, Newburyport, MA

October 24, 2013

Invasion of the Radio Players

Seabrook group to stage anniversary production of 'War of the Worlds'

By Jim Sullivan

---- — Strange visitors are coming to Seabrook the day before Halloween, and they don’t seem to be very friendly.

“The War of the Worlds” will come to life in the Seabrook Old-Time Radio Players’ stage production of the radio play based on H.G. Wells’ classic novel detailing an alien invasion.

“We had plenty of actors in the past that wanted to do it,” director Don Bagley said. “But it’s such a challenging show. I wanted to make sure that we had the right people to do it.”

It seems that now, the right people have arrived ... along with the Martians.

Coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the original “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” broadcast that featured Orson Welles and caused a panic up and down the East Coast in October 1938, the OTR Players will present two free shows at the Seabrook Library on Wednesday at 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

“You have to give (the audience) something to look at,” Bagley said. “It’s not a full-fledged play, but we do give them things to look at. Usually lighting and blocking. Our characters will make entrances and exits, rather than just stand at the microphone.”

A Seabrook resident and member of the Screen Actors Guild, Bagley has been with the OTR Players since they started in 2004 as an informal lunchtime actors workshop reading screenplays. But movie scripts are two hours long, so Bagley and friends tried their hands at radio plays.

“We started saying, ‘This is pretty cool, we should try doing this in front of people,’” Bagley said. “And that’s what we ended up doing. It (also) takes a lot of work to find the scripts that work better than others in a live performance. That’s always a challenge since radio was a medium of the mind.”

Now in its 10th season in a “studio” at the Seabrook Library, the group has decided this year to give the mother of all radio plays a shot.

“It’s exactly how it’s written,” Bagley said. “There are those moments where you will get chills. Hopefully, we are dramatically emphasizing those (moments.) Of course, we want people to use their imaginations. We didn’t make any attempts to bring any aliens onstage.

“We want people to hear the words and use their imaginations because they can conjure up anything better than what we can do.”

Mixed in with all the death rays and screaming crowds will be a few locals. Newburyport resident Mike Coppinger plays the role of reporter Carl Phillips, who is first on the scene of the Martian landing in Grover’s Mill, N.J., becoming a de facto narrator for the listening audience. Amesbury’s Ed McGee chimes in later as another reporter, this time in Manhattan, as the murderous Martians cross the Hudson River. George Karalias of Merrimac plays the farmer whose farm doubles as a landing strip for the Martians, and Seabrook’s Cher McDevitt will be a background voice.

“We hope to get some people attending who don’t usually attend our shows,” said Bagley, who added that his show could be a great teaching tool for local communications students. “This would be a great time to see what the fuss was about.”

The OTR Players also hope to do a preshow presentation with slides of the headlines chronicling the havoc that the original production wrought in a time when radio was the only broadcast medium. The format of the show caused many listeners to believe the invasion was real.

“If you go back to the original broadcast, you realize that that could only have happened at that time,” Bagley said. “We’re so inundated with media now. But when it comes to things online, we seem to be pretty gullible.

“It kind of shows that we are in an age where that instant communication really changed things, and this whole thing pushes that home,” he said. “There was a time where you had only that one source, and when you heard it, it must be true.”

If you go

What: “The War of the Worlds”

When: Wednesday, Oct. 30, 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Where: Seabrook Library, 25 Liberty Lane

How much: Free, with complimentary refreshments served after each show. Donations accepted.

More information: 603-474-2044