Arizona Artbeat: Arizona Territory Radio Play

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Arizona’s 104th birthday will be celebrated with “Arizona Territory,” a radio play on Statehood Day February 14 at 7pm. The Arizona Centennial Theatre Foundation along with KTAR radio will present the play, which will be performed live at Tempe Center for the Arts. The story is set in 1898 and focuses on the relationships between two sisters and their love interests, both military men. Ben Tyler, ACTF executive director and director of the radio play, will tell us more.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at "Arizona territory," a radio play set to be broadcast on Arizona's 104th birthday, February 14th. The Arizona Centennial Theater Foundation, along with KTAR radio will present the play, which will be performed live at Tempe Center for the Arts. Joining us now is Ben Tyler, executive director of ACTF, and director of the radio play, and also with us the playwright of "Arizona Territory," Richard Warren. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us.

Ben Tyler: Thanks.

Richard Warren: Thanks.

Ted Simons: What exactly is Arizona Territory?

Ben Tyler: Arizona Territory, a play from 1899 that made it to Broadway in 1913 and then toured the country. Written by a fellow named Augustus Thomas, scenery by Fredrick Remington. A very successful play for him.

Ted Simons: Big-time play at the time?

Ben Tyler: Oh, yeah. As a matter of fact, Ted, it is billed as America's greatest play. On the show poster.

Ted Simons: Really.

Ben Tyler: I think B.T. Barnum -- No lack of muscle.

Ted Simons: Describe the story for us.

Ben Tyler: I think Richard could probably do a better job. We have the playwright here.

Ted Simons: I know we do. Describe the story quickly.

Ben Tyler: You bet. A story before the Spanish American War in Arizona. And Augustus Thomas spent time in a natural cattle ranch, Sierra Vista --

Richard Warren: Sierra VINITA ranch --

Ben Tyler: Which actually still exists. And based this play on some of the people that he met there. One of them being Henry Clay Hooker, a very famous Arizona cattle rancher. So, he, you know, at that time, Ted, Arizona was really foreign land. Anything east of the Mississippi River. A lot of interest back East. A play about the West written for the East.

Ted Simons: Already, Mr. Playwright. Already a play.

Richard Warren: Already a play.

Ted Simons: What -- how did you adapt it?

Richard Warren: It involves the ranchers and it involves soldiers, and it involves the cowboys that were around at that particular period and how they got together. I took the play but it was really written in a style that was very popular in 1898. But it wouldn't work exactly today so I condensed it from four acts to two acts, and I changed some of the characters so they would be dealing with more contemporary issues. For example, I got rid of a wife that made the rancher a widower and he was having to deal with two young daughters that were pretty frisky on the range.

Ted Simons: Was it more melodramatic?

Richard Warren: It was. It is still melodramatic. It has virtue, villainy, doctor with a secret --

Ben Tyler: And a fair amount of laughs.

Richard Warren: It is a comedy, melodramatic comedy. Very funny, actually.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, when you adapted this and got rid of the wife and whatever else you did there, did you do it in mind of radio --?

Richard Warren: No, it was really written as a play for Phoenix Theater New Works Festival in 2002. Since 2002 it has been kind of around. Ben and I were talking. We said this will be interesting because it does give the history of Arizona at that time. And then I had to change it to radio which meant that the actors can only act with their voices and we have sound effects and music. It is a very different kind of play.

Ted Simons: Talk about the challenges of doing a radio play.

Ben Tyler: I think -- as Richard just said, it is all about the voice. Actors and all of the people in our cast are very seasoned, experienced theatrical actors. And this goes against the grain a little bit. You are not talking directly to someone even though you're doing dialogue with them. I think what will be really interesting for the live audience that comes down to see this, this is a little bit like getting to look back stage and see how things happen. What the audience is going to hear at home on the radio, or over the internet, they won't see the sound effects artists with the coconut shells going across the gravel and doors opening and closing and squeaky floor boards and all of the other things we will add to this. For the actors I think it is relying on one thing and that's your voice. And they're not doing that to a degree.

Ted Simons: Is a playwright used to doing that?

Richard Warren: No, this is the first time I have done radio. In order to get into it, I went back and read scripts from old radio shows, Gunsmoke, Lone Ranger, Casablanca, to see how you use voice, sound effects and music.

Ted Simons: Do you find being able to do this might affect your playwrighting for regular theater?

Richard Warren: I think it is a different structure.

Ted Simons: Different, isn't it?

Richard Warren: Very, very different. Same story but a very different challenge.

Ted Simons: How about for the actors? Are they going to have to think of this and train in a different way?

Ben Tyler: Yes, and we had our first rehearsal last night. We do four rehearsals and then we're on. This is the thing. No one has memorized. You are working off of a script. They need to let go of some of the things that would normally be the tools in your tool bag for doing a live play and just trust that their voice is going to carry the whole thing. We did this last year on Statehood Day. We intend to make this a traditional thing.

Ted Simons: That was escape from Pathagos Park --

Ben Tyler: Yes. I think I was here talking about that.

Ted Simons: What was the reaction?

Ben Tyler: It did well. Sold out. Doing a play nobody ever heard of and no one famous in it and we did it at the Arizona Historical Society in Tempe and we sold out the auditorium. Now we have moved up to the Tempe Center for the Arts. 600-seat theater. If you have never been to Tempe Center for the Arts. I would encourage you to come out and see that. It is a beautiful, really nice theater and we are going to put on a heck of a show.

Ted Simons: One more question regarding the process. Usually playwrights, script writers they write and when they see what they have written, sometimes it is exactly what they thought and other times what are they doing to my stuff? How -- through the rehearsals, is it what you imagined it would be?

Richard Warren: So far, one rehearsal, which was a read through. Ben and I are going down after the show and we will be doing act one, tomorrow act two. Put it all together on Saturday. We'll see. I think we are going to be discussing the script and maybe things that work or don't work or one can't visualize or you don't know who is speaking. There will be a lot of challenges. And I'm looking forward to that.

Ted Simons: Again, where and when?

Ben Tyler: Tempe Center for the Arts. Sunday, the 14th. Some people call it Valentine's Day. We call it statehood day. 7:00 in the evening. And we have special discounts for seniors, students and military. We really hope you will join us. Here is the cool thing. If for whatever you can't make it down, you can hear it on the radio or globally on the internet. KTAR will be streaming it live from their website, you can hear it there.

Richard Warren: And Pat McMahon will be narrating it.

Ted Simons: I think he was in the original version of the play.

Richard Warren: He was --

Ted Simons: Good to have you both here.

Ben Tyler: Thanks, Ted.

Ben Tyler:ACTF executive director and director of the radio play

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