The EventBuzz Podcast: Theatre Program Broadcasts Radio Plays During Pandemic

Justin-Baldridge-Purplepass-podcastPodcast speakers: Savannah McIntosh, the Purplepass Marketing Director and head of the Santa Barbara High School Theater program, Justin Baldridge. Jump to links and video notes below. 

The EventBuzz podcast: Santa Barbara High School Theatre

presented by Purplepass



Podcast Transcript: 
Purplepass + Santa Barbara High School Theatre

Radio Plays poster for Santa Barbara High School Theatre

Savannah (Purplepass):  

Hello and thanks for joining us on another episode. If this is your first time listening to our podcast, EventBuzz is a series where we’re talking with different industry experts and professionals in the event space. Discussing the latest industry trends, tips, advice and with the current pandemic, our guests are breaking down strategies and how they are overcoming the challenges of COVID in order to continue putting on events... whether that be in person or online. 

On today’s episode we have the privilege to talk with the head of the Santa Barbara High School Theater program, discussing the different productions the department has been putting on during COVID. 

In particular, their student directed radio plays which are being broadcasted live for patrons to tune into from their homes.

Theater programs everywhere are facing the challenge of continuing their shows and keeping engagement high while we continue to battle this pandemic. But this school is coming together and finding ways to collaborate and produce events, even at a distance. 

Thanks for joining us today Justin! 


Justin (SBHS Theatre):

I'm doing pretty well. Thank you. How are you?



I'm doing great. Not bad. Let's start with just a little introduction about telling me more about the Santa Barbara High School Theater Foundation, and the types of events they put on, as well as just a little bit about you and the role that you play, how you're involved with everything.



Great. So the Theater Foundation is in a period of transition right now. Because the original purpose of the foundation, I believe it was established in the early 2000s, around 2003 or five. And the main purpose it was created was to help renovate prepare, restore the theater, because it is an older building. And it needs a lot of tender loving care.

But Foundation was originally started with that intention. So they raised money and they were the ones that replaced all the seats in the orchestra level, I think I was told about 10 years ago. So that is, so that was their traditional purpose. But over the years, of course, through parent involvement with the production when Otto Layman was the director and the Artistic Director at the school, parents started using the foundation also as a Booster Club, if you will, for the productions to help support the program.

So whenever the foundation helps out, there are two things that they're in charge of one, they figure out fundraising, to help restore the building or buy that equipment that we need at the last minute for production, etc. But there's also another sector of it that a certain amount of the money we do for projects goes towards productions at the school.

Parents really have to like, have their hands in two different places, because the money is going to different various locations, depending on what the foundation is focusing on supporting in that moment.

Um, I have been voted on to the board as a non voting member, as the Artistic Director of that company at Santa Barbara, because I like to look at my program as a theatre company. Um, and so I attend all the meetings with the foundation, and coordinating everything we are right now in the process of reorganizing and reformatting. So that we are very clear on expectations and the role that each individual plays within the board.

The foundation does fundraisers around town, which this year is becoming a little more challenging with COVID.



Yeah. I bet.



So that's been a big topic of conversation about how can we fundraise, which is where things like the radio plays come into play.



Yes, and I'm excited to talk about that, because I want to learn more. Um, before we dive right into it, can you tell the listeners more about these radio plays and what they are?



Yeah, so there are three radio plays. They're all written in scored by Tony Palermo, which he writes. He focuses on creating plays for the middle school and high school level, which I love. And he focuses on writing, plays and the style of 1940 radio shows, which is awesome. And so there are three of them. T

he first one is called Detective Rufflethorpe and it's a good old fashioned English Manor Murder Mystery that we all love. And then the other two are paired up and what he likes to call the Grim Scary Tales.

One of them is called the Pirate's Curse about the fountain of youth of the city of Atlantis. And the other one is called the Buried Treasure Hunters that focuses on one of the battles during the Crusades. So it's a little more on the supernatural side. And each runs about 20 to 24 minutes each. So it's a really fun night of entertainment.



And I'm not familiar with radio places that is it when you're broadcasting it, are they going to be able to see a picture or is it just like listening to radio, I don't know if that's a dumb question.



No, that's actually not a dumb question because many, many people are like, do I have to watch something? And I went back and forth in my head. Because I've done radio plays live before inside of a theater and you get to watch everything. But as we were going into this virtual world of virtual performances, I thought, what a better way than to take us back to what it used to be like before the invention of television.

And right now, all we are doing all day long. I know I'm one of those people. I stare at the computer 90% of the day.



So does everyone now!



Oh, my God, at the end of the day, I don't want to look at my computer, I just want to go for a walk outside. To let my brain and my eyes relax.

So I thought, let's not see the actors, because we could have easily done that route. But I went, "No", let's make it where people have to use their imaginations. And all they have to do is focus on listening, which presented a lot of fun challenges for the students, because now they had to rely only on their voice.

And I think we're in this age of television, where we're so used to body language and camera angles, helping us tell a story on stage, we're used to lighting to help us tell a story and our body language. But when you take all that away, all you have left is your voice. So it's really pushed the students to figure out how can I put this into my voice and the tone and the texture. And that was fun for the student directors who guided each cast in rehearsal.



I really like that, because I'm definitely the type of person I mean, I stare at a computer eight hours a day as a most people now because we're working remote. So when I'm done, I like to go outside, maybe throw on like a podcast. I love Spotify and listen to that as I walk or do something. So that is such a great idea on your part. I didn't even think about that. But it makes total sense. Because who wants to go from you know, screen to screen watching TV? We want to go outside. I really like that.

And my other question, so now they're accessible through the entire month of November, correct? The radio plays?



Correct, yeah.



Okay. And it's all accessible live streaming...what is the process for accessing these streams?



Great. So it's actually very, very simple. So you'll go on to Purplepass, and you'll go to the radio plays, and you'll click on it and you'll purchase the ticket. The ticket is $20 per link. So I looked at it as a family of four can just pay $20 and sit back and have a night of entertainment.

And what happens is you get an email and there's a link in the email that Purplepass sends you. You click on the link, and it opens up a URL that you copy and paste into your browser. And that's it.


Simple. Does it expire, or how does that work?



I believe it does expire. This is the first time we're doing this...I am not a tech guy whatsoever. I'm much more hands on. That's why I love doing theater. So we are figuring this process out and we'll get the kinks figured out. When we do our virtual cabaret in January, we'll have everything smoothed out by then. 



So this is technically your first time live streaming, like first live streamed events?



Yeah. Oh, ever, ever in my life. Not just working at Santa Barbara. Oh, yeah.



Well, you are not alone. Trust me. I've talked to so many people, and everyone is in the same boat. So you're not alone. Everyone's trying to figure it out. Um, and again, since I'm talking to all these people, and everyone uses so many different software I always like to ask what software you're using for broadcasting these radio plays, because there's so many out there, just to give everyone an idea. Yeah, there's just so many out there. And every time I ask them about something new, so I'm curious what you guys are using.



Yeah, so we are going very, very simple and basic, at least for our first time around. I've posted it on to my YouTube channel and it's not viewable by anyone. Unless you have like the embedded link, etc.

And so with Purplepass They actually have a widget for it. So once you purchase it Purplepass takes care of the rest.



Gotcha. So simple. A simple, simple process, and you're using YouTube.



Yeah. And, and the Santa Barbara, high school theater has been using Purplepass for a while now. So we already have an account on there. So this was just one extra great thing that we could add on to - Oh, great! Now we can have this option. Which opens up so many opportunities down the road for people out of town that can't make it for musical, we could always upload our musical now, and still have people pay to see our production for a limited time.



Yeah, so like a hybrid event or something.



That's exactly it. Because every rights company out there now, pretty much has streaming rights for a lot of the popular shows now. So you have to pay a little more. But hey, if I have the option of doing a musical in the auditorium, but then I can post free performances online for people out of town, who can't afford to fly across the country, why not?

