What exactly is Air Pirates Radio? Is it radio? Theater? Audience participation? Live broadcast? The answer to all is “yes.” No wonder the theater troupe’s motto is “Eliminating Another Boring Night of TV — Come out and play: We give you the toys, you make the noise.”
“The best way to describe what we’re doing is theater, posing as radio,” explains veteran producer Paul Ellis of the Sugar Loaf-based troupe. “It’s structured in the form of old-time radio, and then it takes another diversion in that the audience participates by doing all the sound effects.” Oh, and the monthly shows are actually broadcast on radio during live stage performances (usually on WTBQ radio at both 1110 AM and 99.1 FM).
Since its resurrection in 2006, Air Pirates has developed a repertoire of one-hour comedies in the genres of mysteries, Westerns, and science fiction. Among them are the antics of noir detective Herb Marks (a gruff-voiced gumshoe portrayed by Marylee Shorr) and Tica Maroo, Space Cadet (whose first mission involves developing an intergalactic Ponzi scheme); and a Western send-up of one of rock’s best known bands in “I’d Rather be Grateful Than Dead.” Just four to six actors voice the dozens of characters in each show. A single actor might play multiple parts, having a three-way conversation with him- or herself in the same scene.
Before each performance, Ellis spends about a half-hour with the audience handing out sound-effect props. “Toy guns, shoes for footsteps, doors for slamming, water cans for rain, bells and whistles and poppers — all kinds of things you might need to make noise,” he says. They have no idea, however, when or how the prop will be used during the show until the cue card girl prompts them. In many cases, the joke is on the audience. For example, when the cast goes to the home of Marks’ loyal sidekick, Jamaican “street chemist” Smokestack El Ropo, an audience member starts blowing a straw into a glass of milk. And then it dawns on the crowd: It’s a bong!
On August 27, the troupe concludes its series of performances at the Railroad Playhouse in Newburgh with the first installment of Tica Maroo, Space Cadet. The Pirates then return home to the Lycian Centre in Sugar Loaf with premiere shows in September, October, and November (followed by a holiday/winter break). Ellis says the group plans to take the show on the road for the first time next year. Air Pirates is funded by the $20 admission and by on-air commercials, which are also written and performed by the actors — with, of course, helpful noise from the audience.
For more information, call 845-469-7563 or visit www.airpirateradio.com.