By Potoula Anagnostakos
Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Port Washington Play Troupe, in partnership with WCWP, the campus radio station, will be performing “War of the Worlds” as part of their Fall Radio Drama Series. The performance, which will feature actors reading from original radio drama scripts on stage in front of a live studio audience, will be presented Oct. 30, at 8:00 p.m. in the Hillwood Recital Hall. The performance will be recorded for future broadcast. Howard Koch’s adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, “War of the Worlds,” is the story of a fictitious alien invasion, and is part of the Play Troupe’s 2014 Golden Era of Radio Celebration, set to thrill and haunt listeners as it did nearly 80 years ago.
“War of the Worlds” was originally aired on Oct. 30, 1938, on CBS radio, and was made infamous by stage and screen legend Orson Welles. It was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to the public that an actual alien invasion was happening. The radio drama caused mass panic and complaints from the general public, and to make things even worse, the original broadcast was aired a day before Halloween.
This partnership between the radio station and Port Washington’s troupe began in the spring of 2014. The first three performances that were produced included “The Maltese Falcon,” “Casablanca,” and “The Thin Man.”
Dan Cox, director of Broadcasting at WCWP, acts as the producer of the events, coordinating the venue, ticketing, technology, and promotion. He explained how the partnership started. “I was looking for a group that want[ed] to perform radio plays from the 1930s and 40s in front of a live audience,” said Cox. “I reached out to LIU Post alumnus Tony Traguardo, who works in the Media Department of the Port Washington Public Library [with the idea.] Tony introduced me to Pamela Meadows, the president of the Play Troupe of Port Washington. I pitched her the idea and she took it back to her group’s board of directors who thought it would be a great partnership.”
Cox went on to discuss his experience with the radio drama series. “My parents are 90-years-old, they grew up with radio before the invention of TV,” he explained. “They had recordings of these programs from the 30s and 40s. I grew up with ‘old time radio.’ I listened to them as a child and thought this was the coolest way to hear a story. When I was an undergraduate at LIU Post a few decades ago, there was a radio drama class where we produced radio plays. I was always hooked on these stories and the process in which they are produced. They are fun to listen to, [as well as] watch being performed [live.]”
“Listening to the performers and forming the images in my mind is the most fun part, ‘seeing’ the story,” he exclaimed. “These old radio plays were called ‘theater of the mind,’ allowing each listener to create their own interpretation of what the person looks like and how the action is happening. Play Troupe has also added songs [from] the period to each show between acts. It is very entertaining.”
David Barnett, the production’s musical director, pianist, and the sound effect specialist, discussed his involvement in the show. “I am putting together a four-piece combo to back up the singers who will perform during scene and act breaks,” Barnett explained. “I am also dusting off my vintage R.A. Moog [sound player] to [create] the many sound effects which will be heard throughout the show.”
“We have six actors: two for the primary male and female roles, plus four who will play several roles each,” continued Barnett. “We have a live Foley artist providing many sound effects performed live, and prerecorded [effects] using a variety of devices and techniques. We have two [sound effect specialists] to get that classic, spacey, 50s sci-fi sound for the spaceships and the aliens. We also have two featured singers who will perform period songs during scene and act breaks, with the four- piece combo to back them up. Other than the sounds of explosions and trucks, which will be prerecorded, everything will be performed live.”
Though the broadcast is not your traditional stage production, live radio performances still face the same challenges as live theatre. “The primary thing I need to keep in mind is what’s coming next,” said Barnett. “Whether it’s a sound effect cue, a music cue or a song, it needs to flow from what came before so there is no dead air in the show. The pacing of all the elements needs to be precise so they work together and produce an intelligible result.”
Margaret Werner, who plays the lead female role, Sylvia van Buren, discussed the difference with performing a radio drama versus a “normal” play. “The actors do not have to memorize the script, there is no set, and all of the action is represented by the sound person. Additionally, one actor may play several different roles. Historically, radio plays were created for a home audience gathered around the family radio. Therefore, it was routine to have one actor voice several characters simply by changing his or her voice and speech patterns.” Werner explained how having to speak into a microphone changes your performance. “While I am performing, I keep in mind that I need to stay at the proper distance from the microphone, that I need to speak clearly for the listening audience, and that timing is crucial when working with sound effects.”
If you’re looking for a little fright before All Hallows’ Eve, then head down to the recital hall in Hillwood Commons. Sit back and enjoy “War of the Worlds,” a haunting blast from the past. As realistic as the performance may be, please be assured that it is only a play. Or is it? WCWP will broadcast the radio presentation on Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. on their website mywcwp.org.