuring a gorilla. As a student in Connecticut, Frohlich helped produce sketches and other programming for his student-run college radio station.

The market for radio dramatists being a bit thin these days, Frohlich moved into more contemporary lines of work after graduation, but his fascination for radio continued and gradually developed into the Texas Radio Theatre Company.

"It's almost a challenge to the audience to watch something that's meant to be heard," Frohlich says. A sizable chunk of the audience focuses on the soundman. The others, you might suspect, keep their eyes on the performers, waiting for the miscues and gaffs that might come from a live performance, but so far the audience hasn't witnessed anything too awful--or at least they haven't noticed. "My wife told me as long as I keep a straight face nobody will know if I screw up," Frohlich says.

The group has more plans for original works and revivals of old radio plays in the months ahead, including a Lone Ranger script in March. They're also considering an adaptation of the Ed Wood Z-movie classic Plan 9 From Outer Space, widely considered the worst movie ever made. They may even rewrite the script to include lines for the part originally meant for Bela Lugosi, who died days into shooting the original and was replaced by another actor who imitated Lugosi silently, his face hidden by a cape. Plan 9 actually had a script? Well, imagine that.

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams