A Conversation with Small Fish Radio

In the beginning of August, Victory Gardens Theater will be hosting Small Fish Radio’s presentation of Mercury Considers the Last Layer as part of the Access Project. Our Artistic Programs Manager, Monty Cole, sat down with Trina Kakacek (Playwright/Adaptor) and MJ Kelly (Producer) about their upcoming live radio event.

Monty Cole: Thanks so much for talking with me today, guys. How long have you two been collaborating?

MJ Kelly: Well, we’ve been collaborating on other projects for about six or seven years. We’ve been doing Small Fish Radio since the spring of 2012.

Trina Kakacek: The first time we ever performed live was at the Chicago Fringe Festival in 2012.

MC: And what exactly brought along Small Fish Radio?

MJ: Well we saw that there were a lot of playwrights that we knew — a lot of writers and storytellers and singers just looking for a place to be heard. We thought this would be a new medium to use to give people exposure. So we decided to give voice to small fish in a big pond. It’s a way of giving emerging artists the opportunity to get their work produced. We fundraise and we pay every one of our artists. Even writers.

MC: Wow! Not every company in Chicago can say that. And the idea of using radio theatre to reach people with disabilities is pretty wonderful. It’s practically audio described by itself.

MJ: Yeah, we felt that way as well. We like the format. We normally have a variety show format, where we have a couple of short plays, a couple of stories, poetry, music — all together with some banter between hosts and the ensemble. We have a core ensemble of four actors and Mercury Considers the Last Layer is a bit of a departure in that we’re doing a full length adaptation. So we’re giving that a try.

TK: And it’s going really well so far. It’s actually quite a bit easier to do than the variety show format.

MC: What connects Small Fish Radio to the disabilities community?

TK: I was a part of [the Access Project] for about 15 years. I think because we’ve had so many friends in the Access Project it just became really natural for me to be able to write for that community.

MJ: Michael Herzowi is the lead actor in Mercury. He’s one of the actors in our troupe and he uses a wheelchair.

TK: We all kind of had a soft spot for radio theatre and I have a soft spot for live sound effects. MJ here read for, what was it? Lighthouse For the Blind?

MJ: Chris Radio–Chicagoland radio information service, which is now housed at Lighthouse for the Blind, so I read newspapers for the sight impaired for a number of years. So, we’ve always felt that this medium was allowing for not only our artist to be heard but for people who may not be able to get to the theatre to hear it. To hear the work. We’re not doing old time radio. We’re doing new work. Some of it is written specifically for [Small Fish Radio], some of it has been written and we’ve adapted it.

TK: We like the idea that it’s portable so you can take it with you. You can put it on your phone or your computer. And it’s portable theatre.

MC: So you can get it on itunes is that correct?

MJ: Yes. Small Fish Radio is our podcast and if you look up “Small Fish Radio Theatre” you can find it there.

TK: We also have archive options where you can listen straight from the website.

MC: Lets talk about Mercury a little bit. How long have you been writing this exactly?

TK: I wrote it four years ago maybe five. And then it got work-shopped at Infusion Theatre as a part of their new play development workshop a couple of years ago. Then I let it sit for a while. And we’re dealing with a big play and I wanted to make it shorter but I wasn’t’ sure about how to do that and then we decided to try it as a radio play because it does lend itself to that. It has a lot of sound; it has a lot of stage directions that are very visually descriptive. It kind of rewrote itself over the weekend. It was amazing. I thought it was going to take me weeks, but it took me two days to adapt it to radio because it was so much like a radio play already.

MJ: The stage directions in the play–the staged play—are very descriptive—very visual.

TK: And they’re funny.

MJ: And they’re funny and some of the things are even, “How are you going to do that on stage” kind of visuals.

MC: That’s great!

MC: The last thing I want to ask is, how do you find this to be a part of the Access Project? It’s come full circle in a way.

TK: The bottom line is that, the Access Project is this play’s home. It’s where I went from being a fiction writer to being a playwright. I went in there a million years ago with my first play, which looked more like a book that happened to have half the dialogue in it. I learned to switch from writing novels to writing plays there at the Access Project.

MC: You two have any final thoughts?

TK: I’d like to thank you guys for having us. I’m really excited that this play gets to be produced for the first time in its home.

MC: Definitely. It seems right.

TK: It does seem right.

Mercury Considers the Last Layer plays in the Zacek McVay Theater at Victory Gardens on August 3 at 7:30. ASL interpreters and Open Captioning will be available. Tickets are $10