The Santa Barbara High School scene has been dark for months, but that hasn’t stopped new theatrical arts teacher Justin Baldridge from creating opportunities for his students to perform.
The Theater Arts Department has produced three separate student-led radio plays – a murder mystery in an English mansion and two dark, chilling tales – now available for download until November 30.
Baldridge replaced Otto Layman, who retired last year after 24 years at the helm of the high school drama program. He knew the transition would be difficult, but never imagined the complexities of COVID-19.
“It’s so weird being in a new district, running a new program and having no physical interaction with the students,” admitted Baldridge, who moved from New York.
Still, the transition is actually easier in some ways, he said, because so much is unprecedented during this pandemic, giving Baldridge a clean slate and the ability to make changes more slowly.
“I knew I had to create a performance opportunity for the students,” Baldridge said. “I wanted to keep the students engaged and let the community know that the arts are still thriving at Santa Barbara High.”
His idea to create radio plays came from his previous teaching experience at Redondo Union High School, but these plays were in person and the performances at Santa Barbara High are intentionally audio only.
“I wanted to give the Santa Barbara community a chance to turn off their zoom screens, rest their eyes, and let their imaginations run wild,” Baldridge explained.
The plays are around 22 minutes each and were released to coincide with Halloween, offering spooky and suspenseful themes.
He selected three shorter pieces to allow for greater student participation. In fact, the production represents a collaboration between two of its classes – advanced theater and performing arts – allowing students to create haunting sounds.
The students had complete creative control over the production.
Santa Barbara High School theater students have produced three radio plays that will be available through November 30. (Pictures provided)
“The radio plays challenged me to rely solely on my voice to convey suspense and emotion,” said Bridget DeVine, who plays Detective Rufflethorpe’s able assistant Everett Trimley, in the murder mystery. à la Agatha Christie.
“I’m used to using my whole body on stage, so it was definitely new, and I appreciate the power of sound better.”
“Detective Rufflethorpe” is set in a 1930s-style English mansion, where a dead body has been discovered and an outlandish suspect list, ghostly seance and monument of deductive logic take place when the dastardly culprit is finally unmasked.
The “Pirate’s Curse” is a horror story set in 1720, where swashbuckling pirates, mired in the Sargasso Sea, find the Fountain of Youth…and its horrific curse.
This classic-style radio drama features a thrilling sea battle, a mysterious sea of lost ships, a ghostly survivor of Columbus’ first voyage, a raging storm and a terrifying end.
“Buried Treasure Hunters” is set in Turkey in 1205 AD and features a corrupt army of knights who conquer a city, but find something truly terrifying in the caverns below.
The radio plays have been so well received that Baldridge says he will continue the program each year, considering a “Christmas Carol” theme next winter.
Plans are currently underway for a virtual cabaret in January, and Baldridge hopes to be back on stage in person this spring, either fully live or with a limited audience and live stream combination.
The radio plays were written by Tony Palermo and take place virtually.
Tickets are $20 at purplepass.com/sbhstheatre. A link to the show will be available when purchasing the ticket.
To learn more or directly support the Santa Barbara High Theater Arts Department, visit http://www.sbhstheatre.com.
Ann Pieramici is a local freelance writer.