Soon, the core group of seven to eight was crowding before microphones in the historical Brown Library, playing sound effects off a cassette tape. Despite the bare setting and amateur performers, the show was a hit. They added additional performances when their initial offerings sold out, and soon, those sold out, as well.
“Pretty soon, we couldn’t fit the people who wanted to come, we only could fit 30 people,” Bagley said. “I knew the turning point had come when my mother came to see the show, and I had to turn her away. ‘Sorry, Ma, we’re sold out!’”
By 2005, the group had moved into one of the main library’s concert rooms and were admitting crowds of up to 100 with every show, up to four times each year. Bagley gathered friends of the show to build a stage with lumber donated from Amesbury’s CP Building Supply Inc. and bought a basic lighting system with money from the library’s Board of Trustees.
Since then, they’ve taken the show on the road, performing for civic groups and assisted-living facilities full of nostalgic crowds. Any revenue was put back into the business for better lighting, sound and other technical elements.
Although the Radio Players use the classic set of standing microphones at the front of the stage, it’s a delicate balance between the spectacle of live theater and faithfulness to the historical format, according to Bagley.
“We try to play to the microphones as much as we can,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll use a little more of the stage, and we’ll disregard standing right up at the mike for the sake of entertainment value, but we try to keep it geared toward the microphones because that’s what radio was.”
That balance is sometimes strained by the liberties taken in old-time shows. While a radio actor can conjure up an elephant or alien city, it’s harder to convince a live audience.