PAGE recreates radio drama
As the Halloween season creeps closer, the Performing Arts Group of Estacada wants to take people to a different time.
It was 79 years ago that Orson Welles' adaptation of "The War of the Worlds" — based on the novel that H. G. Wells penned in 1898 — played out over the airwaves of the Columbia Broadcasting System.
On Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938, the story was the Halloween episode for the radio program "The Mercury Theatre on the Air." And at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, PAGE will recreate the radio drama at the Estacada Community Center. The production will be a fundraiser for the Center's Meals on Wheels program.
During the show, cast members will stand behind a large, 1930s style radio as they deliver their lines.
Delivered as breaking news, the fictional story begins with an update that interrupts the regularly-scheduled program of dance music to report that strange explosions had been witnessed on Mars. This update is followed by another one that outlines an unusual object falling on a New Jersey farm, and Martians emerge from the object in question. Several other fictional news reports describe the alien invasion that follows.
PAGE's cast includes Wayne Keller as Orson Welles, Professor Richard Pierson and Commander Voght; Julie Hamer as announcer one, Mrs. Wilmuth, gunner and operator two; Dylan Starcher as announcer two; Pete Hamer as reporter Carl Phillips, Vice President Harry McDonald, observer and operator three; Jerry Erickson as General Montgomery Smith, officer and operator five; Alycia Schieberl as the policeman, Captain Lansing, operator four and the stranger; and Kathy Erickson as the Secretary of the Interior and operator one. The production is directed by Jean Hiebert Larson.
When discussing the story and the lore surrounding it, several cast members said they found the realistic style of the fictional radio broadcast particularly interesting.
"It sucks everyone in," Keller said. "You think it could be real, but they announce it's not."
Pete Hamer added that the era of the original broadcast added to the mystery that surrounded the story.
"If people tuned in after the beginning, there was no internet (to search on), no way to rewind," he said.
Though the 1938 broadcast was initially said to have caused widespread panic because listeners were not aware the story was fictional, such reports were later thought to be exaggerated.
Cast members also believe the auditory nature of the production is valuable.
"Before TV they had to sit there and think with their mind," Schieberl said. "I think it would be scary. You could paint these horrific pictures, which would be scarier than anything a director could think up."
The "genius of (the production's) simplicity" stands out to Keller.
"You didn't have to be overwhelmed with special effects and visuals," he said.
Keller added that the radio broadcast was "Orson Welles in his prime" as a storyteller.
"He wanted to present it to give quite a scare," Keller said. "He wrote it as a way to go outside of the normal routine. It was a different approach, and it defined a moment in radio history."
Throughout the production, audience members can hear the ways in which the story's characters reacted to the catastrophic fictional events.
"I really like the character of announcer one," noted Schieberl. "Throughout the whole thing, it starts out as another day at the office and it goes on until he's on the roof
of the building, saying he'll broadcast until the last minute."
Cast members believe audience members of all ages will enjoy the event.
"I think it will be fun for the old timers who maybe were there as kids," Schieberl said. "It will be cool for the younger generations, too. I hope grandparents bring their grandkids, the younger kids who never experienced sitting in front of the radio."
There is a suggested donation of $5 per person, which will go to the Community Center's Meals on Wheels program.
Keller thinks "The War of the Worlds" broadcast will complement the Center's program well.
"We'll feed their minds," Keller said. "Meals on wheels feeds their body."