Radio Play Performances



The one hour Look What A Wonder Radio Play is an adaptation of the fully staged work into the iconic America format of a radio play...much like The Lone Ranger, Dragnet, The Green Hornet, etc. from the 1930s.


The new format is in the process of being piloted in Martha's Vineyard, New York City, Miami, London, Chicago, Boston, and Washington,D.C. with a live audience. Within each venue, we are seeking to replicate the intimate evening family living room, with hot chocolate, in front of the big wooden radio.


If the pilot series is successful, we will go ahead and finalise the work, and produce it as an audio book.


Follow here for the dates as they are confirmed and for audience reaction.


Photo credit: Cantor Rebecca Garfein
Photo credit: Elaine Weintraub

Click on each venue name to reveal reviews and pictures of that performance.



Listening to the Hard Beat of History

Elaine Cawley Weintraub


The Martha’s Vineyard Film Center was the scene of an unusual activity on Sunday when a group of people from every age and ethnic group gathered to listen to a radio play. The presentation was Look What a Wonder, a gospel-driven opera written by Walter Robinson that told the story of Denmark Vesey, his family and his community. The sound of the music was glorious and the story it told, profoundly tragic. In an amazing piece of work, Robinson captured through soaring voices and gospel rhythms, the true story of Denmark Vesey, a boy enslaved at 17 who later buys his own freedom. As a free man, Denmark marries Rose, though she and their two children are the property of a local landowner. Rising above the degradation of their lives, they become active members of a black church, Shiloh, where rebellion and human dignity are discussed. When Denmark wins the lottery, he plans to buy one of his children but is cheated. His carefully planned rebellion never actually happened, but Denmark paid with his life for his part in the planning.


The performance was held as a benefit for the Vineyard chapter of the NAACP. Speaking to students in the audience, Ewell Hopkins observed that for many the concept of listening together to a radio play was unique. “With those buds in your ears you make your own listening choices and so each one of you could be hearing something different, but today we are all sharing the same experience,” he said. A large, freestanding radio on the stage with its accompanying rocking chair fed the illusion that the soaring music was part of a radio play and gave focus to the idea of listening intently without visual images. “I saw a radio like that in the Smithsonian,” someone was overheard saying.


The story was one of enslavement, treachery, abuse, murder and its final soul-chilling moment when the eight-year-old daughter of Denmark Vesey was sold on the block. The word “sold” reverberated around the theatre as discussion began of the horrors that we had heard.


The discussion was about where do we go from here and how do we deal with the legacy of our history. These are not easy questions for anyone, but Lee Faraca, a senior at the high school, was the first to speak. “We all listened and we all heard a terrible story and without any images or pictures to distract me,” he said. “I made my own pictures and I think we probably all did. The story was told in pictures in our own minds.” The assembled students murmured agreement as the microphone was handed from one young person to another.


“I knew about slavery and I knew that it had been a terrible situation for an individual but I somehow never thought about how it impacted families,” said senior Grant Santos. “This was a story about a family that was destroyed by slavery and racism. That really brought the reality of it all home to me.” Visibly moved, freshman Rose Engler said: “I feel so sad. I knew it was mean and I knew terrible things happened but in this story the family had paid a thousand dollars to get their child back and they were cheated and just given another kid, like it didn’t matter which one they got. How could anyone do that?”


Young people listened to each other attentively and then it was the turn of their elders. Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake, president of the Vineyard NAACP noted: “This was not the story of one family, or a hundred families, it was millions of families.”


For former president of the chapter and longtime educator Jakki Hunt, the focus and meaning of the whole event was on the young people. “They’re wonderful and listening to what they have to say makes me feel better about the future,” she said. “I really do believe that through education like this we will get to a better world. These young people will do better because they have learned the truth, and they’ve learned how to think. That’s how you make the world make sense.”


A variety of perspectives were offered and connections made and a consensus emerged that we need to learn these stories and ask the hard questions. We have all inherited a sad legacy and through events such as this when the issues get discussed, we can move toward understanding. Despite the sadness of the story and the emotions it stirred, it was still a remarkable musical experience.


“I loved it, the music was incredible. It made the story so real to me but just as music it was fantastic,” said Grant Santos.


The young people who had committed to spending three hours of their time on a cold, snowy day listening to the story of Denmark Vesey and sharing conversation and food with their elders, earned a round of applause. They had created a new space where topics like identity and social justice could be discussed across the barriers of age, ethnicity and experience. Everyone took something of great value from that conversation.


Elaine Cawley Weintraub is chairman of the history department at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.


Source: Vineyard Gazette

The radio play came off very well and was very much appreciated -- we raised $705 for MV NAACP, and about 25 youths joined us for the performance. Nice discussion afterwards. About 65 people attended. Thank you for sharing your creative work with our community.


~Richard
CEO and founder, Martha's Vineyard Film Center.

Just got back from LOOK WHAT A WONDER at the new island theater. The space was almost full with people of all ages and colors and Elaine Weintraub's young high school social history class. She introduced the theme and Euell Hopkins made a few introductory remarks as well. There was an old stand alone radio circa late 1930's on the low stage and the curtain was closed across the movie screen.

