Radio to the past

The 1940s represented the prime of radio broadcast — a time when “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was continuously playing over the air.

Youngstown State University’s Department of Theater and Dance is traveling back in time to pay homage to when radio brought optimism to the nation.

The production, “1940s Radio Hour,” depicts a mythical radio station broadcasted from the Hotel Astor’s Algonquin Room in New York City during World War II. The scene is set on Dec. 21, 1942, showcasing the life of a struggling producer and his distracted staff.

Frank Castronovo, theater department professor and chairman, said he chose this play because it has been on his mind for 15 to 20 years. He said that the radio was an outlet for people looking for positivity.

“Radio provided some ray of hope and optimism for the future,” Castronovo said. “It was the entertainment medium of the time and also the mass communication medium of the time.”

Plays performed by the department are comprised mostly of theater majors. Hovever, students from other majors also take part.

“For the most part, this is our laboratory,” Castronovo said. “University theater season, that’s when we put to use the things they learn in the classroom.”

Students receive class credit for their time in the productions, but Castronovo said he thinks the most important part is the performance and production experience.

The department works tirelessly to develop the seven productions that it hosts every year, Castronovo said.

The students practice every night for three hours. For musicals, hours are the same but rehearsals last a couple of weeks longer.

“It’s very time intensive,” Castronovo said. “It requires a good commitment from everyone.”

He said that the students work exceptionally well together and that the audience will be able to notice the compatibility on stage.

“I think it’s obvious that they’re having a good time,” he said. “This period is a time when their parents probably weren’t even born yet, but they got a feeling for the time, for the period and the music.”

The students, he said, are the central focus for what makes a play successful. The directors are there merely for direction.

“No director likes to become a puppeteer,” Castronovo said. “You depend upon the imagination and skill and the talent of the actors on the stage, and then you simply coordinate them and make sure they all work together because theater is ultimately a collaborative effort.”

Throughout his four decades in the theater department, and in light of his upcoming retirement, Castronovo recalls putting a bit of himself into each production he has directed.

“I look back and they’re all fun to do,” he said. “They’re all, to some degree, a labor of love.”

Castronovo said the play is lighthearted, and he hopes people will smile and have a good time as they watch student-actors portraying a rundown radio station.

The production will show Thursday through Sunday and Nov. 18 through Nov. 20 in Bliss Hall’s Ford Theater.