Listen live at: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/otherwhere)
Otherwhere, the spell-binding valedictory episode of Plan-B Theatre’s popular Radio Hour series, which just aired on KUER-FM’s RadioWest program, is unquestionably a bold, even controversial, venture. Crafted with the utmost attention to persuade listeners – almost up until the climactic moments of the story – that RadioWest host Doug Fabrizio’s interview with Dr. Arlen Childs was real, the episode in some respects pay homage to the famous 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ production of The War of The Worlds, which was based on the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells.
Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, who has now written six of the 10 Radio Hour episodes, returns to a classic Halloween theme that often has been mucked up in the commercialism and popular culture surrounding one of the most social holidays on the calendar. With meta-terrestrial consciousness, electronic voice phenomenon and other paranormal concepts, Bennett meticulously crafts the show as an impressive facsimile of a bona fide RadioWest interview. And, it plays upon a listener’s likely fascination with the fantastic ideal of the veil between two worlds that is associated with Halloween, Samhain or the Christian calendar’s commemoration of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day. The themes are expanded to many other considerations about cultism, the frustrating search for spiritual certainty and the risks of gullibility and vulnerability that come with a prophet of tremendous popular appeal.
This episode, which concludes the first decade of the Radio Hour series, returns to the original format of the show. That is, no live stage performance simulcast on radio. And, for a performing arts company that has perfected the art of minimalism for socially conscious theater, this is an incredible undertaking in many respects.
And, there is the careful planning steered by Cheryl Ann Cluff, director of Otherwhere who also has directed all of Plan-B’s most memorable Radio Hour episodes (that is, all 10 of them). Unlike The War of The Worlds broadcast, Otherwhere did not include a disclaimer at the beginning. And, the premise of Dr. Childs’ appearance on RadioWest is set as a last-minute fill-in for a scholar who studies gender who had to cancel suddenly. This is the only disclaimer Fabrizio mentions: “Now, we don’t normally do this, but we begin this show with a disclaimer: we’re flying by the seat of our pants here.” Bennett, who listened extensively to many episodes in order to capture the interview style and tones Fabrizio would have particularly with a controversial guest where contentious debate enters the picture.
Oddly enough, one of the most relevant episodes Bennett found useful for priming the creative process for this script was an interview Fabrizio did with former Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman, who was being pressured to resign amid a political scandal that sent her approval ratings quickly to the basement. In fact, Workman walked out of the interview 15 minutes into the broadcast.
And, there is the familiarity with the iconic Coast to Coast AM radio show, which has dedicated many resources to covering the claims of paranormal authors, investigators and those individuals who recount with stunningly believable detail, at least on the surface, encounters they have had with ‘otherwhere.’ And, the Destination America TV show is scheduling a live exorcism webcast this evening. In a blog post, Bennett explains the appeal of these shows:
The entertainment value of Coast-to-Coast is that, even if you don’t believe a word some guest is saying, it’s obvious that he believes it. And that’s very scary to contemplate sometimes. For instance, one of my all-time favorite shows was when Art Bell opened a line specifically for the Anti-Christ. He got several of them—and some of them sounded…well, convincing. They may have merely been good actors, or people with personality disorders, but they seemed to believe themselves.
As for Dr. Childs, Jay Perry, the actor who has appeared in every Radio Hour broadcast, took heed of Cluff’s direction to “dial back the theatricality.” The script was scrubbed of any dark humor or indications of it, an element that has been a part of many Radio Hour scripts. David Evanoff (Albin Lorde) composed the music that Childs calls for throughout the episode and Cluff provided other sound effects – such as static and exploding computer monitors – which perhaps are the only bits that really breach the strict boundaries the cast and crew followed in preparation for this broadcast.
It is a credible script which tests the intensity of a listener’s careful ear. Those who listen from the beginning probably are less likely to buy into its ‘credulity’ than those who tune in midway or at some other point of the episode, such as Fabrizio who sounds at times as if he is experiencing a terrible headache or is having difficulty focusing on the discussion. Or, at those moments, when he is challenging Childs forcefully on the veracity of his claims, especially during the playing of the excerpts demonstrating electronic voice phenomenon. The episode starts out with the usual taut format that listeners have enjoyed with Fabrizio’s program but it is at least a bit startling when it appears that the professional, normally unflappable host is gradually losing control to a man who is more than disturbingly eccentric.
Bennett has done his homework. The scripted call-ins are believable, and may sway listeners who happen to tune in during those moments. Prior to the broadcast, the cast and crew decided to take an actual caller live during the broadcast – a risk few would dare in a live theatrical studio production – but it proved successful in the eeriest way possible. There were calls that came in that echoed the scripted calls, proving truth is stranger than fiction.
The name of Arlen Childs, who happened to be a physician who spent seven years in emergency medical services, also was selected to avoid any confusion in a rush of curious Google searches. Bennett also drops in a few clues that an astute listener would likely question on the spot the veracity of the program, such as Crone’s Hollow, a magical emporium located in Salt Lake City and references to death threats where Childs name drops Anita Sarkeesian, the Canadian feminist media critic who canceled her Utah State University appearance after a death threat and the campus’s refusal to search and screen audience members for concealed weapons.
