The Homer arts scene since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic six months ago has been an ongoing experiment in making lemonade from lemons. For theater in Homer, that has been not just a kid’s cardboard stand, but what’s turning out to be the equivalent of a boutique drink factory.
With Pier One Theatre and other public venues closed, theater has leapt back into the past with a revival of radio theater. After the success of Pier One and KBBI Public Radio’s broadcast of a radio play version of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” radio theater continues this week with the broadcast of Homer playwright Lindsey Schneider’s original one-act play, “Knife Skills,” 7 p.m. Friday on KBBI AM 890.
Produced by KBBI and Schneider’s Blue Jaye Productions, the one-hour play looks at the dynamics of Bush lodge kitchen culture and the Alaska experience of living and working in close quarters for an intense summer season.
The daughter of Dawn and Pat Schneider, Lindsey Schneider got the idea from her mother’s stories of working at lodges in the 1980s. Her brother also has worked as a lodge chef.
“They told me all these stories about how crazy it can be to work in a place where you don’t have interaction with the outside world,” she said.
The experience of a summer grind changes friendships, she said. Ambition can play into the setting of a sometimes competitive rural environment, especially in a lodge catering to wealthy clients.
“You can’t really get away. It’s hard to say no to covering someone else’s shift,” Schneider said.
In “Knife Skills,” Margo, an ambitious sous chef played by Helen-Thea Marcus, gets the opportunity to cook for prestigious clients at a wilderness lodge in Lake Clark National Park. When she accidentally discovers a big secret of the executive chef, Andy, played by Peter Sheppard, the dynamics of the kitchen crew changes. Rounding out the cast are Theodore Castellani as Ren the dishwasher, Chloë Pleznac as Line the prep cook, and Ingrid Harrald as Christina, and Darrel Oliver as John, the two feuding lodge owners.
Schneider wrote “Knife Skills” while attending the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, where she graduated in June with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater. She submitted it in March 2019 for the university’s Student Alternative Theatre Company, an all-student production company. It was performed in October 2019 in Victoria as a full stage play. Schneider had revised the script for submission to the Victoria Fringe Festival, to be held this year, but the pandemic canceled the festival.
Back in Homer, Schneider had been walking on the Spit with Pleznac, a KBBI morning show host, when Pleznac told her about KBBI doing “The Importance of Being Earnest” as a radio play.
“That clicked with me because I had people mention it (“Knife Skills”) might work as a radio play,” she said.
Schneider pitched the idea to KBBI General Manager Josh Krohn.
“She just wanted to have a chance to put it together, direct it and do it herself,” Krohn said. “It seemed like a good thing to do, to provide a venue for it.”
“The Importance of Being Earnest” was recorded using the Zoom online conferencing platform. For “Knife Skills,” the cast was able to rehearse in open-air venues like Karen Hornaday Park or at Bishop’s Beach. They recorded it on Aug. 25 and 26 at Pier One Theatre on the Homer Spit. Microphones were set up for physical distancing and the cast and sound engineers all wore masks. Krohn worked the sound board for one session and KBBI Senior Producer Jeff Lockwood was the engineer another night. Lockwood also helped record background sounds like kitchen noises. Schneider collected sounds for things like bird calls and other nature sounds.
The big red barn of Pier One Theatre has been vacant all summer except for some video recording Pier One has done for theater skills classes. Pier One Executive Director Jennifer Norton said they were happy to provide the venue.
“It was a large space (where) we could host six actors and spread them out in a nice distance with their masks on,” Norton said.
Even though it’s radio, Schneider said that in effect to create a recording studio they had to put up curtains, scrims and other constructions to dampen sound.
“It’s funny: You wouldn’t think you would have to build a set for a radio play, but we did,” she said.
“We created a fairly decent sound cave,” Norton added.
They also had to deal with the occasional intrusion of sounds from the Spit, like passing traffic.
“It’s not an insulated building,” Schneider said. “… There were a couple of takes where it was raining really hard. You could hear it on the roof.”
Because all the action had to be conveyed through dialogue or sound, Schneider had to rewrite some of the play. In one pivotal scene where Margo overhears Andy and Christina talking on the smoking deck, she had to make that action apparent through sound. “Knife Skills” sound engineer and musician Olivia Wheeler, a fellow University of Victoria student, helped that happen.
“That scene was a big challenge to stage,” Schneider said.
Wheeler did that by adding sounds like a door sliding open or the flick of a lighter and making Andy and Christina sound like they were farther away from Margo’s viewpoint.
The initial recording comes out at 47 minutes, but with credits and the addition of other sounds, Schneider said the play will come in at just under 55 minutes, a good length for a one-hour radio slot. She said she really likes writing in one act.
“There’s so much action,” Schneider said. “I feel like the last 15 minutes of this play, in the words of my dad, ‘really cranks.’”
KBBI and Pier One will be collaborating on more locally written and produced radio plays this fall, with Brenda Dolma’s “Rising” and Jessica Golden’s “Tweet, Yeet and Lear: Shakespeare in Quarantine.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.