Shortwave Kitsch founders (from left) Kristen N. Granet, Brandon L. Joyner, Brooke Rash and Maddie Casto hope to bring vintage vibes to Charleston's theater scene | Photo by Rūta Smith

New theater companies are nothing unusual in Charleston. But when a company looks to introduce something that Charleston audiences haven’t seen before, that demands attention. Shortwave Kitsch is one such company, bringing a unique production to various Holy City stages. When Shortwave Kitsch officially debuts The Adventure Begins on August 27 at Flowertown Players, it will be the first live radio drama in Charleston.

“Probably about six, eight years ago, I was looking for something to do,” said Brandon L. Joyner, actor, writer and one of the four founders of Shortwave Kitsch. “Just something different. I was listening to Thrilling Adventure Hour and Garrison Keelor on Prairie Home Companion. I was like, there’s a space in between this.”

Radio drama originated in the early 1920s. Full audio productions, using actors and sound effects, would bring full-length stage plays and original stories to the living rooms of the masses through their radios. Radio drama has found a new life in the podcasting age. Shortwave Kitsch takes it a step further by using that audio performance tradition while mixing in live elements. Audiences in the theater will see two “radio plays,” performed by actors with live music, sound effects and songs. Live performances will be recorded and released as a podcast in 2023.

Actors, much like their forerunners a hundred years ago, will be on book. The live shows and the podcast episodes they become will offer very different experiences for audiences. The physical audience gets a live theater show that is almost a behind-the-scenes experience, complete with the knowledge that they will be a part of a podcast.

The radio plays, written by Joyner, try to thread the needle between the bite of Thrilling Adventure Hour’s irreverent comedy and the folksiness of Keelor. Joyner has written six ongoing series across different genres. Each Shortwave Kitsch show will feature two series, one episode each. The first show features adventure story Call the Lady Physician and sci-fi/spy story Extra Intelligence. Hardboiled detective stories, westerns, murder mysteries, old-Hollywood horror and more are in the works for future Kitsch installments.

“We’re trying to represent all the genres of yesterday,” Joyner said.

Kitsch co-founder Maddie Casto added, “The coolest thing is that each one of us has brought our own strength to the project, which I really love.” Casto is an actor, Kitsch’s social media manager and a singer with her own vintage act, Vintage Vibes. Other founders are: Brooke Rash, the company’s foley artist, and Kristen N. Granet, who manages the business. 

The team came together by reading scripts during the pandemic, and discovered they had this drive to create these stories. A chance meeting through a funeral led to Pedro Toro joining the production as composer and musical director. Toro and Joyner wrote original songs for each Kitsch show, and Toro scored the episodes.

Shortwave Kitsch is opening at Flowertown Players, but it won’t live there permanently. The company plans to move around and perform on as many Charleston stages as they can. The hope is to bring these shows to every corner of Charleston. 

Joyner and Casto are joined by a cast of great local talents. Tiffany Parker Copeland, Michael Catangay, Luciana Marcial-Vincion, Chad Estel, Miguel Rabsatt, Michelle Junga-Murphy and David Joyner fill out the casts for Call the Lady Physician and Extra Intelligence. Many of these performers will play recurring characters in future episodes. With monthly shows featuring two of the six ongoing series, audiences can look forward to hearing from these characters again and again.

The monthly shuffling of episodes also serves another purpose for Kitsch’s long term goals: making it easier for actors to commit to productions. Leads will stay the same in each series, but then one-off monsters can be played by any actor at any time.

“Just like they did in the 1940s, we’re not gonna really have huge rehearsal periods,” Casto said. “We rehearse the night before the show. Although actors know far in advance what show they’re playing in and who they’re playing, all that stuff, but we’ll get together the night before and read through it a couple times. Get out all the kinks, and then the next day is the show.”

Shortwave Kitsch hopes to not only reignite interest in an old style of theater, but also to bring the Charleston theater community together in a new way. They hope the lighter rehearsal commitments and different performance spaces will mean they get to work with talent from all over Charleston.

“It’ll be kind of like this beautiful cross-pollination of all the theaters in Charleston,” Rash said.

It’s an ambitious project, but one that the team is incredibly excited about. It’s the culmination of nine months of work, and Shortwave Kitsch hopes you’ll come get involved.

“We want to celebrate this with you, and it just can’t be done without an audience,” Joyner said.

Casto added, “It’s part of the magic of it. The reason we’re making this happen is for our audience.”

Shortwave Kitsch’s The Adventure Begins opens on August 27 at the Flowertown Players with shows at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, head to shortwavekitsch.com


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