Friday, November 27, 2020
‘War of the Worlds’ Shapes Up as Pandemic Theater
The cast and crew behind “War of the Worlds,” a science fiction novel that appeared in hardcover in 1898 in London. PHOTO: Bill Peske
Monday, October 26, 2020


For some Americans, “The War of the Worlds” must have seemed as scary as the COVID pandemic.

But, instead of the novel coronavirus, it was the debut of Martians on earth—big and greyish with oil brown skin, the size of a bear, each with two large dark-colored eyes and lipless V-shaped mouths that dripped saliva, surrounded by two Gorgon groups of tentacles—that proved so unsettling.

On Halloween Eve in 1938 they besieged the earth with three-legged fighting machines armed with heat rays and poisonous black smoke in a contest of the survival of the fittest. And the hour-long live Mercury Radio Theater broadcast reportedly panicked the listening audience as a series of news bulletins telling of the horrors taking place in Grover’s Mill, N.J., cut into a program of “live” music.

The Wood River High School drama students will present this tale, in which the Martians were defeated by microbes in what was one of the first stories ever written about man’s efforts to beat back aliens.

In a nod to the current COVID pandemic, they will stage three free live socially distanced outside presentations of “The War of the Worlds” Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 28 through 30. And they will record four radio broadcasts to be aired in the valley on Halloween night.

EDITOR'S NOTE: School administrators decided Monday afternoon that audiences will not be allowed on campus to view the play in person since the county is in the critical COVID red stage. You can view the play, instead, all three nights at at the same time.

“This production was born out of necessity due to the restrictions and protocols caused by the pandemic and also my love for the radio,” said Director Karl Nordstrom.

“I spent the summer watching online theater but it looked like zoom meetings and never appealed to me. My wife, Julie Nordstrom, said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of good radio theater out there.’ I grew up listening to radio programs and I still listen to them. And I liked Company of Fools’ production of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ where the audience watched actors put on a radio show. One thing led to another.”

The students will stage live performances of the radio broadcast, based on a novel by H.G. Wells, a one-time science teacher, and adapted by Howard E. Koch, at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday outside at the Community Campus in Hailey.

Audience members are invited to don warm clothes and bring chairs to see it. And Kevin Stilling hopes to come up with some heat lamps, although the high temperatures on Thursday and Friday could be near 60 degrees.

Students recorded the play in the Silver Creek High School recording studio. That recording will be aired as four radio broadcasts on STAR 107.5 FM and KDPI 88.5 FM. The program will air at 8 and 10 p.m. Halloween night on STAR 107.5 FM and 9 and 11 p.m. Halloween night on KDPI 88.5 FM.

For the radio portion the kids recorded their parts three at a time in a studio that a Silver Creek High School student designed for his senior project. They pulled down their masks as they spoke into the microphone and pulled them back up as soon as they finished. Between recordings the microphone was disinfected.

Nordstrom recorded sound effects on a flash drive to mix them in where appropriate. Students will be able to provide the crowd noise live outside.

The creative maneuvering has not gone unnoticed by the public.

“So EXCITED to see and hear this!” Susan Worst wrote the drama department. “What a great adjustment to the new normal…and it will be a reminder that 2020 could be worse.”

“So excited to see our amazing thespians adapt to our current circumstances!” added Teresa Gregory.

In the process, the students learned about the original broadcast and the panic it caused, as well as the history of the Mercury Radio Theater. And they learned how one of America’s premiere film directors Orson Welles got his start.

“We played the original broadcast and they said, ‘That’s what scared people??!’ It’s so tame compared with what we are exposed to today,” Nordstrom said.

The cast includes Frankie Duke, Elena Tamayo, Keane Phillips, Brandon Enders, Lucas Smith, Braxton McCord, Fisher Albright, Luke Lincoln, Ranger Wynne, Loula Christensen, Ramsey Marquis, Bella Sandefer, Madi Fortner, Hunter Ervin, Edgar Vega, Jaiman Sharp, Aiden Durdle, Dakota Countryman, Katy Heywood, Valentin Sualez, Brielle Terrazas and Kaia Wolfrom.

The Blaine County Education Foundation covered the costs of scripts, royalties and building materials. It also made it possible for the drama department to share the performance free of charge.



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