Christmas Confidential: Tie the Laughter Bag at the Winter Radio Theater.
Tired of the same old holiday shows year after year?
Has Rudolph’s red nose lost its shine and doesn’t ‘White Christmas’ look so bright?
If so, maybe it’s time to turn the tube off for some vacation teasing live from central Pennsylvania’s own resident comedy troupe, the Not Ready For Drive Time Players.
The longtime comedy ensemble returns to the local scene this month with “Winter Radio Theater 2019” at Center Street Grille in Enola, one of the many venues the show troupe has made home since its inception in 2003.
Although the group once numbered up to 20 members, it now has a core of half a dozen local artists: John Butler, Randy Gross, Kelly Iris, Todd Matthews, Julia Tilley and Randy Whitaker.
“Our shows are a cross between ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘Monty Python’ and ‘Firesign Theater’,” Matthews said, referring to several legendary comedy groups.
For “Winter Radio Theater,” the cast read scripts straight out of yesteryear radio theater performers from the 1930s or 1940s, with skits such as soap operas and yesteryear reminiscent of the era. The productions, however, are not entirely made up of nostalgic nostalgia. They also involve a modern twist to “Saturday Night Live” and a noise artist with live “spun” sound effects.
If you go, prepare to be entertained by seasonal parodies such as “Bernie Sanders Claus”, “Donald’s Christmas Carol” and “Snow Bunnies Against Climax Change”. Also, you may want to leave the little ones at home. The shows tend to have more mature themes.
“It’s great to make people laugh,” Gross said. “I used to watch ‘Saturday Night Live’ with the original cast in the 1970s.”
In fact, the Not Ready For Drive Time players get their name from the Not Ready For Prime Time Players of “SNL”. The “driving time” in the name of the local band is a nod to the fact that “a lot of our original members worked on radio,” explained Gross, who was previously director of creative services for the stations. radio in Harrisburg and Gettysburg. Today Gross’s “day job” is a copywriter for Weber Advertising & Marketing at Enola.
Matthews also has a background in radio, having previously served as a senior consultant and sales manager for Cumulus Broadcasting. Today, he is a senior corporate sales executive for the Harrisburg Senators and works with fellow squad player and Senators general manager Randy Whitaker.
Gross and Matthews have been performing together since 2003, when “It’s a Wonderful Christmas Carol,” an original radio play written by Gross, aired Christmas Eve morning on 93.5 WTPA-FM. The radio show featured actors who would form the Not Ready For Drive Time Players in 2004. Also in 2004, the group made “It’s a Wonderful Christmas Carol” into their first live performance of the “Winter Radio Theater”. at Appalachian Brewing Co. in Harrisburg.
“It borrows a bit from the classic (Orson Wells’ 1938) radio drama ‘War of the Worlds’,” Matthews said. “Imagine listening to old Victrola. There are no costumes, just sound effects.
In 2006, the musicians added “Halloween Radio Theater” to their performance schedule and today Halloween shows are still part of the band’s annual repertoire.
Also in 2006, Tilley joined the ranks of performers.
“These guys make me laugh,” said Tilley, who works as a licensed clinical social worker at Enso Wellness in Harrisburg, the nonprofit beneficiary of the event. “It’s a great outing for me. I have been doing theater since I was a kid, but I much prefer comedy. Laughter is very healing.
In addition to supporting Enso Wellness through the event, the group will also collect pet food donations.
Over the years, the troupe’s original material has won several awards. In 2008, the Landless Theater Co. in Washington, DC presented their “So Bad, It’s Good” award for “Deep Inside Oz” and staged the radio play.
The Not Ready for Drive Time Players also presented a Christmas show in the nation’s capital in 2008. In 2011, the skit, “Jaywalkers Anonymous,” was converted into a short play and performed at the Southwest Theater in Houston, Texas. It was also performed in 2014 as part of the First Laugh One-Act Festival in Chicago.
Despite their success, the squad’s players remain true to their roots in greater Harrisburg.
“You don’t have to be in a big city to do this,” Gross noted.
Tilley added, “I hope people come out of our shows with the hope that if they have some kind of crazy dream, they can do it too.”
Winter Radio Theater 2019 is taking place December 15 and 16 at Center Street Grille, 4, rue Center, Enola.