For the first time in 110 years, the Loras Players will not take the stage this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That doesn’t mean they aren’t still performing.
To quote the well-worn showbiz saying: The show must go on!
On Halloween, the Loras Players will release their rendition of H.G. Wells’ classic tale, “The War of the Worlds,” as an episode of the College’s weekly podcast, Duhawk Digest. For director Ryan Decker, performing the story in a podcast format provided an opportunity to contemporize the famous Orson Welles radio performance from 1939.
“Originally, I was looking for a production that could be produced and presented with social distancing,” he said. “After looking through some more traditional Halloween radio play fare for the October slot, I learned that the infamous “The War of the Worlds” originally aired on Halloween. Re-reading the script, it seemed to resonate with the general anxiety of today, with the pandemic and current situation. There also seems to be a renewed interest today in the discoveries to be made and potential of sustaining life on Mars.”
First published as a novel in 1898, “The War of the Worlds” is the story of humankind’s battle with a hostile invading extraterrestrial army. It was famously brought to life by Welles during a live broadcast as a Halloween episode of the radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air on October 30, 1938.
The Loras Players will perform an adaptation by Howard E. Koch and Decker. This production features Ramsey Schulz (’22), Sam Martin (’21), Jake Heelein (’22), Josh Vogt (’21), Liberty Foht (’24), Emma Hennessy (’23), and Sean Spicer (’23), with stage management by Amelia Foley (’21) and audio engineering by Benjamin Drury. Decker provides sound design, editing and direction.
According to Decker, the performance faced unique challenges since it would not be on stage in front of an audience.
“The production was fairly smooth for a first-time experiment. We had intentionally limited the number of rehearsals and had only three recording sessions with a local guest artist. Students were able to work off each other, although how we pace and lead for auditory clarity is different in recorded performance than doing it live. We need to build without overlapping. We need to vary vocal expression without noticeably changing characterization. We have to approach mics and pass sound over them in a particular way. And there’s no immediate audience to raise the stakes. So, while there are some similarities to live stage performance, there’s a significant amount of technical difference in how the performance is executed,” he said.
Schulz, who plays the role of Professor Pierson, found the radio play a welcome challenge.
“Working with just audio is definitely different than doing a physical performance,” Schulz said. “It’s quite a bit easier to get into character when your whole body is into the performance, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get into character using just your voice. I enjoyed using just my voice for a performance as it gave me a challenge, and sometimes a challenge is needed to grow and further oneself as an actor/voice actor.
Despite these challenges, Decker is excited to share out the final performance.
“While it is theatre, this is so far different from what we’re used to producing, and what folks are used to expecting,” he said.
For Schulz, just being able to perform was the most important aspect of “The War of the Worlds.”
“I was attracted to this performance simply due to the fact that I’ve always loved being in any sort of performance, whether it be a play or a musical or anything else in between. I was also intrigued by the fact that it was an entirely vocal performance. I’ve always thought about stepping into voice work, and this seemed like a good way to get started,” he said.
This virtual performance is not the only one the Loras Players are putting forth this semester. They will continue the tradition of their annual Guild of St. Genesius Christmas radio play of “Miracle on 34th Street” in early December in a future Duhawk Digest episode.