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Looking to get spooked this weekend? 'Halloween Horror' serves scares from the golden age of radio

From the ominous sounding “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow Knows!” to the infamous 1938 “War of the Worlds” Halloween broadcast that caused many listeners to believe a full-scale alien invasion was underway, there’s something about old-time radio and Halloween that seem to go hand in hand.

This weekend, the Hartford-based theater ensemble Capital Classics will resurrect three old Halloween radio scripts from the 1940s - “Don’t Tell Me About Halloween” by Wyllis Cooper and “The Dark” and “Knock at the Door” by Arch Oboler - for their "Halloween Horror: An Evening of Old Time Radio Theater."

Hoffman Auditorium on the campus of Saint Joseph University in West Hartford will serve as a radio studio, circa 1940.

“You come into the ‘studio’ and you hear the songs our radio station is broadcasting,” said Laura Sheehan, co-founder of Capital Classics and director of the show. “You are going to see the actors at the microphones, the director, the sound effects, and the live musicians. You can just sit back, close your eyes and let your imagination take you down a road of fright!”

Sheehan said the purpose of the performance is twofold - to take the audience back to the old radio days, and give them a sense of what it took to broadcast live shows, and to give the actors a chance to perform in a completely different genre of theater.

“It brings together the theatrical world, and the world of storytelling, through an old form with the old sound effects, and an old applause and “on air” sign that looks old and acts old, because we want it to feel like you are there.”

The “broadcast” includes live music, and Foley sound effects, which are sounds made by everyday objects to evoke a deeper sense of place in the unfolding story.

“It’s fun,” Sheehan said. “We have the old wind machine, the old doors. You know, anything we need to make the sound we are out there hustling and making the sound. Take, for instance, thunder. We found that you can take a balloon, and before you blow it up, you fill it with round BBs or unpopped popcorn kernels. Then you blow it up, and if you hold it to the microphone just right, it not only hits like thunder, it rolls like thunder.”

“Halloween Horror: An Evening of Old Time Radio Theater” runs Oct. 20 through Oct. 23 at the University of Saint Joseph’s Hoffman Auditorium in West Hartford.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.
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