Halloween horror awaits at the Icebox Radio Theater
Recently, an article appeared on my Facebook feed announcing the Icebox Radio Theater Halloween season in a spooky way. Jeff Adams, artistic director of the community theater company that records in International Falls but is heard around the world, wrote:
We are finally ready to tell this story. Years ago, when my daughter was still at home, we worked together on a photography project taking pictures of our century-old house in Minnesota. When we exported the photos to a computer for editing, this image was one of them.
The point is, none of us remember seeing the broom, or even having a broom nearby when we were spinning. After that, I became curious about the history of our house and did some research. What I found amazed me. I put it all into a story that’s being dramatized by the Frozen Frights podcast this month. Look for âSweep,â a fictional ghost story podcast, October 21 at the Icebox Radio Theater.
Icebox Radio Theater has been a mainstay of our region for a very long time. Here’s what UMD student Ty Pearson had to say about Icebox. (I shared this work with his permission.)
The Art of Professional Podcasting: Behind the Scenes of Radio Theater with Jeff Adams
by Ty Pearson
Several decades ago, radio was the supreme form of entertainment. However, by the mid-twentieth century, film and television reduced their triumph. For decades, the world of audio theater has been silent. Fortunately, the rise of podcasting ushered in the media’s second golden age. In view of this, it offers extraordinary opportunities for authors looking for their niche. This winter, I spoke with Jeff Adams of The Icebox Radio Theater about his journey to success and how budding podcasters can achieve the same.
In the early 1990s, Adams discovered his interest in theater through community theater. In particular, âthe interaction with the publicâ made him aware of his vocation as an artist. However, he soon discovered that his real passion was radio theater.
âThe most inspiring thing about it is how quickly you can get an idea and jump right into a story, or a presentation that can be enjoyed by an audienceâ¦ You don’t haveâ¦ costumesâ¦ You don’t have setsâ¦ You don’t have line memorizationâ¦ Which means all the stories don’t have to be eliminated from the park, I love storytellingâ¦ This art form, more than any other , just lets me explore that.
Considering what Jeff describes as the âsleekâ nature of podcasting, it’s easy to get started. However, perfecting the art is much more complex.
âEquipment is cheaper now than at any time in history. It’s really easy to do a radio play at a certain level. You could probably learn to do an audio play the first time in a day or two, and then you could spend the rest of your life trying to do it well.
Throughout his career, Jeff has mastered the art of podcasting. One of the keys to this success has been to find and collaborate with a strong âcoreâ group of actors.
âIâ¦ cultivated with a local groupâ¦ of people I know and work well withâ¦ I’m always amazed at the level of talent in a city this size and so far away. But they do have lives, and the hard part is getting everyone on the same page.
To do this, Jeff’s creative process involves multiple repetitions. The first is informal, which allows him and his team to familiarize themselves with new material. Then they hold a more serious meeting to polish the script. As the senior editor of the IBRT, Jeff is an expert on podcast storytelling. As for the plot, it emphasizes design around the unique format of radio theater.
âIt is traditionally a broadcast medium. It is structurally the most difficult to write. Especially, if you listen to old radio … [anthologies] â¦ Like Lights Out and Escape, and Hermit’s Caveâ¦ it’s often just a one-off conflictâ¦ they have time for it. A 24-25 minute old show, you’d say, we’re going to go home, and they say it’s haunted, and then we see the ghost, and then … someone disappears, and then they figure it out, and that’s it. It’s your half-hour show. That’s all you have time to do.
Given these constraints, developing the podcast character can be difficult. Nonetheless, Jeff has created many notable personalities over the years. According to him, gender should govern the type of people that a writer includes in his story. Therefore, IBRT comedies such as “The Laugh Track” focus on fanciful personalities. Whereas horror stories like âFrozen Frightsâ tend to focus on characters with disturbing backgrounds.
Like the plot and the characters, the setting is also vital for the listener’s immersion. IBRT’s pieces have a rich vibe, in large part due to Jeff’s clever use of a concept known as âiconic soundâ.
“What this means is that there are ways that people perceive sounds that are not necessarily obvious, and they can put [them] directly into a scene. Cornstarch is old. When you take steps in the snow … you either use shoes and cornstarch or you can put cornstarch in a little bag … squeeze it to the beat, and it sends the message.
In addition to sound effects, music is crucial for the ambience of the radio theater. At IBRT, a hybrid of internal and external tracks is used to evoke sentiment in their productions. Then they merge it all into editing software. Once a podcast is almost finished, Jeff announces it on IBRT’s social media.
âI’m just starting to get the idea of ââbranding beyond basic social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). Weâ¦ have a websiteâ¦ we do some ads on Facebookâ¦[and] as a non-profit organizationâ¦ we are part of theâ¦ Google Grants program, which is limited [free] non-profit ads. This brings some people to the landing page of the website.
In addition to promotion, Jeff markets the IBRT through Donations, Fundraisers, Grants, Merchandise, and Patreon. As a result, he carved out a career in radio theater. Given its growing importance and ease of access, emerging writers can certainly benefit from Adams’ advice for producing, promoting, and integrating into the podcast world.
“[Eventually], you get to a point where it is actually more difficult to stop than to continue. “[If] you go back a generationâ¦ getting involved in the arts was a whole different thing. Your main job initially was to impress someone who had the keys to the kingdom. [Todayâs] generation, and I imagine that each generation is moving forward …[s] to do [their] thing now. This is one of the advantages of the Internet. We can literally tell any kind of story we want, and we can reach an audience anywhere. We’ve had just enough success, where I can look back and say, yes, it was worth it â.
Jeff Adams is the artistic director of the Icebox Radio Theater. Since 2004, under the slogan “Bringing the Northland’s Stories to the World”, he and his colleagues have produced more than 250 plays, 11 series and broadcast worldwide, winning both the Silver Ogle and the Mark Time Award. . In addition to podcasting, Jeff and IBRT performed live at the Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis, their hometown of International Falls, Minnesota, and more.
Ty Pearson is a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is dedicated to independent non-fiction writing, documentary filmmaking and music / audio production. It draws on Jeff Adams’ artistic direction and his knowledge of creating and marketing Internet entertainment.