POSTED ON DECEMBER 16, 2009:
Live on the Radio
Playhouse Theatre puts a twist on a classic holiday story
Twisted Holiday. Joe Landry has adapted Frank Capra’s classic holiday tale (which was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, “The Greatest Gift”) into a 1940s radio play performed in front of a live audience.
It seems as though the theme of this holiday season has been "let's make a deal." Everyone has a coupon and an eye on getting the most bang for her buck.
The Playhouse Theatre is offering a deal of its own, a sort of two-for-one special with its production of Joe Landry's It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.
Courtneay Sanders, the company's managing director and the play's co-director, said the show is a "play within a play."
Landry has adapted Frank Capra's classic holiday tale (which was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, The Greatest Gift) into a 1940s radio play performed in front of a live audience.
Six actors portray more than 60 characters and provide all of the sound effects.
While most know the gist of It's a Wonderful Life (George Bailey contemplates suicide one Christmas Eve but is saved by a second-class angel looking to earn his wings), Landry left few instructions regarding the portrayal of the characters he created to perform the play on WBFR.
All Landry provides is the lines of Capra's script and suggestions for how to create the needed sound effects.
Sanders said the players of Playhouse spent three weeks developing those characters and creating a side story for the actors presenting It's a Wonderful Life, providing the radio play's audience with a play within a play.
Still a new company, Playhouse, in choosing its second-season repertoire, aimed to show off its range by choosing plays with vastly different tones (its last show was Rebecca Gilman's thriller, "Boy Gets Girl").
Its founders, Sanders and artistic director Chris Crawford (who co-directs this play), chose It's a Wonderful Life: A live Radio Play to perform at Christmas time partly because they found it charming and partly because they hadn't seen it performed in Tulsa before.
"We wanted to do something fresh and original," Sanders said.
"Playhouse is about transporting people to different worlds," she said. "We really wanted to transport people to a 1940s radio station."
Which is why, rather than perform the play as a sort of reader's theatre, the company worked to develop the characters, and the relationships between those characters, performing the play on air in 1945.
"The audience gets to see us interact with each other when we're not on the microphone," Sanders said.
The audience also gets to see -- and hear -- lines flubbed when pages go missing, crashing noises when it's meant to be quiet and other mishaps normally disguised from the viewer by a big, black curtain.
Sanders said this character development was one of the more fun aspects of rehearsing the play.
Audience members will also get to see actors move into one character from another, oftentimes changing their posture accordingly.
"Because everything happens vocally, there are no scene changes," Sanders said. "The audience really has to use their imagination."
Playhouse's version of the play caught the playwright's attention, and although scheduling conflicts will prevent him from seeing the play, which opened on Tuesday, Sanders said he sent members of his family to watch it and requested a copy of the CD recording and photos of the actors performing it.
Todd Cunningham, president of GarageMedia, Playhouse's public relations firm, arranged for Tulsa's public radio station, KWGS 89.5, to record Tuesday's performance, which will be aired on the station on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 8pm.
Although the actors enjoyed developing their characters, Sanders said, when they found themselves getting too caught up in their side story, they pulled back, reminding themselves that the point of the play is to capture and portray the theme of It's a Wonderful Life.
"That's the whole point," Sanders said.
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play plays Dec. 17-20 at 8pm and Dec. 19 and 20 at 2pm in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Charles E. Norman Theatre, 110 E. 2nd St. Tickets are $25 at www.tulsapac.com or 596-7111.
On the Block
The Art Directors Club of Tulsa announced a call to artists for its Jan. 28 "Block Party" in downtown Tulsa. The ADCT has invited local artists to create an object of art from a four-by-four inch cube of wood.
Forty-one blocks of wood, representing ADCT's 41st anniversary, will be distributed.
The finished pieces will be on display at the "Block Party" and sold for $41 each. Proceeds from the event benefit scholarships given by ADCT to art students.
For more information about the "Block Party," and to participate, contact Evan Taylor at 693-8932 or email@example.com.
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