On October 30th, 2013, Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds will mark its 75th anniversary. The original broadcast has since become infamous for having perturbed the conventions of radio, leaving some folks convinced that their planet was being invaded by Martians. Others, aware that this was merely a Halloween prank, sat back and enjoyed hearing the Mercury Theatre broadcast subvert the new medium of radio. Concerned that this was producing a passive public who took everything that came out of the “magical box” of radio as capital-T Truth, Welles and his ensemble were able to sneak in a tiny bit of agitprop theatre in the Trojan Horse of their radio play. Nearly 75 years later, this classic story of man versus machine seems ever-fresh in our world of mobile devices, online gaming, avatars, Tweets, profiles, and “status” updates. It’s arguable that both H.G. Wells and Orson Welles would think we are much indeed due for another retelling.
What better time than its diamond anniversary?
The Gift Theatre is a neighborhood and cultural anchor of Chicago’s northwest side and Jefferson Park, providing accessible, affordable, and professional theatre to a previously under-served and neglected community. In fact, artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton performed in his first play at the Jefferson Park field house, which is fittingly where our proposed live broadcast would take place. Jefferson Park, called “the gateway to Chicago” was a place of farms and prairies not so long ago; in fact, the Jefferson Park Field House (added in 1999 to the National Register of Historic Places) occupies what used to be the Esdohr family farm. Our production will take both our live and listening audiences back in time by refreshing Welles’ script with what Jefferson Park sounded, looked, and felt like in 1938. To best achieve this experience, we will collaborate with The Northwest Chicago Historical Society. But that’s just one part of our community engagement…
Being a radio play, War of the Worlds offers excellent opportunities for fun workshops with local youth to learn the art of classical Foley technique—the ingenious practice of making sound effects with everyday objects. War of the Worlds could also be commemorated by using local students to create art projects and contribute artifacts for a time capsule to be buried in Jefferson Park. We would also like to invite local politicians and residents to play characters in the broadcast as well and turn the Esdohr House (a small coach house next to the fieldhouse) into a time travel back to 1938 Chicago with exhibits featuring the history of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ Chicago connections, and vintage photography.
A key component to this proposal is the participation of WBEZ. Using Chicago public radio to commemorate the 75th anniversary of a performance by an ensemble of theatre actors is perfectly symbolic given our city’s reputation for great ensemble theatre and the fact that War of the Worlds’ 50th Anniversary was broadcast on National Public Radio. It is our intention to also cast current WBEZ reporters as characters in our live broadcast as well, nodding to the tongue-in-cheek meta-nature of the original broadcast and engaging the greater Chicago community of WBEZ listeners and supporters in a celebratory spirit via the old medium of radio and its descendant: live streams over mobile devices.
The 75th Anniversary of the radio broadcast of War of the Worlds is a cultural milestone that should be proudly claimed by our city of Chicago, offering an opportunity to experience how different our world was 75 years ago and yet—in our ongoing search for balanced relationships between man and machine, evolving media and an informed public—how much we still have in common with those classic themes of truth and fantasy, war and peace, and the power of mother nature to triumph over our scariest machines, real or imagined.
“So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there,
that was no Martian. . .it's Hallowe'en.”
ADMISSION IS FREE : ADVANCE RESERVATIONS RECOMMENDED
TICKETS: Call The Gift at[masked] or visit http://thegifttheatre.org/shows-events/war-of-the-worlds