On Sunday, October 30, 1938, radio listeners tuning in late to the Mercury Theatre on the Air program with host Orson Welles were shocked to discover America was under attack by an enemy not of this Earth.
What listeners were actually hearing was an adaption of the H.G. Wells sci-fi novel “The War of the Worlds.” Written and performed to sound like an actual news broadcast of an alien invasion, newspaper offices and police and radio stations were deluged with calls from thousands of panicked Americans who thought the reports were real.
The hoax became part of radio lore, and now, 76 years after the original broadcast, the War of the Worlds Radio Show is once again ready to air. A collaboration of the Barn Players and KATL Radio, the one-night-only performance will be presented as dinner theatre, Saturday, July 19th at the Town and Country Club. In sticking with the production’s roots, the play will also be broadcast live on KATL Radio for those unable to attend in person.
“Guests are treated to a full-cast, live performance of this 1938 Radio Studio experience,” according to a Barn Players press release. “Guests can participate during the live radio broadcast, enjoy catered meal service by the chef and staff of the Town & Country Club, watch the cast perform local ads echoing the “little radio ditties” of the era, and much more. All sound effects will be performed live in front of the audience, and the audience is encouraged to become a part of the action and radio broadcast during the performance.”
KATL radio personality Mike Mintz, appropriately voicing the Orson Welles role in the production, said the idea for a War of the Worlds broadcast is something he’s wanted to pursue since he broke into radio eight years ago.
“This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” Mintz said. “I finally just decided, ‘Hey, let’s give this thing a shot and see what happens.’ This is something they taught in history class when I was a kid, I’d always heard stories about it. Whenever I think about the history of radio, I think ‘War of the Worlds.’ Doing a live radio event really appealed to me, and it’s something radio has been unfortunately moving away from. This is something to bring it back and make it cool.”
Confident he could make the technology work for a live broadcast, Mintz turned to the Barn Players, hoping the theatre company would partner with KATL to make the event truly unique.
“The Barn Players were ecstatic to jump on board, and I couldn’t be happier with the partnership,” Mintz said. “KATL has worked with them in the past with radio interviews, and they’ve always been extremely professional and overwhelmingly positive. Right from the start, there was never a question of whether we could do it; instead it was ‘How cool can we make it?’”
The first cast read-through was held recently, and Mintz said he’s thrilled with how the cast came together to bring the program to life.
“I was blown away by the first read-through, I couldn’t have been happier,” he said. “Watching this thing come together has far exceeded my expectations. The Barn Players have casted this show wonderfully. Every single cast member is going to be perfect for their parts. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s going to be a phenomenal, rare opportunity you do not want to miss.”
Stan Wheeler, who voices the character of Professor Pierson, said the opportunity to participate in an old-time radio broadcast was one he couldn’t pass up.
“I’ve heard a tape of the original broadcast, and I thought it was interesting the way they did it,” Wheeler explained. “I thought it would be fun to give it a try.”
Gordon Dean, voicing a pair of roles, said it’s been a few years since he last participated in a production, and was drawn to the project by a love of reading and the show’s source material. The two characters he will be voicing are vastly different, and he’s looking forward to the challenge of bringing them to life.
“I play a man-on-the-scene news guy named Phillips, and then at the very end I play a crazy guy called The Stranger,” Dean said. “Phillips goes from an objective reporter of the news to a panic-stricken guy who’s about to be fried. With The Stranger, he’s basically a survivalist, with big ideas of taking over the world with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. I get to be as crazy as I can possibly be with that one. Both parts are great, and I’m just going to have fun with it.”
Tickets for the show are $20, and will be sold in advance on a first-come, first-serve basis. Seating is limited; To inquire about the meal, the show or advertising, or to arrange dietary restrictions, please contact the secretary/treasurer of the Barn Players, Hannah Nash (406) 951-0560. Tickets can be purchased online at http://tinyurl.com/qhxwtbv . The doors at the Town and Country Club will open at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 19.