The first production premiers Thursday, Aug. 3, followed by Mea Culpa a week later, Aug. 10, both at 12:30 pm. Tune in to KPBX (91.1 FM) to hear them first. Rebroadcasts are also scheduled for Aug. 6 and 13, respectively, at 6 pm on KSFC (91.9 FM), with on-demand listening at spokanepublicradio.org.
Both plays are directed by one of Spokane’s most passionate storytellers, Juan A Mas. The prominent director and producer’s mission is to shed light on local talent and artists. As one of the founders of Radio Play Co-Lab, a collaboration between Spokane Public Radio and Spokane Playwrights Laboratory, Mas creates a newfound sense of appreciation of radio plays through his work.
Mas was inspired to pursue the radio-play medium after binging drama podcasts. He would listen to them in full and become immersed in the idea of visualizing a narrative through sound. Not long after NPR aired a report describing how theater podcasts are an up-and-coming form of entertainment, writers and directors in Mas’ creative circle started pitching theater pieces as podcasts. That’s when he knew he had to get in on this phenomenon.
As director, Mas turned away from the computer screen so sound could be the only captivating element.
Radio Play Co-Lab’s first season debuted in late 2022. Its success was a boon for both local theater and the artistic team that made it. (Both 2022 plays are also available to stream on SPR’s website).
“That's a bond there, and all of a sudden now that parent is super supportive of their child's dreams and stuff and what they're trying to do,” Mas says.
Although the first season of radio plays involved well-established playwrights and internship credit for sound design students at Spokane Falls Community College, Mas wanted to ensure that local artists were recognized for their experience and talent throughout the making of the second season.
Radio Play Co-Labs received a Spokane Arts Grant Award (SAGA) which allowed the company to provide stipends to everyone involved in the radio plays. As Mas puts it, it's “a stipend of a single thank you for your craft and your talent.” Professional sound designers were also invited to serve as mentors for students during production.
Mas also wanted the chance to work with playwrights he knew. So he invited Malcolm Pelles and Bryan Harnetiaux to write the scripts for Radio Play Co-Lab’s second season. Their respective results are Dead Mouse on Your Doorstep and Mea Culpa.
Pelles grew up on the picket lines with parents who were activists and wrote his play — about an activist who fights to buy his cat vegetarian food — as a love letter to his parents and his community. As a close friend and collaborator of Mas, Pelles jumped at the opportunity to work with his old friend to produce a new kind of story medium.
“It's such a pleasure to work with him. He's so smart and creative,” Pelles says.
“It was told in such a way that even if you weren't Catholic, you should understand the humor and the fear of the child going to that confessional,” Mas says.
His favorite part of the experience was collaborating with Harnetiaux, the two of them deciding how to set up an entire world so the audience could understand where they’re transported to without seeing it.
While live, in-person theater has been back for awhile, post-pandemic, radio still may be the most accessible place to catch a theater production — you don’t even have to leave your house.
Older generations may recall simpler days, when the radio was a main outlet of pop culture, while younger generations are incredibly into podcasts. Radio plays are a way to bring together these generations and connect over a simple form of entertainment.