We all hate this virtual world. I know I do. But at least let's find the positive out of it, though, we're forced to do things that we normally wouldn't have done. And we're discovering ways that we can still implement them once we get through this.



Yeah. And that's such a common trend. I've, I've heard from listening to everyone, all these different promoters trying out streaming for the first time, a lot of people don't like it. And I don't I don't blame them. Because a lot of these people, like you guys are going from in person events interacting, hands-on to virtual, and it's not the best, but they are finding the positives, like you said, people out of town can now see the shows, and you're accessing a broader range of audience you're getting more people can be a part of the showing.

So I think that's cool because once, eventually, fingers crossed, when we can go back to in person events. I think a lot of our promoters are are going to keep, like you said doing hybrid, so more people can access it.

So I I think there is some positives that have come out of this horrible virus, like we found new ways to reach people. So I mean, you're right, we have to put that positive spin on it for now, just to get us through it. But yeah, I think hybrid events are definitely going to be, there's going to be a lot more from here on out.

And how is your overall experience transitioning from in person to live streaming events been so far? Like, I know, you've said you missing the hands on but what has been probably the biggest challenge for you.



The biggest challenge I have is, it's so funny, it's so simple.

But I despise talking through a screen. Even you I'm even talking like pre-COVID. I use whenever I would, for instance, like meeting someone for the first time for a project. I hate a phone conversation, because I'm all about looking at body language, and feeling like the physical chemistry between two people.

And I feel you know, as an artist, and as a director, when I'm interviewing, let's say, costume designers for a show. I have to make sure we can get along as human beings before I can even hire you to do a show. If we don't get along as human beings, we're never going to work as artists. And for me a lot of it's like, let's grab a coffee and let's just talk. You know, and that's where I'm struggling with the most is that's the hardest transition even as a teacher, I am so used to being able to pull kids to the side privately one on one for a quick second in class, do a little whisper conversation and then jump right back in.

So I missed that intimate quality I can do in person.



Yeah. Yeah, I, I feel that too. Like doing these podcasts. You can't see me. So it's very hard. So I always try to do like, "Mm hmm"or like so you know that I'm listening. It's hard. It's hard to do a relationship on a screen verse in person. So I do struggle with that too. And I'm sure everyone out there is that that has gone from especially a theater program and teaching that's such a hands on thing. So kudos, kudos for you. Like you've gotten this far. You're still doing it like good job, because that's very hard.



Oh, it's, it's very hard and I'm not alone. I say this because I've talked with all my other theater teacher friends. Many tears have been had in private many times. Many tears of frustration and the overwhelming sensation that this has put not only on me, but on the students, because they're wanting that physical interaction as well. Like they want that in person experience, because it's so vital for us as people.



Yeah. And I, our teachers are just, they've been amazing during this whole time, like, really stepped up every teacher that's not used to doing all these working online and working with children through screens, I feel like you guys have been awesome to like, get the students through this time.

So again, good job, like really take pride in your work, you're doing awesome.

Um, on that note, eventually, when you guys are able to host in person events, again, theater productions, how do you foresee your shows going moving forward? I know we talked about doing maybe hybrid events, but but are there any, like new protocols or procedures that you've thought about putting in place to ensure the safety of guests when they transition back to these in person events?



Yeah, one of the things I've talked about this actually, a couple weeks ago with my foundation president Josie Devine that right now currently, I've been told by my administration, we are doing a show in the spring.

Great. So we are doing a show on stage, which is exciting. Um, whether there will be people in the audience or not that's a bigger question. But our guests is that like, like a lot of places here in California, and our area 25% capacity.

So we have 800 seats total. So we figure somewhere about 150 to 200 seats we could potentially sell, and in order to do this, we are going to figure out through Purplepass a way that we can block off a good chunk of seats, and leave or rows open, if you will, because we want like a family of four columns, they should be able to sit together, because they're all from the same home, just like they're doing in the movie theaters.

