Theatre friends product the 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds

October 22, 2020   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

There is apparently some controversy as to just how much panic the presentation of the radio play, War of Worlds (adapted for radio from the novel by H.G. Wells, by Howard Koch) did create, when Orson Welles directed and performed in it on Oct. 30, 1938. Certainly, there were questions afterwards and threats of lawsuits, but Welles had covered himself with a disclaimer at the beginning. 

Too bad for the folk who tuned in a bit late and believed what they were hearing: that America, that the world was being invaded and destroyed by Martians. 

Full of the spirit of this scary mockery, Amanda Laughlin and several of her friends from the many community theatre productions they had done over the years, have rehearsed, performed and recorded the War of the Worlds for a one-night virtual presentation on Oct. 30, 2020, at 8:00 p.m..

Said Ms. Laughlin in a telephone interview with the Citizen, “Orson Welles, although they had indicated at the beginning this was just a play and, after they had said that, until after intermission, you would certainly have believed it was happening. It caused a lot of panic. It was originally broadcast on Oct 30, 1938 at 8 p.m. 

She added, “And so, this is what we’re doing too.” 

Every great idea has its inspiration: “A couple of months ago, my daughter, Victoria, graduated from Randolph College in theatre arts, acting. She had a contract with Wonderland, auditions – she was really getting into where she wanted to go – then this pandemic hit. 

“She was looking for ways to stay creative – I also wanted to do something; so, we did some Twisted Shakespeare. We did it over Zoom.”

After that Ms. Laughlin wrote and, then, produced with her daughter, her short story, Arthur J. Peabody, a talking bird.

“It’s really a cute little play of eight minutes; we entered it into the Northumberland Players Summer Shorts; it was very well received,” she said. 

“Des played the part of the bird. He went to Kelly’s for make up. Then, we filmed it over Zoom. That’s how to do it when you can’t do it in person – it’s been an incredible learning curve.”

The whole production has a certain vintage feel to it.

“We filmed War of the Worlds and edited it to black and white in the radio station. Then, we did the reaction from people at home; people at a dinner party reacting to it, recreating the ideas.”

The way they put it all together was, as Ms Laughlin explained, “Victoria and I put a call out to our friends on Facebook to see who would like to take part in War of the World’s cast. We had a meeting to discuss roles and we envisioned the project… We requested everyone read a piece from the script and record three characters.”

Each of them submitted their voice-only readings, which were reviewed to determine which voices best fit the characters.

“We were very fortunate to have so many talented people and voices work on the project,” Ms. Laughlin commented. “Des made the microphones. They looked exactly like the real thing.

“Nick Rose has done film acting; he has a friend who has some professional filming experience and he brought in equipment. Nick did the filming.” 

She told us, “This is going to be streamed online –for one night only: Oct. 30 at 8:00 p.,m. and a link can be found on Facebook w@wopw1938. A link will be sent to our page and the virtual program. The link to register for the performance is there. Without Facebook, you can listen on Erin Radio. You can also see it on Broadway on Demand.”

With a tone of real satisfaction, she said, “The show’s done; we’ve taped it; it went incredibly well. We rented the Caledon Town Hall Players theatre for the day. We got together at the end of September and filmed it that day and we had another area set up with computer and a digital mic and recorded it for just the audio. Nick is putting it all together. The Town Hall Players’ theatre – that’s a lovely theatre.” 

One of the actors, creator of excellent props and sets and long term theatre friend, Des Baxter, also had a chat with the Citizen about the War of the Worlds project: “It was an outstanding adventure, it really was. I’ve been around for so much of theatre and for the filming, it was a wonderful day and a long day. There were ten members of the cast, from all various stages of community theatre. Some very new; most of us all veterans. It’s the first time I’ve able to do something and have a script.

“For filming, you have to do it all again for every angle. I played Frank Redick, born 1869. He was the original spooky voice on the Shadow. It was really interesting. 

“The cast was down in the lounge at the theatre and we did the radio recording. As we were called and did the filming. My character was the first reporter on the scene, so to speak. From the beginning, that took six hours of shooting – it was a long day.

After that, I was doing the play board, moved the microphones that I made – they looked absolutely authentic – I was watching a film with Roosevelt talking into the microphone that looked exactly like the one I made.”

Mr. Baxter mentioned playing the role of the talking bird, Arthur J. Peabody, “It is such a charming little story – we’re just going to do the second one and I think she has a third in mind. They’re delightful.”

He said, “I’m really happy that Amanda and Victoria brought me on board and included me in the cast of War of the Worlds. It was a great experience. Would I do another one? In a heart beat.” 

There is just the one chance to catch this. If you don’t want to miss it, check out the details on Facebook w@wopw1938.

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