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Theater of the mind


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Audio Airforce’s presentation of “Super Heroes… and Little Orphan Annie!” Mason resident and creator of the audio theater ensemble Audio Airforce Dave Downing is presenting a new production of audio theater by performing classic radio scripts from the 1930s and ‘40s in a theatrical setting.

Upcoming auditions are open to the public. For audiences, it’s a chance to enjoy a time capsule from the past with your eyes closed as well as open.

Downing, 64, has been working in radio and audio theater for over 40 years, including 38 years teaching radio classes at Lansing Community College. During that time, he founded LCC’s popular holiday-themed audio production which celebrated its 11th anniversary in 2017.

Now retired, Downing has more time to reconnect audiences with their own imaginations.

“People are so visually stimulated with computer generated graphics in computer games, TV and movies. A lot of people have lost that kind of imagination,” Downing said. “We encourage people to watch what’s going on but we also encourage people to close their eyes, listen, and let the picture develop in their heads.”

For actors who may worry about “looking the part” Downing says in audio theater you only need to “sound” the part.

“For audio theater, it’s a lot more flexible than casting a stage play. If your character is, say, somebody in their 60s or 70s, you have to look for somebody that either looks the part or can look the part with makeup and other alterations,” Downing said. “In audio theater, you just have to have somebody that can sound like they’re in their 70s. It’s all about theater of the mind.”

Audio theatre is also about the challenges of creating live sound effects to trick the ear. “One of my favorite sound effects is the footsteps walking through snow. That crunch, crunch, crunch,” Downing said. “You get that sound effect by wrapping duct tape around a package of cornstarch and squeezing it.”

Downing says he’s still working on developing the sound effects for the upcoming super-hero themed shows, but the goal is to perform all the sounds live if possible. Sometimes performing the sounds alone requires a team of people.

Downing had to create the sound of flashbulbs for a 1940s-press conference… without flashbulbs. “We found that if we took snack-sized baggies and blew them up part way and then popped them with a pin, that was the sound of the flash-bulb going off,” Downing said. “We had 40 or 50 of these baggies blown up sitting on the sound-effects table and we had four of us with pins popping them to make the noise of a lot of cameras going off. It was a lot of work for 15 to 20 seconds worth of sound but it worked.”

“Super Heroes…and Little Orphan Annie!

Auditions 6-8:30 p.m. Monday, January 8 and Wednesday, January 10, Downtown Lansing Library, 401 South Capital Ave., Lansing

Performances Audio Air Force 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19 $10 The Robin Theatre 1105 S.

Washington Ave., REO Town, Lansing


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