Like that's one of our things we're looking at where they sort of space you out by who didn't come to the theater with. So it's gonna be paramount, because once again, we've never done this before, are people going to be smart enough to be like, "okay, people are sitting there, we need to pick seats away from them". And then once we're in the theater, we may have to move people around, and adjust as we go. Um, that's going to be the big thing and we'll probably most likely have hand sanitizer when you walk in the theater in the lobby will most likely not allow people, normally people in our theater waiting in an inside interior hallway, the main hallway of the school will most likely have people wait outside in front of the school.

That's where everything will most likely take place so that we're not in an enclosed space.

And we'll keep the theater open on the sides. And in the back as long as we can until Showtime. We might even have to figure out a way to do shows leaving some of the side doors open to get fresh ventilation through the theater.

Once again, this is all going to be experimental as we approach it.

So not only for the audience members, but then we have to go than the union side of my head as an actor goes "Wait a minute, we're on stage". We also have to socially distance on stage and backstage.



Yeah, I was just about to ask that.



Because I always had people go, why don't we do a show of 20? And I go, "Well, that's nice, but what's going to happen backstage in the green room?" And all, all them go "Oh, yeah". That's right. That's right, kids. So it's one of those things are now I'm experimenting with, Okay, can I do a show with 10 to 15 people? And is there a way that I can keep them on stage the entire time where they never leave the stage? And then we ensure that we're always socially distanced.



Yeah, I just got done talking to a different promoter working with theatre, and they're only allowed to have max 12 students on stage at a time. So they've been it's been a challenge for them to they're doing it in like little breaks and stuff. 



Well, that's where you know, it's, especially in the spring when we do a show. I'm looking to do a show that's maybe not so through line, but more of a vignette type show. Because then it's easier to rehearse an easier face out if you're only working with two to four kids at a time, and then you sort of puzzle it all together and you move on.



Yeah. You'll figure it out. I mean, like you said, it's, everyone's trying to figure it out and get creative. At the same time. I think your audience, your parents are aware of this. So everyone's going to be very accepting and understanding if it's not a perfect show.



Well, and then everyone, including myself, we are starving for live action. You know, there's, like we talked about earlier, there's only so much staring at the screen you can do before you want to pull your hair out, you know?



Yeah. I agree. And to close out, is there any just advice you would give other programs, other theater programs, promoters out there, also trying to keep their department alive provide engagement for their students, like you said, just keep it going during this pandemic?



Yeah, I think I would say be patient.

When choosing shows, simple, is better.

Utilize students beyond the capacity of acting.

So like, for instance, my radio plays are all student directed. I had three students take charge, and then I mentored them and I actually got to act as the producer. And I got to guide everyone. And that took a lot of pressure off me. But it also empowered the kids to own it a little more.

And I think with online theater, it's the same with in person, but with online because we're so distant, the more we can empower them to connect as a group and to lead themselves, I think we'll have successful productions.

And I would say, ask for help. There's nothing wrong with asking for help going, I don't know what I'm doing. And someone online, will come to the rescue. Just use use your Facebook and Instagram, I did it on Facebook, when I was having trouble uploading my mp4 to YouTube, and one of my friends from 15 years ago, who I never talked to that much, he wrote me, and he helped me out. So always ask for help because like you've mentioned, we are all new to this and theater people are not used to all the technology. So it's okay to ask and take advice from people.



Yes, there's always someone to answer your question on the internet. There is a millions of Facebook groups, go join one. There's a group for everything I swear.



Oh, yes, for sure.



Yeah. Great advice. Great advice. Everyone. Just everyone listening. Just know you're not alone. And everyone's in the same boat as you ask for help. We are here. Thanks so much for talking to me today, Justin.



Thank you, Savannah.


Video notes and links

Santa Barbara High School Theatre:

SBHS Theatre program

Tickets to Radio Plays

Facebook Group -  @sbhsdontheatre 

Instagram - @sbhstheater



Live streaming (resources):

The Purplepass live stream ticket and widget feature - learn more

YouTube Live

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