Lancer Spotlight: Damon Norko brings plays to a virtual platform

Creating a radio play is the “silver lining” to the pandemic.

Damon+Norko+has+been+working+in+his+studio+to+make+My+Brother%2C+the+God+Particle+come+to+life.+He+has+hosted+over+40+recording+sessions+at+his+studio.

courtesy of Alex Norko

Damon Norko has been working in his studio to make My Brother, the God Particle come to life. He has hosted over 40 recording sessions at his studio.

The short URL of the present article is: https://lhslance.org/zpzoa

COVID-19 has caused Broadway to go dark and virtually all plays to stop production. During this time when the only drama is the lack of drama, English teacher Damon Norko is bringing theater back to a new platform: radio plays.

Norko has helped to direct several LHS plays, and he is a published author. He has written and staged plays for local productions and for a New York City one-act contest, but when COVID-19 put a halt to any in-person performances, Norko reached back into his vault to pull out a play that he had been thinking about since 2014: My Brother, the God Particle.

“It started with our whole situation right now, the way that we are doing this interview on video, because of COVID-19 and the pandemic. It goes back to March when everything shut down and I had another play that was supposed to be staged in June. That got bumped because theaters were closed. What I did with that play was I created a radio version,” said Norko.

The radio play was entitled 1980 and was released in June 2020. After experimenting with making a radio play, Norko learned to use technical equipment that made his play come to life. He decided to continue to turn his previous scripts into radio plays. Naturally, My Brother, the God Particle was his next choice. The cast members included LHS English teacher Dan Lake as Roger Nolan.

“I started acting with Mr. Norko when he staged a play called Properties! in Frederick in January 2019. I had a tiny part, but he continued to cast me in larger roles. When the COVID-19 shutdown started, the cast of 1980 started rehearsing over Google Meet, and when the performances were canceled, Mr. Norko came up with the idea of recording vocal performances for a radio play instead. When that was finished, he wanted to give his other plays the same treatment, so we worked on My Brother, the God Particle,” said Lake. 

Although putting together a play during the pandemic was difficult, Norko and his crew members saw the results and wanted to continue their podcasting experience. 

 “I found myself looking around at the actors who had come together to make that project happen, and they really did a great job. There was that tremendous feeling of decompression that we had achieved. We just got this feeling that ‘wow’ we need to push on. It almost could be looked at as the silver lining for us during the pandemic,” said Norko.

After the first staged reading, which is made up of mostly LHS alums, Norko selected the perfect cast for the podcast. The actor who voices Rickey Denson, Dillon Mitcham Class of 2015, was also involved in the original reading in 2014. 

“It goes back to the staged reading. Since we had that, I still was in contact with some of those students. It was 2014, so it was a while back. The guy that did the main character in the original back in 2014, Dillon Mitcham, is the main character again in the podcast version. The other Linganore alums that went along with that actor troup simply fit right in. We have mostly Linganore albums because it’s a re-creation of the original Linganore play,” said Norko.

Since Mitcham was in both the original stage reading back in 2014 and the recent podcast, he has been able to see the play change and adapt during the pandemic.  

“The biggest change between the 2014 version and the podcast was the incorporation of sounds and the atmosphere that was curated in each episode of the podcast. When we did the stage reading in 2014. We didn’t have a set, props, costumes, etc. All we had was scripts and our voices. In the podcast, Mr. Norko had the opportunity to build a substantial soundscape within each of the episodes which to me made the piece more whole and together than the stage reading was,” said Mitcham. 

Norko invited the actors to record their lines in his home studio. In accordance with COVID, there weren’t big groups, but they were often one on one, which made recording much easier. 

I have this room that’s now my studio. It’s a separate building from my house sort of like a little tree house in the woods”

— Damon Norko

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“We’ve had probably 40 separate recording sessions, maybe even 50, where the actors come and use my microphone. We’ve got a dozen, maybe 20 or so actors that helped with the production, so it’s just a wonderful trip to see it, ” said Norko.

Lake also felt the excitement of creating a piece of art, even though the aspect of a full cast was missing during recording sessions.

“I recorded lines at Mr. Norko’s house, where he has a tiny building set up as a recording studio. It was fun to play around with different approaches to the voice and explore the character a little bit. I missed working with a full cast; Mr. Norko has gathered an impressive group of creative people around him, and I love spending time with them,” said Lake.

My Brother, the God Particle is a scientific mystery where Rickey Denson, and his friends, go on a search for Rickey’s science prodigy brother who has disappeared.

Although Norko is an English teacher, through producing this play he has become more interested in science and physics. His goal was to get his listeners interested in those topics, but he created a physics fanatic out of himself. 

“It’s funny because I wrote the play to elicit interest in science for students to get them more motivated to explore that possibility, but it ended up sucking me in and I ended up being the one that got most interested in science. I got sucked in by my own play,” said Norko.  

After all is said and done, Norko believes that the biggest thing one can do when starting something new is try. 

“To succeed is to try things. It’s very important to try things and to see if one can push one’s ideas to the farthest they can go. You never know where they will go, lead. If I hadn’t tried to write the play back in 2014, I never would have ended up with a podcast here during the COVID era,” said Norko.

Natalie Rebetsky is an English teacher and Norko’s co-worker. According to Rebetsky, the English department knows about Norko’s history in theater and thinks highly of his work. 

“Mr. Norko’s plays are so fun to listen to, and we have the bonus of recognizing some of the actors and actresses. On occasion, Mr. Norko will ask us [department members] to contribute specific sound effects. One time, I pretended to call in to a radio program so he had another voice in his production. Actually, the English department keeps asking him to write a play for us!” said Rebetsky.