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Radio Days revisited: Actor to produce old-time radio-drama at Chief Theater

Local actor Eric Webster has produced an old-time radio drama called “Shades Brigade” that will debut Monday at the Chief Theater in downtown Bemidji. Submitted Photo

BEMIDJI -- How many times have you heard the phrase, "the movie was good, but I enjoyed the book better because I pictured the main characters differently?"

It seems that no matter how carefully cast by professionals, we theatergoers always know how it should have or would have been better with our choices. On Monday, at the Chief Theater, you will have the opportunity to see and hear an original script written for the stage but played out as a radio drama in "Shades Brigade."

You can either watch the action packed thriller unfold on the stage or sit back, close your eyes, and "watch" with your imagination when Jack Shade and his "brigade of mercenaries" tell of their adventures as special ops agents.

Eric Webster, an actor who has appeared during the Paul Bunyan Playhouse's summer season, has fulfilled a dream that had its genesis in his youth when he listened to radio shows such as "The Lone Ranger" and "The Shadow."

"I imagined how the characters looked, what they were wearing, what the rooms looked like and the cars, everything was mine," Webster said. "It only belonged to me. Radio drama is the only art form that allows each listener to participate in the art along with the actor while creating an original piece that belongs only to them."

Webster began researching the old radio dramas and discovered those mysteries written by Carlton E. Morse in his "I Love a Mystery" shows. The original radio spots ran twice a week for 15 minutes from 1939-44; each episode ending in a "cliffhanger." Each adventure was completed in about 20 segments and then a new adventure began.

"It is said that once an inmate on death row got a stay of execution from a governor by one day so that he could hear the final episode of a story," Webster said. "My radio drama show is something I have wanted to do for over 20 years. It is my homage to not only to the golden age of radio thrillers but to the writing style of Carlton E. Morse."

Bemidji audiences will preview a live radio show with five actors sitting on stools in front of a microphone, each telling his own epic adventure as Shade and his cohorts give us the "true scoop" of how American mercenaries saved the world from evil doers. They tell the behind-the-scenes cloak and dagger activities that never make it to the public. One female and four male mercenaries, including Webster and Zach Curtis, will spin their tales of daring exploits, even supplying the sound effects apropos to the action.

Writer and actor Webster will be appearing with his "Shade's Brigade" ensemble twice a month on Sunday nights at the Jerome Hill Theater in downtown St. Paul now through November. Every month there will be a new episode - with the obligatory cliff hanger after the first chapter - for the audience to hear and visually construct. In fact, Webster claims he is most pleased to see an audience with their eyes closed during the show. To him, that means they are fully engaged in the art form as the experience is intensely personal as each hero, heroine and villain lives vividly in the imagination. True to himself, Webster has also arranged to have the shows rebroadcast on for radio thriller fans who cannot see the shows live.

If You Go:

What: "Shades Brigade", An original radio thriller written and directed by Eric Webster

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Historic Chief Theater, 314 Beltrami Ave., downtown Bemidji.

Cost: $10 tickets sold at the door with open seating.