Where Live Radio Theater Meets Podcasting in Duluth

3-21-2016  TIWY - Season 3

[The following excerpt is from an article originally appearing in the March-April 2016 issue of Duluth Superior Living magazine written by Tony Bennett.]

Ask Blake Thomas, the mastermind behind Take It With You, to sum up just what that enterprise exactly is, and he’ll tell you it’s not the easiest thing to do. “We have been trying to come up with an elevator pitch for two years, now, and we’ve come no closer to figuring out how to explain it,” Thomas says. “For the old timers, you can say it’s live radio theater, and they get it. But when they ask you what station it’s on and podcasting comes up, they’re out. It works the opposite way with younger folks. For a while, we said that it’s like A Prairie Home Companion meets Cheers. That worked okay.”

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Best Bets: ‘Take it with You: Live Radio Theatre’

“Take it With You” is live radio theater that plays monthly at The Underground. Photo courtesy of Blake Thomas.

“Take it With You” is live radio theater that plays monthly at The Underground. Photo courtesy of Blake Thomas.

A Wisconsin-based country-folk band that was named one of Wisconsin’s 10 Bands to Watch by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel will be the musical guest for a Halloween-ish episode of the local live radio theater show “Take it With You.”

Count This Penny has appeared on “A Prairie Home Companion,” and The Onion’s A.V. Club said of the band: “It’s music steeped in old American traditions, but the concise form the songs adhere to and pop structures the band employs make the songs modern and streamlined enough to thrive far from the mountains where their inspiration first saw the light of day.”

“Take it with You,” starring two handfuls of biggies in the local theater biz, is set in a fictitious bar where Blake the Singing Bartender interacts with the regulars, the staff and those who pop through the front door.

The show has been likened to a mix of “Cheers” and “Austin City Limits.”

This episode promises to include Halloween elements.

Other guests include: Dawn Magnuson, Christine Stocke and Jill Routh, the owners of Zstudio. Mayor Don Ness continues to be a recurring character (except for the time Laura Ness subbed in).

GO SEE IT

What: “Take it with You: Live Radio Theatre”
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (October 28)
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St. (Follow the yellow line on the sidewalk towards the east side of the building. There will be signs, too.)
Tickets: $10 at the door, preorder at takeitwithyou.org, or purchase tickets through duluthplayhouse.org.

Take It With You Episode 1

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Take It With You: Episode #1 – “Things To Look Forward To”

blake_thomas

Written by Blake Thomas

There were a few years there when I used to do a fair amount of touring as a singer/songwriter. 120-150 dates a year. Nothing to shake a stick at (unless you just really enjoy stick shaking, in which case, by all means, shake). Sometimes I’d be on my own. Sometimes with a band. Often with my friend Josh Harty. And it was during these long car trips around the country that I started getting into old time radio shows: Gunsmoke, Escape, Have Gun Will Travel, The Shadow. And of course things like “The War of The Worlds.” Also Groucho Marx did some just beautiful stuff on the radio. But my favorite was a show called “I Was A Communist For The FBI.” Part of the reason I liked it so much was because it was so very bizarre. So obviously made during the red scare it ought to be laughable in the 2008. But it wasn’t. It was actually a really well made show, despite the fact that it had these incredibly overt, probably socially damaging, anti-communist messages woven into the fabric of every show. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much… It’s just a strange little part of history.

Skip ahead 60 odd years and the media landscape has changed rather dramatically. Sure, radio still exists as radio: sounds being disseminated on waves. But when I use the word radio, I’m referring to more than what is actually broadcast. I often listen to modern radio programs like “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” or “This American Life,” but I’m not necessarily tuning in to NPR to do it. I listen to it as a podcast. And I listen to it when I want and completely by my own choice. And although the convenience of this technology may not offer the same kind of romance that I associate with the golden age of radio, it does provide opportunity for a show such as “Welcome to Night Vale” to find an audience.

Enter Take It With You: Live Radio Theatre From Duluth, MN My wife, Mary Fox, and I have been together for 4 years now, although we’ve known each other since pre-school (because we are just that adorable). We’re also fairly new to town, having moved up from the cities last October. I think she would describe herself as an actor/director, and I a musician. But these two worlds have become increasingly intertwined. To a certain extent Take It With You is an extension of the musical Stay Tuned, an original work that premiered in April 2013 at Yellow Tree Theatre, written by Mary, myself & our friend Andy Frye. That show was centered around a fictitious radio program called “The Emerald Coffee Radio Hour” and the age old struggle that many artists go through of how to honor the past while still moving into the future. And I suppose, in a nutshell, that’s our goal with Take It With You.

I’ll be the first to tell you that what we’re doing here, although unique, is far from revolutionary. Radio theatre is nearly a century old and it’s roots in vaudeville can be traced back even farther. We’re very much working within a well established tradition. But one of the things that I’ve been missing in fictional radio today is the feeling that I’ve made a connection to a set of characters that I can spend some time with. As much as I love A Prairie Home Companion, a character like Guy Noir doesn’t really grow or change from show to show. It’s a great vehicle for comedy, but I wonder if it’s possible to create a modern radio program that’s almost closer to a sitcom, like Cheers. Taking some of those Prairie Home elements but grounding them more thoroughly in a world our listeners can live in as well. In fact, I think the best way to describe our show is that it’s “CHEERS meets A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION meets MISTER ROGERS meets AUSTIN CITY LIMITS.” It’s set in a tavern/music venue. I play the owner/bartender. I also jump on stage and sing to the patrons from time to time. I’m joined by Andy & Mary as well as this larger cast of extraordinary, multi-talented, Duluthians: Robert Lee (whom I met from working on “Peter Pan” at the Playhouse. He directed, I wrote the original score). Andy Bennett & Katy Helbacka (the heart and soul of Renegade Theatre). Zach Stofer (most recently in “All New People” & “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson“). And Ryan Nelson (also awesome, although twin ports residents may not know him yet as he’ll be commuting from Minneapolis).

A big part of our mission with the show is to promote Duluth as a whole, and specifically the incredible arts scene that’s up here. Don Ness will have a cameo on every episode, and on this first one we’ll also be talking with Brian Schanzenbach, head brewer of Blacklist Brewing.

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of these various ramblings I hope you’ll attend our first show on April 15th at 7:30pm (Doors @ 7pm) in The Underground. And stick around afterwards for our launch party.

See you on the 15th!

-blake thomas (04.09.14)