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Tennessee Williams Festival Makes Radio Plays Of His Classics

Carrie Houk
Carrie Houk is the executive artistic director of the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, which includes radio versions of “The Glass Menagerie” and other Williams plays.

Brian Hohlfeld counts himself a fan of both “The Glass Menagerie” and old-timey radio plays. So when this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis came calling, asking the accomplished screenwriter to direct a radio version of the Williams masterpiece, it wasn’t a hard sell.

What proved more challenging were the rehearsals for the project — because Hohlfeld had to conduct them over Zoom. While most of the cast and crew were in St. Louis, Hohlfeld was in California during that intense week and a half, directing over the phone.

Brian Hohlfeld
Brian Hohlfeld is the director of the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis' production of "The Glass Menagerie."

In the end, the newfangled radio play came together. It’s now the centerpiece of this year's unusual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, which runs Nov. 5-15. The entire festival will take place on the radio — specifically Classic 107.3 FM, with the productions also streaming for two weeks at twstl.org and classic1073.org.

“I really wanted to do something for our audience that would take them away from their computer,” the festival’s executive artistic director, Carrie Houk, told St. Louis on the Air. Radio seemed the perfect medium, and indeed, she and other organizers are finding that Williams’ dialogue translates well to it.

Carrie Houk
Brenda Currin portrays the character Amanda Wingfield in the festival’s radio play of “The Glass Menagerie.”

“The challenge kind of becomes: How do you translate a visual artform for radio? … The language of Williams’ plays [is] just so wonderful that you sometimes don’t need the visuals,” Hohlfeld explained.

On Monday’s show, Houk and Hohlfeld joined host Sarah Fenske for a sneak peek at what this year’s festivalgoers can look forward to — and why Williams’ autobiographical “The Glass Menagerie,” set in a 1930s St. Louis apartment, resonates today.

Both guests said that they consider it their favorite Williams play.

“I like the fact that a new generation will be introduced to it, because it used to be required reading in our school system, and I don’t believe it is anymore,” Houk said.

Several additional productions will also be broadcast over the course of this month’s festival, including two one-man Williams plays and newer works.

Related Event
What: Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis 2020: En Avant!
When: Thursday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Nov. 15
Where: Classic 107.3 FM & twslt.org
This year’s festival is free, but donations are encouraged.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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