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'Midnight Radio' dials up supernatural vibe in new season

| Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Jeffrey Carpenter ghost-writes at the Old Quaker Church in Perryopolis, considered by many to be the most haunted place in Western Pennsylvania. Courtesy of Bricolage Production Company

Researching material for the next installment of Bricolage Production Company's “Midnight Radio” series turned its writers into cemetery-lurking, paranormal-investigating ghost hunters.

Last season, Bricolage asked its audiences to suggest and vote on themes for the next season of Midnight Radio, the popular live comedy series that reproduces the style and techniques of a 1940s radio show with stories of suspense, vintage sound effects, musical guests, fake breaking news, game-show segments and spoofy commercials. When voting was completed, Pittsburgh ghost stories was among the top three choices — along with secret agents and spies and cult-movie classics.

How to proceed was the first question that haunted writers Jeffrey Carpenter and Matthew Adams. They considered — and rejected — telling old, often already-well-known ghost stories that always seemed to tie into local urban legends, for something more immediate.

“What interested us more was heightening our own experiences,” Carpenter says.

A chance encounter with a local fan of the paranormal connected them to a local ghost-hunting agency.

Most of their research efforts turned into nothing more than a series of evening walks in places with names like “Dead Man's Hollow.”

But Adams had one creepy, unexplained encounter with a disembodied voice in a corner of an old abandoned house that eventually led them to the story that's the centerpiece for the Midnight Radio episode “Pittsburgh Ghost Stories,” which begins its run Thursday at Bricolage Production Company, Downtown.

“It was pretty moderately upsetting and a turning point,” says Adams, who keeps a recording of the incident on his cell phone. “It was (now) not just academic — what do you believe? — but what it feels like to experience something. I was pretty shaken up.”

“We are creating an original fictional story based on our true accounts,” says Carpenter, who did not share Adams' experience.

Their story, “The Haunting,” now revolves around a data analyst at a local university whose fiancée is pushing him to set a wedding date.

On a whim, he takes an unusual field trip, on which he discovers what may be special abilities that could be a gift or a curse. It's a discovery that may alter both their lives.

While “The Haunting” is more of a suspense story than something like “Tales From the Crypt,” Carpenter promises there's a certain amount of creepy phenomenon included in the telling.

“We approached it from (the angle of) let's tell a good ghost story,” Carpenter says.

“It grows out of the oral tradition,” Adams says. “It's pre-science, pre-cultural, which is what I like about it. “

The evening's guest artist, Phat Man Dee, adds her voice to the evening's theme with songs of haunted Pittsburgh.

“She claims she levitates while she sings,” Carpenter says.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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