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What are they really doing at Area 51?

And if it doesn't involve any alien technology, why not just ask a reporter to come and check it out?

Well, they have.

At least, they have for the purposes of Nevada Public Radio’s first-ever radio play. It’s called "Live From Area 51". And it airs, as advertised, live on Thanksgiving Eve at 6 p.m. 

The play came about as KNPR was mulling ways to help Nevada overcome the doldrums of the pandemic through some form of entertainment, which has dried up since mid-March.

“You realize what’s happened in 2020 with news and there has been so little entertainment and so little ability to go to entertainment. I thought this was a perfect time to bring it to people in the form of an old school style radio play,” station CEO Jerry Nadal said.

I wrote the play. I was inspired by the 1938 Orson Welles radio classic, "War of the Worlds".  Originally, the plan was to use Nevada Public Radio staff as the voices in the play, but because so many people from the entertainment industry were out of work, it seemed like a better idea to hire actors.

Local actors in the production are R.J. Owens, Sabrina Cofield, Karmen Smith and Marcus Weiss.

R.J. Owens has a long history with radio plays. He used to listen to them when he was a kid. His neighbor had a collection of radio plays on cassette that he would lend to him. 

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His love of the genre didn't stop there. He did part of his college thesis on radio plays, and when living in San Francisco, he produced radio plays in front of a live audience.

As for this production, Ownes plays several characters, including Colonel Twining.

 “It’s kind of like ‘The X-Files’ meets Gomer Pyle,” he said of the production.

Owens would like to see radio plays return to the airwaves - if they can bring back the kind of non-stop drama they once had.

“I think they could but it all depends on what the era is. If we’re going to recreate and redo old radio plays, it might work," he said, "Are we going to try to write new radio plays for the future, we’ve got the internet. We’ve got a computer in the palm of our hand. So, it has got to have a hook. It’s got to be interesting.”

"Live from Area 51" is directed by Kate St-Pierre, a Clark County School District teacher and instructor at UNLV.

Jennifer Bellor, a visiting professor of music composition at UNLV, wrote the score. 

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this. It is so exciting,” Bellor said.

Bellor used sci-fi theme music along with old noir radio plays as inspiration. She also drew on Bernard Herrmann, the composer for the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Vertigo," for inspiration. 

One of the biggest challenges in creating a radio play is the cues. Bellor is used to creating concert music, but in a radio play, the musicians have to start playing and stop playing at exactly the right moment.

“That will be, I think, the biggest challenge, but it's going to work out. It’s going to be awesome," she said.

Bellor would also like to see radio plays return to popularity. 

“I think now is the time for something new to happen that may have been old before,” she said.

She believes people could benefit from closing their eyes and listening deeply to one thing for 30 minutes or an hour.

One of the lost art forms of the old radio plays is the sound effects, also known as foley. 

Martin St-Pierre is the sound designer for "Live From Area 51." He has never done sound for a radio play but he has created effects for films.

“It’s like to create a world for your ears,” he said.

St-Pierre said he closes his eyes to deeply listen to sounds to find the right one for the script. Most of the sound effects for the radio play will be recorded but there will be some live sounds just like the artists did in the original plays.

Guests

Jerry Nadal, CEO, Nevada Public Radio; Jennifer Bellor, composer; Martin St-Pierre, sound designer; R.J. Owens, actor

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Live from Area 51
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