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Radio play presented old-school style

Posted: April 10, 2009 1:16 a.m.
Updated: April 10, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Students at Old Orchard Elementary School listen to “War of the Worlds.” Students at Old Orchard Elementary School listen to “War of the Worlds.”
Students at Old Orchard Elementary School listen to “War of the Worlds.”

Gone are the days when people sat around a radio, curled up in their pajamas in the family living room to partake in a new adventure. For students at Old Orchard Elementary School in Valencia, this classic experience was not lost on them.

Fourth grade GATE students from Old Orchard recently performed an adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” — done in the style of an old-fashioned radio show — under the direction of Cindy Kobler.

The students were inspired by listening to the original recording of Orson Welles, who performed an adaptation of the novel by H.G Wells in a radio play in 1938. The broadcast, based on the story of Martians attacking planet Earth, petrified radio audiences who thought the play was a real broadcast.

The cast of Old Orchard students hoped to give this memorable experience to a different kind of audience — fourth- through sixth-graders.

“Radio story telling is a lost art,” said Kobler, of Showdown Performing Arts. “We wanted to show how wonderful it can be to sit down, listen and let your imagination take over.”

The students — some in their pajamas — gathered in the multi-purpose to experience what life was like before television.

“It was so cool,” said Justin Solorio, 9, who enjoyed the show wearing his Spiderman pajamas. “The sound effects helped me imagine what was happening. I could really see the spaceship in my mind.”

He wasn’t the only student whose imagination soared.

“I couldn’t see the people acting so I just closed my eyes and saw them in my head,” said fifth grade audience member, Alyssa Scholtz, 11. She listened to the show while sitting on a big, fluffy pillow she brought from home. “It’s more fun to make things up yourself just by what you hear and feel. I want to do it again.”

Similar to the original broadcast performed by Welles, the adaptation was acted out by students to simulate a radio show, engaging students in the audience with their ears, not with their eyes.

The stage was set with nothing but a radio and a rocking chair to simulate a living room, inspiring students in the audience to imagine that they were there.

Students performing in the show were hidden off stage, with the use of microphones and sound effects to tell the story.

Music and additional sound effects were supplied by Showdown co-founder Dennis Poore.

“We use lots of (sound effects) to make people in the audience feel what’s happening,” said Finn Kobler, 9, son of Cindy Kobler and an actor in the show. “We get to surprise people with the sounds we make to describe things. It makes people react because their imaginations get the best of them.”

By the hands and mouths of the cast off-stage and the keyboard of Poore some important sound effects included the sound of someone walking, crowds mumbling, occasional screaming and of course, the landing of a spaceship filled with Martians.

“I can see how this would be scary to people back then,” said fourth-grade audience member, Nancy Insua, 9. “It sounded real to me and I knew it was a play.”

The fourth-grade GATE students met after school with Cindy Kobler, who guided the students through the process of making this an authentic representation.

“It’s so special that the students created this piece of art that is all theirs,” said Cindy Kobler. “They all had so many creative ideas and it was exciting to see them come together, inspired by their own work.”

The students decided to give the storyline a New Orleans twist, adapting the setting of the play to an elementary school in New Orleans and making the characters other students of similar ages to their own.

“We thought this would make the story more interesting to the students listening to the show,” said Finn Kobler. “If the play is about kids like them, maybe they will feel like they’re a part of it, too.”

Jennifer Herrback, the school’s fourth-grade after-school GATE program teacher, first introduced her students to a recording of Wells’ original broadcast. Herrback turned off all of the lights in the classroom and had the students close their eyes and actively listen.

“I had never seen them so engaged,” said Herrback. “When it was over, I knew they were really going to enjoy giving this experience to other people.”

Each actor was able to explore different roles while expanding his or her imagination.

“This kind of play is not done a lot and I wish it were,” said cast member Brianna Bricker, 9. “Everyone gets a part and feels important to the plot. Since we are all off-stage, we work together to see the same thing in our minds and hope that other people see it too.”

Other actors in the production commented on the importance of this kind of theater.

Kobler said she enjoyed her collaboration with the students.

“It makes you search inside yourself and allows your imagination to create a whole new world. It’s magic,” said Kobler.

“I feel like I’ve been a part of something great,” said Bricker. “This is the first time I did a show like this, but it’s definitely not the last.”



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