The principals involved in this memorable production have worked each year to craft a radio genre that has become one of the most popular elements of Plan-B’s history. In separate interviews, Perry, Cluff and Bennett mentioned their favorite episode was Bennett’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 Frankenstein, which stayed true to the original ending which occurs in the chilling waters of the Arctic.
And, in Bennett’s own words about this particular episode, which may leave some listeners temporarily irked or even angered about being duped (if, indeed, they were), there is a kernel or truth:
As a writer, when I really try to understand something, my go-to tactic is: Be Gullible. You can’t pry your way into every attitude with the intellect. Sometimes you just have to assume your subject’s point of view is accurate and look around and live a little with his ideas. When you listen to Radio Hour this year, do that. Be gullible. Listen as if it’s all real. Let yourself believe—and you just might learn something about belief.
As for Plan-B and RadioWest, a mission accomplished that should be the talk of this Halloween weekend in Salt Lake City.
Childs is gagging and appears to be dying. Now for the signoff from Fabrizio:
Radio Hour 10: Otherwhere was written for radio by Plan-B Theatre’s Matthew Ivan Bennett and directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff. It featured me, Jay Perry, Carl Nelson, Jason Tatom, and Teresa Sanderson. Original music composed by David Evanoff. The sound was mixed for air by KUER’S Michael Havey. The show was produced by Jerry Rapier. We have technical help from our engineer Lewis Downey; our Technical Director was Tim Slover. RadioWest is produced by Benjamin Bombard and Elaine Clark. I’m the Concordant.
Now for some background on this most unusual episode of the classic Radio Hour series, a co-production with Plan-B Theatre and RadioWest.
Childs is in distress, coughing, but Fabrizio is ready to close out the show. Surprisingly enough, Fabrizio, who has recovered his composure, is asking Childs for his final thoughts. Did Childs win over Fabrizio? The last question to Childs: “Why don’t you try to pull in a bigger audience?”
Fabrizio is over this. He’s complaining about a headache, some insect flitting above in his hair. There’s the sound of shattering glass. Truly bizarre behavior. The show is not yet over but Fabrizio stands at his chair. The music crescendos again and Fabrizio falls back into his chair. The Envoy apparently is not ready to leave.
This 15-second clip was the strangest yet. A grunting sort of laugh is coming through, which startles everybody in the studio.
Now, we get more idiosyncratic explanations from Childs, explaining how the soul has three parts. There are ghosts but being bonded to their consciousness is rare, he adds. He talks about non-physical parasites who sustain the shell and can replicate the prior ego. Heady stuff, here, for sure. Childs says the voices listeners are hearing are just that — parasites who are threatened by and hate the Concordant.
Okay, the first two voice demonstrations were beyond the pale in many respects and now we have the third: The Envoy.
Childs is reading from his book, instructing Fabrizio and listeners to allow their minds to become a vessel and their inner beings a silver tureen. Had to chuckle when Childs tells Fabrizio: “Be brave, Doug, close them too, you aren’t above this.” Fabrizio yawns but then snaps back quickly into reality, in a distinctly impatient tone, telling Childs to play the clip.
Incidentally, the music comes from the CD for the book, composed by Albin Lorde. The track is called “Siriusly,” spelled S-I-R-I-U-S-L-Y; obviously named after the Sirius star.
The most stunning claim yet uttered by Childs: “It’s my daughter’s voice, Doug. Which isn’t physically possible because she’s dead. She died in the same accident I was in.”
Fabrizio is unsettled, even confused. Strange feeling here in the studio. A monitor in the studio appears to have combusted spontaneously and the fire is immediately put out. Fans are whirring and the doors are open. Not the usual calm, steady morning for RadioWest.
Fabrizio is asking callers just to confirm what they heard in the garbled voice. As usual, some are veering off into other territory. It’s hard to discern but still highly skeptical about Childs’ claims.
Electronic voice phenomenon: For those who’ve listened to radio shows about the paranormal including the Coast to Coast AM broadcast, listeners are being treated to a near-bizarre demonstration. The second voice, according to Childs, is The Beloved and it sounds almost too sweet, sopping honey all over the studio. Once again there’s music. The audio is quite loud and then the oddest occurrence after the music stops. There’s a girl voice, which is heavily garbled, saying: “Daddy? Daddy, stop.”
The interview has taken a disturbing turn. Echoing Jim Jones and other cult figures who actually compel adherents to kill themselves, Fabrizio is not having any more of Childs’ nonsense. Citing a cluster of suicides in Salt Lake City, Fabrizio asks the toughest question of the morning so far: “I’m asking you what you have to say. The families think their loved ones killed themselves in order to be with the Concordant. What do you have to say?” Childs says it’s a debatable point of legitimacy, saying that religions have their temples and buildings, press, and politicans to back them up.
