| The News Herald
PANAMA CITY — In 1938, the great director and actor Orson Welles frightened scores of people with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” He’d updated the events for a modern-day radio show, and presented them as if they were happening live and being covered by radio station broadcasters.
“I tell the kids it’s the original ‘fake news’ story,” said director and Assistant Professor Hank Rion. “It’s really relevant today to the way people react to news. I think it’s very timely.”
So Gulf Coast State College’s Division of Visual & Performing Arts is partnering this Halloween season with Commodore Productions and WKGC 90.7-FM to present “War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast,” a radio play based on the classic show.
Complete with vintage commercials and live sound effects, this radio-play-within-a-radio-play is described as a “thrilling homage to the form’s Golden Age and timely reminder of what fear can do to a society.” Audiences will be able to view the actors via online streaming, or listen to the show live on WKGC 90.7-FM.
Directed by Rion, the cast includes Christopher Grover, Andrew Rowell, Jacob Lambert, Susanna Lloyd, Cassidy Cobb, Sarah Mathis, Drayce Sears, Jeff Floyd, Alex Seeley and Tyler Kent. Crew includes stage manager Maggie Jones, assistant stage manager Julianna Everhart, assistant director/voiceovers by Ian Bingham, and costumes/makeup/hair by Lauren Patterson.
GCSC Presents “War of the Worlds – The Panic Broadcast”
Gulf Coast State College to live stream a radio show recreating the notorious 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles believed to have caused widespread panic..
THEATER IN A PANDEMIC
“COVID has changed theater a lot, and I think for us the primary thing was safety and keeping our students safe,” Rion said. “I thought a radio show would be great, so this is kind of a radio show with a twist. It’s set in 1948, and they’re doing a recreation of the 1938 broadcast.”
Mathis, a sophomore majoring in music, portrays a jingle singer and does radio announcements, among other parts in the play. At one point, she plays the digeridoo.
“But you do miss the intimacy of live theater,” Mathis said of the radio show format. “Most shows, you’re very close together — you’re hugging, you’re crying, you’re touching. Contact with other people. We’re close, but we do miss being able to be in contact with one another.”
Voice acting is one of the challenges students are facing with this production, as they aren’t using their bodies to emote.
“All they really have is from the chest up, so it’s very hard for them to try to contain all that energy without moving,” Rion said.
“I’m so used to projecting out into an audience, and I never used a microphone before for a show,” said student actor Drayce Sears. “Having to be quiet and so close up to a microphone is personally very weird for me.”
The 1938 show wasn’t intended as a hoax, but was just a regularly scheduled episode of The Mercury Theatre of the Air — which took commercial breaks and then reminded listeners it was a dramatic presentation as it returned to the program. But some listeners tuning in late were confused by the presentation, and swamped their local police stations and broadcasters carrying the show with frantic phone calls.
Historians now say that later newspaper reports are to blame for sensationalizing the scare and that many of the anecdotes of frightened reactions were never confirmed.
“We had to tone it down because we’re sensitive right now, you know with civil unrest, the pandemic and still reeling after the hurricane,” Rion said of a video teaser created to promote the show. “But my whole thing was to provoke a little — that’s what theater is supposed to do. Masks or no, we’re still going to do that.”
The GCSC show will be presented live online for ticket holders. Evening performances will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 23, 24, 30, and 31. Matinee performances will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1. General admission is $10 plus a $3.95 service charge. Advanced tickets are required and may be purchased at GulfCoast.edu/arts. There will be no live audience for the performances, which will take place inside the closed Amelia Center Theatre.
WKGC 90.7-FM and WKGC.org will also air the Nov. 1 matinee performance live on the radio.
GCSC and FSU PC students, faculty and staff are entitled to a free ticket with a valid ID, according to materials supplied by the college. For details on this option, contact Jason Hedden at [email protected] for a free ticket promo code.
“War of the Worlds – The Panic Broadcast”
Who: Gulf Coast State College Visual & Performing Arts Division
Where: Online only streaming live for ticket holders
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23, 24, 30, and 31; 3 p.m. Oct. 25 and Nov. 1
Tickets: $10 plus a $3.95 service charge; available at GulfCoast.edu/arts
On the Radio: 3 p.m. Nov. 1 on WKGC 90.7-FM and WKGC.org
Video: See rehearsal at NewsHerald.com