Radio Noir Just Got a Whole Lot Funnier

Phantom Signal is not for the humorless or the easily spooked

Phantom Signal is performed live by Jayson McDonald, Tara Travis, and Andrew Bailey. (submitted)

In case you haven’t heard of it, Phantom Signal is an anthology series based on radio noir, presented as if it is going live to air. Despite its roots in radio, it is performed on stage in front of a live audience after only a couple of rehearsals, which the cast believes gives the show an improvisational feel.

“We haven’t rehearsed it to death, so there is still spontaneity,” says Phantom Signal creator Jayson McDonald. McDonald is a three-time recipient of the Georgia Strait Critics Choice Award, a two-time recipient of The Edmonton Fringe’s Artists Choice Award, and a founding member of alt-sketch group Fully Insured.

Thankfully, co-hosts Tara Travis and Andrew Bailey are also there to help McDonald nail the performance.

Tara Travis is the artistic producer with Monster Theatre and artistic director of Sticky Fingers Productions. Aside from her work with Phantom Signal, she is also a very experienced playwright, performer, and “vocal acrobat,” and is described by McDonald as “wildly creative with incredible comic sensibilities.”

He describes Bailey, who is also a writer, actor, comedian, and author, as “the heart of the Ghostbusters.”

This dream-team trio—who create the self-aware, ironic, and so-funny-it’s-scary production—have a natural rapport between them. They met sometime during the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit over a decade ago and have been close ever since.

“[Fringe is like] summer camp for weird grown-ups where you find your people,” says Travis.

The show is in its fourth season with over 30 episodes, and there are many more to come. They used to perform the 70-minute show at the Fox Cabaret, but have recently moved over to Havana and Little Mountain Gallery for a more intimate and cozy vibe.

The show begins with a ridiculous warm-up featuring a recurring cast of characters such as Uncle Andy, who tells bedtime stories and destroys classic horror tropes, Cursed Lou, who is cursed for eternity to sell various products, and Madame Tika Luna, the fortune teller with no real psychic abilities. Following the warm-up is a full 30-minute episode separated into two acts.

The podcast-like style invites the audience to use their “mind’s eye” to envision the antics as they unfold, but also allows them to see how it’s made.

“We also make all of our own sounds live, often with unexpected things,” says Travis, adding that they have the help of hired musicians who help set the mood.

“If a joke doesn’t land it’s because I included a joke just for me,” says McDonald, adding that these usually end with an unexpected twist. “God, I don’t know how many times we’ve destroyed the world at this point.”

Usually Phantom Signal runs consistently once or twice per month. However, the most recent season, which Travis has affectionately dubbed, “frankenseason,” has been less consistent than usual because of the change of venue.

Catch them for only $10 at Havana on Wednesday,  Oct. 31 at 10:00 pm. You can also visit phantomsignalradio.com for information on more upcoming shows or audio clips of what you can expect to see.

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