Radio drama used to be a thing of the past—something only grandparents reminisced about with their usually uninterested grandchildren.
But now, radio drama is being used to bring the two generations together.
Youth Theatre Northwest (YTN), a youth theatre and school on Mercer Island, has partnered with Silver Kite Community Arts and Aegis Living Mercer Island to create an intergenerational radio performance using original scripts from the classic western, “Gunsmoke.”
Though this is YTN’s fourth year performing a radio drama for Aegis Living residents, this is YTN’s first time performing a radio drama with Aegis Living residents.
With the help of a specialist from Silver Kite, the cast of young radio actors visited Aegis Living Mercer Island on Saturdays to work with some residents on voice acting, creating live sound effects, as well as writing original commercials.
Silver Kite Community Arts is an intergenerational theatre company that is dedicated to intergenerational arts experiences, arts programs for older adults, dementia-friendly arts programs, and helping communities develop their own intergenerational programs.
YTN teaching artist and “Gunsmoke” director Rachel Carlson has been directing the annual YTN radio show for the past three years. She said she was excited at the opportunity to partner with Silver Kite and Aegis Living to do a radio show.
Carlson chose “Gunsmoke” as this year’s radio drama for its cultural significance.
“It was one of the longest-running shows and it can connect both the students and the residents,” she said. “We like to find shows that offer variety, are culturally significant and can appeal to several generations.”
On Saturday, Feb. 1, students and Aegis Living residents met for their weekly rehearsal. It was their first time running through their lines from start to finish in preparation for their Feb. 7 opening night.
In a tense scene between characters portrayed by YTN actor Adam Farrell and Aegis Living resident Anne Whitehead, the two couldn’t help but giggle over flubbing their lines.
Carlson said she’s enjoyed seeing the students and the residents form connections through working on the show.
“It’s been really, really fun,” she said. “It’s been amazing to see the relationships and connections form between the kids and the residents.”
This is Farrell’s first radio show with YTN. Farrell, 12, said he’s enjoyed working on the show.
“It’s been an absolute blast,” he said. “It’s been fun just to be able to jump into a character from any time.”
This is Whitehead’s first theatrical performance.
“The kids are so good. They’re just remarkable,” she said. “We got really invested in the whole thing. It’s just been so fun.”
Farrell said he thought the generational difference between the YTN actors and the Aegis Living residents would cause challenges. However, it’s been quite the opposite.
“I thought the age difference was going to pull us apart but it has actually brought us together,” he said.
Silver Kite teaching artist Emily Bates said she is pleasantly surprised by how well the residents and the students have been connecting and working together.
“I couldn’t really picture how it was going to work out at first — how they were going to connect,” she said. “But it’s been great. They’ve been able to share stories and have good conversations.”
Bates said she thinks the residents and the students have struck a good learning and teaching balance.
“I think intergenerational relationships work best when a generation is removed. It’s just seniors and young teens here — there’s no middle-aged parents here,” she said. “I think it’s that gap that helps facilitate learning.”
“Gunsmoke” will be performed at the Youth Theatre Northwest Parish Hall Theatre, on the campus of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 4400 86th Ave. SE, Mercer Island. Ticket prices are $15 general admission and $13 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased in advance online at YouthTheatre.org or at the door.
The first show of “Gunsmoke” premieres at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7. The next two performances are at 2 p.m. on Feb. 8, and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 9.