Arts & Entertainment

Providence Players Bring ‘Wonderful Life’ Radio Show to Stage

IMG_1035With an unusually bitter cold streak bearing down on the Northern Virginia area, director Brian O’Conner and other members of the Providence Players of Fairfax hunker down in the theatre of the James Lee Community Center just outside the City of Falls Church to practice a stage version of a live radio broadcast of the classic holiday story It’s A Wonderful Life.

IMG_1035With an unusually bitter cold streak bearing down on the Northern Virginia area, director Brian O’Conner and other members of the Providence Players of Fairfax hunker down in the theatre of the James Lee Community Center just outside the City of Falls Church to practice a stage version of a live radio broadcast of the classic holiday story It’s A Wonderful Life.

“This is the first play I’ve directed and the first time the group done this play, and I’m amazed at how well this is coming along,” said O’Conner.

“We’re really excited to do another production in this theatre, which the Providence Players had a hand in designing when the community center was renovated,” he added.

While stage versions of It’s A Wonderful Life have been done since the original story, The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, was adapted for the famous movie starring James Stewart and Donna Reed in 1946, the Providence Players perform the story as if it were being performed live on a radio show complete with jingles for hair tonic and a sound effects table with bells, whistles and a small door.

“Some of the sound effects are being run through the sound system in the back, but most of them are being made right on the stage so that the audience can feel like they are watching an actual radio cast giving a performance,” said O’Conner.

“If a member of the audience closes their eyes and just listens, I think they could be convinced into believing that we’re doing a radio show,” he added.

When asked if the show would be broadcast live on the internet or on a local radio station, O’Conner said that while he loved the idea, the copyright and licensing fees would be prohibitively expensive.

“We’re going to have a few clips of the production up on YouTube or something for training purposes or as a highlight of our cast and crew, but there’s no way we’d be able to afford to have this broadcast on the radio or online. Our group has a fairly good set up in this theatre, but we’re not at the financial level we would need to be to stream this play live,” said O’Conner.

With many of the people on stage playing multiple roles, actor and Falls Church resident Michael Khatcheressian admits that it might be easier for some audience members to close their eyes and only listen to the play.

“I’m playing four different roles (the narrator, Sam, Harry and Ernie) and it gets a little confusing at first when you see an actor playing one character and then switching to another character in a short period of time without a costume change or anything,” said Khatcheressian.

“But that’s a great thing about this play. It really lets the members of the audience focus on what is being said and gets them to see what it must have been like to do radio shows in that time period,” he added.

While the set itself is very simple and does not use a great deal of props or lighting, the 1940s appearance of everything on stage, especially the antique microphones, was essential in making the production believable.

“The microphones are new, but we custom ordered them to look like actual antique microphones from that era. Our actors have to raise and lower them when going from one character to another which adds little ‘pops’ and sounds to the audio, but I think it helps people see the beauty of an old-fashioned radio show and prevents it from looking too smooth or slick,” said O’Conner.

“The sound effects table and those three microphones are essential to making this production be as good as possible. A lot of groups would just have the actors miced up with wireless sets and just have non-functioning old-fashioned mics on stage as a prop, but the fact that ours are a real part of the production just adds a nice element to the whole thing,” he added.

With opening night less than a week away, the cast and director are optimistic about the attendance of the show and the quality of the production.

“We usually sell around 75 to 80 percent of the seats in this theatre for a play and tickets usually sell better than that for Christmas plays, so we’re really looking forward to putting this show on and we hope everyone comes out to see what a great job all our cast members and crew have done with this story,” said O’Conner.

The Providence Players, currently in their 13th season and their seventh at the James Lee Community Center, begin their production of It’s A Wonderful Life on the weekend of Dec. 10 and end the production the weekend of Dec. 18. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 and 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and youths.