Mystery, danger and cliffhangers await fans of Belle Fourche Area Community Theater. The theater group is launching an original online audio series, “Jupiter & Mars,” that melds modern technology with inspiration from the golden days of radio.
When COVID-19 forced Belle Fourche’s nonprofit community theater to cancel its in-person summer performances, executive director Derek Olson said the group came up with an alternative to take entertainment directly to audiences. They developed “Jupiter & Mars,” a nine-part audio play that will begin this month and will continue into the fall, Olson said.
“Originally our idea was to do something like a radio play. We wanted to highlight local talent and save money. Instead of paying for rights (to an existing play), we wanted this to be a free activity,” Olson said.
Local writers and Belle Fourche Area Community Theater alumni in other cities and states collaborated online to create “Jupiter & Mars.”
“Jupiter & Mars” tells the story of a disgraced journalist, Maxine Jupiter, who moves back to her hometown of Belle Fourche to start over. While reporting on a slightly odd at-risk youth ranch on the outskirts of town, she meet a young man, Mars Mitchell. Mars tells Maxine he has a troubled past caused by mind control that happened to him at the ranch. Together, the two of them unravel the mysteries and dangers of Calamity Ranch, a place that’s much more than it seems.
Based on an original concept by Derek and Bob Olson, “Jupiter & Mars” is written, acted and produced by Robert Soderstrom, Isaac Otterman, Derek Olson, Allie Verry, Nathan Schreier, Sydnee Richardson and Emma Tinsely.
“It was a fun opportunity to involve some of those people again we haven’t been able to work with in a few years,” Olson said. “I think people who are involved in acting or writing or producing or directing are missing that outlet. This has given them an opportunity to be able to do a little bit of it.”
More than 30 people auditioned via Zoom for “Jupiter & Mars” roles. The actors have been reading and recording their parts from home, and the recordings are edited into complete episodes.
The first episode will premiere as a Facebook Live at 7 p.m. on facebook.com/BFCTheater/, then will be embedded on bellefourcheact.com on July 29. The next two episodes will premiere on Aurespectively. After each episode premieres, it will be added to the theater group’s website so listeners can hear the episodes anytime.
“We definitely have a pretty loyal following. People love to come see the plays, and that was the idea of these premieres. We’re gathering people together again,” Olson said. “Alumni are sharing it out to their friends. People who come to our shows are usually within 40 miles of Belle Fourche. It’s given us an opportunity to reach some people we don’t normally reach.”
After the first three episodes are released, listeners will find out when to expect the next six, he said. Meanwhile, Olson promises cliffhangers and a slowly unraveling story to keep listeners coming back for more.
“It’s a mystery about this facility,” he said. “By episode three, you’re starting to get a sense of what’s actually going on.”
Producing “Jupiter & Mars” is a dramatic departure from traditional on-stage, in-person community theater. The group has worked around the cast’s varying schedules, sometimes-noisy locations, varying internet speeds and technology problems to record each episode.
“Each episode has been recorded online so there has been no in-person contact by anyone working on this production. This is definitely a unique way to create a show, but it has been a positive experience by those working on it,” Olson said.
“It’s definitely been an interesting challenge,” he said. “It has been a learning experience for our actors. It’s such a different environment when you’re sitting at home in front of a computer with script in hand.”
Though “Jupiter and Mars” is free to the public, Olson said the community theater group’s finances are struggling without live shows, ticket sales and sponsorships. Belle Fourche Community Theatre is accepting donations during the Facebook Live premieres of each episode and holding a silent auction during the premiere of the first episode.
“Jupiter & Mars” may be the start of a new trend for Belle Fourche Area Community Theater. The group is already considering a second audio production such as a traditional radio play or a detective story, Olson said.
“It’s opened up some things we hadn’t necessarily thought about. It’s a different experience for the audience,” he said.
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