The radio performance was very powerful, more so in light of recent events here in Ferguson, Staten Island, Ohio, etc., ad nauseum. Your voice in narration was helpful for those unfamiliar with the story and was just perfect in clearly stating the unembellished facts and the music conveyed the emotional content. I loved the contrast in the beginning between the anemic white church hymn and the Shilo church choir' singing ( such as it might have been). Lots of audience heads were bobbing to the latter. The last word of the story, "SOLD", was a sharp reminder of all that still needs to be done after all these years.

Elaine and Joel Weintraub had travelled in the South recently and remarked to us that they saw lots of confederate flags and monuments but very few memorials to the history of slavery.

We noticed Clare Thatcher, Barney Zeitz, Lisa Coogan, and Ross and Kirsten Gannon in the audience and I had a nice chat with Euell and Elaine at the reception at the end. The event gained NAACP $700.00. Not bad for a dreary, sloppy winter's day on M.V.


~Rez

It was a big success today at the MV Film Center (which, by the way, is a new and very high-end cinema in VH). It's a cold and snowy day but a good crowd came out, i'd say the theater was at least 2/3 full, and there was good discussion afterwards. Elaine Weintraub, who's a history teacher at the high school and who's done lots of awareness raising (started the black history trail on the island) spoke after, and lots of her students who came commented on how moving the play was and how unused they were to just listening, without images "in your face", and how much they liked the, new to them, experience. Lots of comments, all very favorable.

The music was superb and we enjoyed the narrator, you, tying the story together. Thanks for it.


~L.

Martha's Vineyard High class arrives early on a Sunday noon and sit on front row.

Many of the guests at our monthly program, Lunch Together, have fond personal memories of radio plays. And the subjects of slavery, oppression, and physical threat, are incredibly evocative for a Jewish audience. Because of this resonance, Look What a Wonder succeeded on several levels for our Jewish community: the story was gripping, the gospel music stirred the soul, and the dignity, determination and resilience of the characters – Denmark, Rose, the entire Shiloh community – were inspiring. A little-known story that encompasses so much of the American slavery narrative, Look What a Wonder also feels, strangely and sadly, very relevant today. It allowed for conversation about our own community as well as what is required of us to help change the current course of what will be history.


~Rabbi Leora Kaye
Congregation Rodeph Sholom, New York City

I did love the music; it felt like the musical accompaniment to Alvin Ailey's Revelations, which is as rich musically as it is visually."


~Stephanie Lasher
Program co-ordinator for Lunch Together, Congregation Rodeph Sholom, NYC


"Ending is very sad, but realistic"
"Perhaps a bit more dialogue between characters, the music was great!"
"It is an emotional piece!"
"Music was good…soulful, effective."
"Sad daddy song was a nice one-people really liked that."
"Music was amazing!"
"Vocal/great/soulful"
"Slave trade sound effects where nice"
"Plot twist with stabbing - the audience enjoyed this! Thank you again for sharing this with us."


~ Student comments from middle school grade.


"I found the performance to be very moving, and the story heart wrenching, and the gospel lyrics were powerful."

Royce McGrath
Audio Visual Librarian
Newton Free Library



These are the results of the audience members who choose to fill out the post performance evaluation form.


Denmark Vesey Folk Opera “Listening”

By McKenya Dilworth

"It was a much-needed break from technopoly, " said one theatregoer last Wednesday evening at The Black History Museum in Alexandria. Technopoly is a term often used today to describe how technology monopolizes our daily lives.Audrey Davis, Director of The Black History Museum, introduced the program for the evening enthusiastically and later marveled over how engaged the audience members were in the audio play.


A curious audience gathered to hear the audio play entitled Look What A Wonder, a fictionalized Gospel folk opera based on the Denmark Vesey Slave Conspiracy of 1822, written and composed by Walter Robinson and directed by McKenya Di,worth. Denmark Vesey was a skilled carpenter in the early 1800s who bought his freedom with his lottery winnings but was unable to buy the freedom of his wife and children. Vesey built the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the massacre recently occurred, for free and enslaved Africans to worship freely and without fear.


A "Listening" was the much-anticipated event of Wednesday evening; where all gathered around an authentic 1917 radio, courtesy of avid collector, McArthur Myer, and listened to the folk opera of Denmark Vesey's life. There were peaks and valleys, as with any traditional theatrical presentation, but what made this experience particularly unique was the opportunity for the audience to imagine their own character's faces and other nuances, like the wonderfully composed music played on in their ears and minds.


Watching how engaged the audience gave me hope that perhaps “Listening(s)” can occur in other spaces. After all, radio used to be the American past time before television. There was something nice about seeing a group of people actively listening without all of the technological bells and whistles.


We owe this unique opportunity to listen together to Ms. Patricia Washington, President & CEO of Visit Alexandria and sister of the playwright/composer of the folk opera. Washington facilitated the "TalkBack" discussion with the audience and was prepared with surveys after the “Listening” to gather feedback about the overall experience.

Source: Alexandria News



Up-Coming Listening Performances