Halloween Spook Awaits at the Icebox Radio Theater
Recently a post appeared on my Facebook feed announcing the Halloween season of the Icebox radio theater in a scary 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 Minnesota home. When we exported the photos to a computer for editing, this image was one of them.
The thing is, none of us remember seeing the broomstick, or even having a broomstick nearby during filming. After that, I started getting interested in the history of our house and did some research. What I found amazed me. I’ve put it all into a story that’s being dramatized by the Frozen Frights podcast this month. Look for “Sweep,” a fictional ghost story podcast, Oct. 21 at the Icebox Radio Theater.
Icebox Radio Theater has been a mainstay in our area 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
Decades ago, radio was the quintessential form of entertainment. However, in the middle of the 20th century, cinema and television hampered its triumph. For decades, the world of audio theater has remained silent. Fortunately, the rise of podcasting marked the medium’s second golden age. Considering this, it offers amazing opportunities for writers looking for their niche. This winter, I spoke with Jeff Adams about The Icebox Radio Theater on 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, “interaction with the public” made him realize his vocation as an artist. However, he soon discovered that his true passion was radio theatre.
“The most inspiring thing about it is how quickly you can get an idea and go straight to a story, or a presentation that can be enjoyed by an audience…You don’t have… of costumes… You don’t have sets… You don’t have memorizing lines… Meaning not all stories should be knocked out of the park, I love story telling… This art form , more than any other, allows me to explore this.
Given what Jeff describes as the “clean” nature of podcasting, it’s easy to get started. However, perfecting the art is much more complex.
“Equipment is cheaper now than at any time in history. It’s really easy to do a radio play on some level. You could probably learn how to do an audio play, the first once, in a day or two, and then you could spend the rest of your life trying to get it right.
Throughout his career, Jeff has mastered the art of podcasting. One of the keys to this was finding and collaborating with a strong ‘core’ group of actors.
“I’ve… grown with a local group… of people I know and work well with… I’m always amazed at the level of talent in a town of this size and so remote. But they 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 IBRT’s Senior Writer, Jeff is an expert in podcast storytelling. As for the plot, it emphasizes design around the unique format of radio theater.
“It’s a traditional broadcast medium. This is the hardest structure to write. Especially if you listen to old radio… [anthologies] …like Lights Out and Escape, and Hermit’s Cave…it’s often just one conflict…that they have time for. A 24-25 minute old show, you’d say we’re gonna go to the house, and they say it’s haunted, and then we see the ghost, and then… someone disappears, and then they solve it , and that’s it. It’s your half-hour show. That’s all you have time for.
Given these constraints, developing podcast characters can be challenging. Nonetheless, Jeff has created many notable personalities over the years. According to him, genre should govern the type of individuals a writer incorporates into their narrative. Therefore, IBRT comedies such as “The Laugh Track” center around whimsical personalities. Whereas horror stories like “Frozen Frights”, tend to focus on characters with disturbing backgrounds.
Like plot and characters, setting is also vital to listener immersion. IBRT’s pieces have a rich atmosphere, thanks in large part to Jeff’s clever use of a concept known as “the iconic sound”.
“What that means is that there are ways people perceive sounds that aren’t necessarily obvious, and they can put [them] directly in 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 rhythmically, and it sends the message.
In addition to sound effects, music is crucial for the atmosphere of radio theatre. At IBRT, a hybrid of internal and external tracks are used to evoke feelings in their productions. Then they merge it all into editing software. Once a podcast is nearing completion, Jeff announces it on IBRT’s social feeds.
“I’m just beginning to understand the idea of branding beyond basic social media (Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram). We…have a website…we do a few ads on Facebook…[and] as a non-profit organization… we are part of the… Google Grants program, which is limited [free] non-profit ads. This takes some people to the landing page of the website.
In addition to promotion, Jeff markets IBRT through donations, fundraisers, grants, merchandise, and Patreon. As a result, he carved out a career in radio drama. Given its growing prominence and ease of access, up-and-coming authors can certainly benefit from Adams’ guidance in producing, promoting, and connecting to the world of podcasts.
“[Eventually], you get to a point where it’s actually harder to quit than to keep going. “[If] you go back a generation… getting involved in the arts was a totally different thing. In the beginning, your main job was to impress someone who had the keys to the kingdom. [Today’s] generation, and I imagine that each generation advances…[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, yeah, it was worth it.”
Jeff Adams is the Artistic Director of Icebox Radio Theatre. Since 2004, under the slogan “Bringing the Northland’s Stories to the World”, he and his colleagues have produced over 250 plays, 11 series and broadcast worldwide, winning both the Silver Ogle and the Mark Time Award. . In addition to podcasting, Jeff and IBRT have performed live shows 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 freelance non-fiction writing, documentary filmmaking and music/audio production. It draws on Jeff Adams’ artistic direction and knowledge of creating and marketing internet entertainment.