He explains that dream contact is not unusual but few ever experience the full effect of it. Again, more dense verbiage from Childs: “The problem is we’re culturally disposed to be unconscious in our dreams. But of course we can be fully lucid and live polyphasically.” Fabrizio jumps on the last statement almost immediately.
Childs is talking about how he often wondered if he was going mad — a reasonable proposition for discussion, as evidenced in this surreal interview. A caller from West Valley who says she read the book and purchased the CD is claiming that she saw and experienced the Concordant in a dream just last night. She describes the entity as “a man in a suit with no face. No eyes, nose, no lips, hair; it’s all smooth and freaky.” Childs congratulates the caller on an authentic experience.
Apparently, Fabrizio and Childs are engaging an increasingly tense debate about what the movement is really about: is it a religion or not? Childs says in his now characteristic way or staying obtuse and vague: “Etymologically, yes. In terms of structure? Not at all.” Fabrizio goes back to the phone lines
A caller from Pleasant Grove demands an apology from Fabrizio. He calls Childs a snake oil purveyor. The last bit of his call is coming through loud and clear: “And if you don’t start in with some tougher questions, Doug, I may have to re-consider my pledge this year. I’ll take your apology off the air.”
The demonstration revealed a shocking bit of information: Childs is terminally ill. Time for calls: this should be interesting.
Quite a remarkable, almost inexplicable scene here in RadioWest studios. Curious to hear what listeners are saying: Is it the Waif or is Arlen Childs? He appears to have tried to hypnotize Fabrizio and it’s beyond the normal pale of what any episode has ever been like on this show. The strange music gets louder as Childs describes the voice being heard as The Waif, the lost orphan. Childs says he will translate: “In a moment we shall be one.” Perhaps the strangest statement is that Childs says he is not from ‘here’ (Earth) but from ‘Otherwhere.’
It’s hard to categorize what Childs is explaining as meta-physical or meta-conscious but, indeed, it demands a whole new terminology. They’re messengers but they have no lips or tongues and cannot breathe. They convey sounds, he adds. Childs says, “These messages are imperfect. I make no claim of being a perfect mediator, unlike some. But because it’s imperfect — the message – it’s best listened to like music. Now we never expect music to be precise; we want it to be moving.”
Childs is a colorful interview, sprinkling his statements with gems such as “lamestream media” and “wacko with an AK.” Fabrizio tells the audience that Childs is about to offer a demonstration exercise, complete with music provided live in the studio by Albin Lorde. Childs is talking about entities that are part of the voices: Waif, Belovèd, Envoy. Apparently, the demonstration will involve the Waif.
Childs is speaking about the Concordant, a concept that clearly has made Fabrizio skeptical about the doctor’s credulity. Childs says the Concordant is akin to an omnipresent entity. He tells Fabrizio, “they’re me and they’re you; they’re everyone in this building. Everyone in their car right now; in their houses chopping carrots.”
Childs wastes no time in venturing into the territory of the paranormal. Calling a car accident caused by a drunk driver as the event “smashing into the dark matter of consciousness,” Childs says he was pronounced dead and that was what spurred him to change his life’s work completely. And, he has arrived in the studio.
Lots of unusual incidents are happening this morning. On his way to the studios at the Eccles Broadcast Center on the University of Utah campus, Childs was involved in an accident en route but the interview will go on as scheduled. Fabrizio will be taking calls and emails from listeners.
Fabrizio works quickly. He already has recorded the intro that is playing now before the newscast. Today’s guest is likely to incite a lot of controversy and the interview, along with calls and emails from guests, could be spell-binding on this Halloween Eve:
Unless you frequent the New-Age section in the Barnes and Noble, names like Jane Roberts, J.Z. Knight, and Helen Schucman may not ring a bell. But I’m willing to bet you’ll know at least one name in this list: Seth, Ramtha, and Jesus. The books “by” these women are allegedly channeled material— that is, transcribed by human beings but written by the disembodied. You can find Schucman’s name in the introduction to a course in miracles, but its authorship is credited to Christ. Today on the program we’re talking with Dr. Arlen Childs, the channeler of an entity known as the Concordant. He’s arguably the author of a new book called The Return: Claiming your Birthright in the Otherwhere, and inarguably the focus of its controversy.
A perfect opportunity has risen unexpectedly for KUER-FM’s RadioWest show. Host Doug Fabrizio recently informed the studio that a University of Utah professor in the gender studies program who was scheduled to discuss the issue within the context of Halloween had to cancel unexpectedly. But, the replacement guest seems even more appropriate for this season. Dr. Arlen Childs, the author of The Return: Reclaiming Your Birthright in the Otherwhere is the surprise replacement. A physician by training and experience, Childs took on the study of what he calls a meta-terrestrial consciousness after a near-death experience. Referencing the entity as the Concordant, Dr. Childs is overseeing a rapidly expanding spiritual movement in the United States, what some observers claim to be one of the most significant developments since the Great Awakening during the 19th century.
I was totally duped into believing Doug was in in serious trouble today listening (sporadicly) to the Radio West broadcast. I texted my friends saying as much. Good thing I figured out it was a hoax before I drove down to the station! Well played, Radio West.