Hartmann, WRFA use radio to drum up excitement for theater

Provided photo
Chautauqua Theater Company staffers perform artistic associate Sarah Hartmann’s radio play “Frankenstein” July 23 at Bratton Theater.

Part of Sarah Hartmann’s job as artistic associate for the Chautauqua Theater Company is to make sure that the company lives on after each season. Luckily, she’s managed to find a way to preserve live theater.

For the past two seasons, Hartmann has been working with WRFA-LP, an arts-centric radio station in Jamestown, N.Y., to produce a series of shows dedicated to CTC events and productions.

“One of the things that we really strive to do at CTC is connect to people off the grounds, both on a national scale in the off-season, but also the local communities here,” Hartmann said. “How do we connect people to the work that we’re doing and spread the message that it’s not just for the Chautauqua audience, it’s for anyone nearby?”

One way Hartmann believed she could reach new audiences was through a radio play. After generating interest within CTC, she was introduced to Dennis Drew, WRFA general manager. Drew was looking for more artistic content, initially wanting to do eight shows with CTC during the season — roughly once a week.

But doing a show each week, mixed with the CTC’s hectic schedule, proved impossible. Hartmann settled on a bi-weekly show, or four shows per season. Suddenly, “CTC On the Air” was born. Three of the segments have been focused on the company’s mainstage shows, while the final segment is dedicated to Hartmann’s radio plays.

Last year, she utilized the airwaves with her radio-friendly, theatrical version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula; this season, she adapted Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Each show typically consists of interviews (Hartmann admitted that she listened to BBC Radio and NPR for hours to prepare) with directors, actors or scene designers. Throughout the season, Hartmann has spoken to Lisa Rothe (director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), David McCallum (director of Clybourne Park) and various others who have been a part of CTC’s season.

“I’m keen to prevent this from being a rehash of other types of interview and things that we do, like Brown Bags,” she said. “I want this to be in addition to other conversations that take place — insights that we haven’t talked about before.”

For the show focusing on The Comedy of Errors, CTC’s final production of this season, Hartmann hosted a roundtable conversation with the two actors who played the Dromios and the two actors who played Romeo and Juliet in The Romeo & Juliet Project, Chautauqua’s inter-arts collaboration. The group talked about working with Shakespeare’s text and compared the two very different plays.

In the first three radio shows of each season, actors perform a scene from their respective shows on the air. Hartmann said it is an interesting thing to watch them record their performances. For Comedy, what Hartmann found intriguing was how the two Dromios, who are clowns, would have to verbalize actions instead of acting out their incredibly physical nature.

“You have to be able to translate your entire performance into just your voice,” said Max Roll, a former CTC conservatory actor who portrayed Dr. Frankenstein in this year’s radio play. “It’s interesting what the audience doesn’t see when you’re behind a microphone.”

Working with the radio station is only one of Hartmann’s many projects; as CTC’s artistic associate, she is used to wearing numerous theatrical hats. Not only does she assist artistic director Vivienne Benesch, but she also puts together the company’s schedules, acts as a liaison between the various CTC departments and does dramaturgical work for each production.

Additionally, Hartmann does educational outreach; she has organized events and productions for the Children’s School and the CLSC Young Readers Program, for example. The radio program is something she willingly added to her own schedule.

After “CTC On the Air” premieres each season, the show then lives online.

“Part of what I think is so great about having them live online is that as a summer theater, when the season ends, we have photos and things to share with people, but it’s difficult to share with people the work that we do in the summer during the off-season.”

This is one way to keep it alive, she said.