The Beat Goes On: Plan-B Takes Its Show to the Airwaves

Within just two weeks of the pandemic’s arrival on our doorstep, Plan-B Theatre Company made a nimble pivot and took presentation of its spring 2020 play, THE AUDACITY online. This week, Plan-B illustrates, once again, how artistic expression can thrive in the “new normal” with RADIO SLAM, four world-premiere plays hosted by Jay Perry on KUAA 99.9 FM.

Each RADIO SLAM playwright was given just one week to write a five- to 10-minute play targeting a 12- to 18-year-old audience—Plan-B’s a gift to kids whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic due to school closures and event cancellations. “I turned to playwrights who have written plays for our work with schools in years past, playwrights who have also each had plays produced as part of our Subscription Series, and, just for fun, none of whom had previously written for radio,” said Plan-B Artistic Director Jerry Rapier.  

When invited to participate in RADIO SLAM, veteran playwright Melissa Leilani Larson says she embraced the challenge of communicating theater’s visual aspect with narration, sound and music. “I love a great audiobook, and I think the best ones have a strong performative quality to them; the best narrators are also great actors,” she said. “When Jerry Rapier explained the parameters of the project, he said we would write a short piece for a single actor, I immediately thought about creating a storytelling experience for an actor to get lost in. The telling of the story is as important as the story itself.” 

Leilani Larson’s RADIO SLAM play, titled LITTLE KARL, is inspired by her family’s real-life experience of immigrating to the U.S. from Sweden to in the 1850s. “Andrew and Annie Larson were my great, great grandparents on my father’s side and little Karl was their son,” she said. “They arrived in Missouri after most Mormons had already been driven out and moved west. Their neighbors disapproved of their religion and how they were raising their children.” 

But Leilani Larsen insists that LITTLE KARL is not a typical pioneer story. “It’s haunted me all of my life,” she said. “I think about it a lot when I see immigration in the headlines and read op-eds criticizing immigrant parents for bringing their children with them on a dangerous journey to a new country. People are so opinionated today, blasting their thoughts out on social media about how everyone unlike them is living their lives wrong. But thinking on Karl and his parents, I wonder—maybe it’s not social media that has changed us and the way we get into other people’s business; maybe we’ve always been this way.”

LITTLE KARL, which was directed by Mark Fossen, acted by Brenda Hattingh and sound designed by Jessica Greenberg, premieres KUAA on Thursday, May 7 at 2 p.m.

The three other RADIO SLAM plays slated to broadcast on KUAA this week include: 

  • MY EYES ARE CLOSED SO DON’T TEXT ME by journalist-turned-playwright Elaine Jarvik, director Morag Shepherd, actor Morag Shepherd and sound designer Jennifer Jackson. Through this performance, airing on Tuesday, May 5 at 2 p.m., listeners will get to meet Syd, an adolescent stranded hundreds of feet in the air who’d give anything to hear the sound of a real person on the on the other end of her phone.
  • REACTING TO MYSELF IN THE APOCALYPE!!!!! (NOT CLICKBAIT) (GONE WRONG) is playwright and Weber State professor Jenny Kokai’s RADIO SLAM contribution, directed by Alicia Washington, acted by Darby Mest and sound designed by Joe Payne. In this play, Kokai lets listeners in on how a famous YouTube star (insert your own favorite here) handles life in an (previously—sigh) hard-to-imagine apocalypse. Tune in to hear it on Wednesday, May 6 at 2 p.m.
  • INFLUENCER—written by Jenifer Nii (who also wrote The Audacity) directed by Alexandra Harbold, acted by Isabella Reeder and sound designed by Joe Killian—wraps up the RADIO SLAM week of performances on Friday, May 8 at 2 p.m. This is the tale of, you guessed it, an influencer, who uncovers the secrets of a mysterious group living on the outskirts of town. 

In case you miss any of this week’s RADIO SLAM broadcasts, have no fear: each will be available for livestream on or on Plan-B’s free app by 2:10 p.m. each day.

If you’re looking for more great performance content, you’re in luck. “Until we return to our physical theatre space (the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center) in February of next year, we have quite a lot of streamable content from our archives available on our website,” Rapier said. This includes seven plays Plan-B has commissioned from members of its Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop for the national Play at Home initiative, two of which are available now and five more, all funded by THE BLOCKS, that will go live on Friday, May 8. Plan-B has also created a free, downloadable picture book of Morag Shepherd’s Flora Meets a Bee. And in October, the company will celebrate the 15th anniversary of RADIO HOUR. For much more downloadable content, visit Plan-B’s website and click on The New Normal tab.

So, this week, instead of taking an afternoon spiral down the YouTube/TikTok/Instagram rabbit hole, sit down with your kids and go on a storytelling sojourn with Plan-B Theatre Company’s