BUCKHANNON – A radio drama that caused mass panic in 1938 comes to life Thursday as the Buckhannon Community Theatre performs Orson Welles’ classic “The War of the Worlds.”
Welles’ 1938 radio play comes from an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds.”
The hour-long radio program that suggested aliens had landed in the United States sent shivers down the spines of listeners, as many believed the reports. “The War of the Worlds” was just one episode of the American radio drama series, “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” and aired Oct. 30, 1938.
Beginning Thursday night, Buckhannon Community Theatre will perform the original script of the radio program that caused outrage within the media following the broadcast.
“A lot of people thought it was real at first when they were listening to it, not as many as they would have you believe, but several people thought it was real, and there was a lot of panic about it,” explained director Laura Meese.
The stage will be set up like a radio station, in which actors will perform what took place during the Oct. 30 broadcast on Welles’ program.
“We have our sound person and our stage manager/producer on stage helping out the actors and producing sound effects,” Meese said. “He will make sound effects with his voice, and he’ll also do sound effects by dropping heavy books and by doing things physically in person.”
In the original radio drama, Meese said only two or three people were cast to voice a number of different characters.
“We had more people audition than that, so we split it up a bit more, but still I think other than David Carson, every cast member in this play is playing multiple characters,” she said.
BCT board member and cast member, Jill Okes-Kincaide will be performing as one of the many announcers during the report of the alien invasion.
Though she has performed in other BCT produced plays, Okes-Kincaide said she was drawn to the historical aspect of “The War of the Worlds.”
“I love the history behind it with the radio broadcasting and the people thinking it was real,” she said. “As well as because it’s a radio broadcast, there’s less pressure to memorize lines during a busy time in my work, so balancing it was excellent timing.”
Several members of the sci-fi loving Benjamin family will also be performing in the classic play. Abigail, Maria, Alex, Abby and Tes Benjamin will be performing roles in the play with Alex playing numerous characters.
“We’re in the commercial cast, and we get to do a song and dance number together,” said Abigail Benjamin, the Benjamin children’s mother.
Despite being nervous, the kids said they are excited to act in front of a large audience.
Abigail described the play as a spooky Halloween treat for the whole family to enjoy.
“And what I love about live theater is it really builds community,” she added.
As an alien sits atop the Colonial Theatre’s marquee and sci-fi guy Gray Barker owned the theater, BCT found it only fitting to perform an extraterrestrial-themed play at the historical theater.
“Buckhannon Community Theater has always loved doing Halloween-ish shows … and we wanted to do a show that was more family-friendly, but still more creepy and Halloween in theme, which this is,” said Meese. “It’s very family-friendly. It’s a PG rating probably, and it’s safe for kids, but it can be creepy both for adults and the little ones.”
Despite the Colonial Theatre’s current renovations, Meese said BCT wanted to perform the play in that specific space.
“Because at this point it’s almost a century ago, and this space is older than that, and we’re kind of revitalizing it, so it kind of makes sense to produce a show that is from the era that this theater would have been in its heyday, and bring it back to life hopefully,” she said.
Meese added, “I love performing in the Colonial Theatre, and I can’t wait until it’s totally up on its feet and ready to go. I have been in his space at every performance that Buckhannon Community Theatre has one in this space since they have been renovated it, and so to see it stage by stage has been really awesome.”
Because the play is Halloween-themed, Meese encourages folks to come dressed in their favorite costumes and support the local art community.
“The War of the Worlds” opens at 7 p.m. Thursday. Folks can also catch the play at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door.