By Tanner Kent
---- — Two years ago, August Jeske added a video to his YouTube channel.
The theater hobbyist and voice impersonator expertly mimicked the voices of more than 30 Star Wars characters, then uploaded the video to his personal channel. Several thousands of views later, Jeske found himself the recipient of a small measure of Internet fame.
His performance was covered on Geeks Are Sexy, a long-running and popular tech blog, as well as Today.com, which is the online component of NBC's TV show. Later, producers from that network's late-night program with Jay Leno extended an invitation for Jeske to appear on the show to re-create his performance.
For a young man with aspirations to be a voice actor, the appearance seemed a dream come true.
Jeske, however, turned it down.
The Nebraska native had just graduated high school and was about to enter his first year as a college student at Bethany Lutheran College in faraway Mankato. He didn't want the appearance to interfere with his studies.
"My friends don't let me forget it," said Jeske, one of five Bethany Lutheran College students who command nearly a dozen dialects and 60-plus characters in "Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play," which adapts three early Hitchcock films into a live, 1940s-era radio production. "But I don't really regret it. My Bethany experience was worth way more than any 15 minutes of fame."
Jeske's talents are uncanny. His YouTube channel — search "Timeyodie" — contains dozens of impersonations, from video game and movie characters to Disney villains. Yet, as a communications major, he's had to be selective in his theatre participation, appearing in only a handful of Bethany productions.
But when Jeske heard about Bethany's radio play, the same man who said no to Leno couldn't say no to Alfred Hitchcock.
"I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. ... I figured I'd be kicking myself for the rest of the year if I didn't try out," he said. "It was kind of like setting a kid loose in a candy store when I was cast in this show."
The setting of the play is a radio studio that is broadcasting live adaptations of three Hitchcock films: "The Lodger," "Sabotage" and "The 39 Steps." The play includes vintage commercials, a live (and visible) orchestra and a range of elements that preserve the setting as a central point of focus.
Foley artists are visible on stage creating all sound effects, their accoutrements and movements fully apparent to the audience. The radio station's stage manager is also visible to the audience, cuing the actors and action for the radio broadcast.
Director Peter Bloedel said all of the student actors play multiple roles and speak in multiple dialects throughout the course of the show. At some points, the students are even having conversations with themselves. As such, Bloedel said he spent more than two weeks strictly working on dialogue and dialects with his cast.
He added that all the music in the show was composed by Bethany theatre instructor Benji Inniger and all sound in the production is produced on stage.
"We're so used to doing everything with computers," Bloedel said, "that for this show, the big challenge for ourselves was: Could we come up with all of this on our own?"
As for Jeske, his roles call for Romanian and Scottish accents as well as a variety of English inflections. But developing the voices, he said, has been far less difficult than developing a sense of timing and consistency with his castmates.
"With others, it's a balancing act," said Jeske, noting that he typically performs alone in his YouTube videos. "But the result is this wonderful, barely choreographed ballet of chaos on stage."