Phyllis Garcia has taught theater at Coastal Bend College for four years now but had the theater flowing through her veins way before then.
So what do these two have in common?
Well, it seems as though Garcia is bringing the radio play format to the small stage at the Coastal Bend College Gertrude Jones Auditorium this weekend.
“It’s three separate radio plays,” Garcia explained.
“It’s reader’s theater. It’s theater without the costumes, sets and the props.
“You’re still doing some acting, but it’s more acting with your voice. Theater sent out over the radio for the radio audience.
“That’s why we call it sort of theater of yesteryear.”
The plays will be performed one night and one night only on Friday, Nov. 30, at 7 p.m. at the Coastal Bend College Gertrude Jones Auditorium.
Admission is free for all.
Though it may be a bit different from what she’s done in the past, it’s completely on purpose.
“I try to give the kids new experiences every semester.
“The last couple of semesters in the fall, I’ve done children’s shows, and I just said that this semester I was going to change it up.”
And change it up she did.
Radio plays consist of actors, sometimes dressed to the part, sometimes in whatever’s comfortable, reading off their scripts to a live radio audience who would tune in every evening to hear variety shows or serials like “The Shadow” or noir thrillers.
Most of the variety shows would invite a live studio audience to come and join in on the fun.
The “A Prairie Home Companion” movie, the final film directed by the late, great Robert Altman, dramatizes the entire affair on screen.
And why bring such a vintage format to the stage, using drama students who have probably never heard a radio play in their young lives?
“I wrote and directed radio plays at the college.
“One of the professors there was really big into radio theater, so we both wrote radio plays; then we performed them there at the college.
“It really teaches the students to use their voice and not think about costumes, props.
“This is all about what you can portray with your voice and upper body.
“Can you be believable without the costumes, the props and all the set pieces?”
And for the three plays the class is performing, Garcia got a little help from some enthusiastic CBC students unable to make it into her theater class.
“They’re all students of CBC. Three of the boys aren’t in my class. They just wanted to do it.
“One is in my speech class, and he asked if there was anything to do, and I said, yeah, we’re doing this, and I said I needed a boy, and he said he’d love to do it.
“One of the boys, the other kids went and found.
“I don’t know how. He just said, I heard you need a boy.”
Garcia has spent the majority of her life in front of an audience or behind the scenes of both theater and film.
“I’ve done it since I was a small child.
“I started doing theater probably since I was in kindergarten; that was my first play.
“I did it all the way through junior high, all the way through high school.
“I tried nursing for a little while; that’s supposedly what you can make a good living at.
“I hated it.
“I went back to the college, went back to theater and sort of made it full circle.
“I worked with a Canadian company making a commercial, and then a couple of movies came through the Alpine area when I was in college.
“All I was was a grip. That just means cheap gofer.
“I worked at Six Flags and summer theater. I have a lot of experience I bring with me.
“When you get into professional theater, you specialize in one certain aspect, and you can’t do it all.
“You either act or are a stage manager or do costumes.
“But I like teaching.
“It’s better hours, too. Professional theater is a lot of hours per week.
“And I like doing it all, and educational theater let’s me do it all, because I’m usually the one that designs the sets, designs the costumes.
“I really like teaching. I like being around the kids and seeing it through from beginning to end. That process.”
And after a lifetime of experience going into this radio play, how long can a teacher teach?
And how many more years can she bring her expertise to the young and eager students that fill her class?
“Till I retire probably,” she laughed.
“That’s still quite a ways away.”
And for anyone bit by the acting bug, there’s always the spring show where the community members are invited to audition and try out their acting chops among the students.
“That gives the students a little different perspective from just working with students their own age.
“I have people like Noemi and Daphne who come in with a lot of theater experience or who have already graduated with theater experience.
“We’ve had Matt Wagner work with us, and he has a graduate degree in theater, also from the University of Houston.
“So kids can ask him questions like, ‘What do you need to do?’ or What’s the University of Houston like?’
“They can ask him questions I can’t necessarily answer for them.
And as far as the radio play goes, it’ll be split into three separate plays.
“The Little Ragdoll” adapted by Linda Nesbitt, “The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale” by Aaron Shepard and “The Great Barbecue War” written by Phyliss E. Garcia herself while in college.
“There’s probably a lot of changes I’d probably make now. It’s been 18 years since I wrote it.
“As the kids and I were talking about it, the terms were appropriate for then, and they’re like ‘That doesn’t make any sense now’.
“Sometimes, the language goes out of style, and you do have to change it.
“And I guess as a writer I’m not nearly as picky as some people.”
And the radio play format is in itself quite intriguing, the audience is in for a unique treat.
Radio plays in any format are quite hard to come by, much less watch live.
So the community should be expecting something new and different, but nonetheless exciting.
Paul Gonzales is the entertainment writer at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 116, or at thescene@mySouTex.com.