In March, Jenna Whetzel starred in KZMU Radio’s annual radio drama as a savvy detective in “Uranium, The Musical.” For next year, she’s taking another role: writer-director.
“I’ve always wanted to write and produce a play,” Whetzel said. “It’s such a challenge, but really fun as well.”
“Jenna has a background in musical theatre,” said KZMU Station Manager Serah Mead, “and, while this is her first radio play, I’ve already been to a reading of the script and it’s hilarious and smart and all the things we’ve come to expect from our radio dramas.”
“Wormhole! The Radio Musical” is set in a world where everything seems to be going wrong after world leaders put artificially intelligent robots in charge of governments across the globe. The script follows four unlikely heroes as they go back in time to seek advice from historical figures to find a solution to the rise of cyborg overlords.
“It’s definitely sci-fi,” says Whetzel, confessing a deep love of classic Twilight Zone episodes and Rod Serling voice-overs.
The time-bending tale will be the fifth annual radio drama produced by KZMU radio. Then-Station Director Marty Durlin began the tradition as a fundraiser and community-building event in 2016. Durlin wrote and produced two seasons of “Downtown Abbey,” featuring a fictional cousin Edward Abbey, 2018’s “Beautiful Radiant Things,” and this year’s “Uranium, The Musical.”
“We knew that Marty was going to be trying to retire, but the radio dramas are such a part of her legacy that we were committed to carrying on,” said Mead.
KZMU Radio created a residency for sponsoring those interested in writing and producing radio dramas, of which Whetzel is the first.
The annual event has created a tight-knit crew of local actors, musicians and tech workers who have all given their time to nurturing the radio dramas.
“It’s not only something that’s important for the station,” said Mead, “it’s also now one of those town traditions that you look forward to every year.”
Auditions for Whetzel’s radio play entitled “Wormhole! The Radio Musical” will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7, at 10:30 a.m. and Sunday, Dec. 8, at 1 p.m. at KZMU Radio studios (1734 Rocky Road). Those seeking to audition need only attend one of the sessions, but should come prepared with a short song.
Both Whetzel and Mead emphasized that community members were invited to participate in the production in many roles, not just as actors.
“If you’re interested in playing live music, or creating sound effects, or backstage stuff or learning how to do any of that: we want to get you involved with our crew,” said Mead.
Whetzel loves that the community-led productions let people learn. She herself is working to create the songs for the production with composer Jessica Retka.
“I wrote the lyrics,” said Whetzel, “and Jessica and I sit down and work out tunes and compositions. It’s amazing: she is a genius.”
“We’re super lucky to have someone like Jenna be involved, who is so talented and willing to give so much of her time to make this happen,” said Mead.
“Wormhole!” will debut on March 7, 2020, with a live premiere at Star Hall and live broadcast on KZMU Radio. Previous KZMU radio dramas can be streamed at www.kzmu.org