Story & Photos by Emily Siddiqui
The holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” will soon come alive on Rose State’s H.B. Atkinson Theatre stage—and in more ways than one. Set in a 1946 New York City radio studio, the cast will perform a production similar to Jimmy Stewart’s live radio play that followed the film’s release in the ‘40s.
“Not only are they playing the characters from the story, but they’re also playing actors from 1946,” explained Rose State Professor of Theatre Rick Nelson.
Written by Joe Landry, the radio play will follow the same basic storyline as the beloved film: George Bailey of Bedford Falls wishes he had never been born, so an angel is sent to make his wish come true, ultimately changing his perspective on life for the better.
Nelson, who is also the production’s director, said the school has never done this story before, even as a traditional version. “It’s the classic story except we’re gonna recreate a radio studio onstage, so you’ll kind of get the feel of a 1946 radio studio, and they’ll be in costumes that evoke the period of 1946,” Nelson said.
Even the stage props will reflect the broadcast era. The mics will be old-fashioned, and the audience will periodically see “on-air” and “applause” signs light up, to let them take part in the action. Additionally, the actors will be carrying loose-leaf scripts in their hands, just like they did in the old radio dramas.
Rehearsals began Nov. 6. Most of the cast members—and there are only 10—are Rose State students.
Nelson chose this story because it’s well-known and because it’s interesting for the actors. Most of the them did not audition for a specific character. This is because each member of the cast will play the voices of several characters. Theatre major Dylan Andrews said hearing the diversity of voices from other actors is the best part of this production.
Connor Robison, also a theatre major, will play the angel Clarence Odbody as his primary voice role. “My favorite part about this classic is the moral of the story, telling you to appreciate what you have even if it is getting bad, and just know[ing] that your life is not all that bad compared to some other people,” he said.
Most of the sound effects for this radio play will be done live by one unique member of the cast, not playing as a character from Bedford Falls, but as a Foley artist—the person who physically recreates the sounds needed for each scene. For example, to simulate the sound of shoes walking on snow, a Foley artist might crunch corn flakes in a box set near a microphone. Christopher McClary, a theatre major, will take this role.
As cast members testified, being part of a Rose State production brings special rewards. McClary said it has helped him not only academically, but also socially, bringing him out of his shell and allowing him to interact with people he would not get a chance to otherwise. Musical theatre major Cydnie Looper was also grateful for the opportunities presented by the program. Looper will be voicing Mary Bailey as her main character. The best part of being in theatre, she said, is the friends she has made.
“It’s nice to come into an area where you know everybody has the same kind of ambitions and goals as you,” she said.
Performances are scheduled for Dec. 1, 2 and 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 3 and 10 at 2 p.m. Admission is free for senior citizens, Rose State students and staff, $3 for other students and $5 for the general public. To reserve tickets, call the box office at 733-7430 or go to showtix4u.com. Tickets can be picked up at the box office on the night of the performance, paid for by cash, card or check. Bring the whole family.
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