HUDSON — To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the original 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles’ famous Halloween fright night to the nation, Hudson Players will present a special one-weekend-only staged reading of the original script Oct. 19 and 20 at the Barlow Community Center, 41 S. Oviatt Street in Hudson.
Tickets are just $10 and are available by calling the Hudson Players box office at 330-655-8522 or online at www.hudsonplayers.com.
Based on the H.G. Wells novel, the War of the Worlds radio script is a realistic depiction of a Martian attack and how the nation reacts to the invasion. It truly was an early example of “fake news.” Director Theresa Benyo-Marzullo said it was the reactions of the radio listeners those many years ago that drew her to this production.
“The fact that this event is still so well-known even 80 years after it was first presented is what drew me toward wanting to direct,” said Benyo-Marzullo. “Plus, I also love space exploration which was another hook. We as a civilization have always been fascinated with outer space and the potential for life out there besides what is on our home planet.
“I also hold some nostalgia about the ‘30s and ‘40s and love that time period of our history with the music, the movies, and the radio programs like War of the Worlds.”
The cast, which will be playing multiple parts, include: Sally Surin, Gina Marzullo, Rachel Marzullo, Jim Marzullo, Gary Maher, Glen Johnson, Tim Boswell, David Sherman, Abby Morris, Elliot Ingersoll, and David Dolansky.
There has always been debate as to whether Orson Welles set out to humbug the nation with this iconic radio broadcast. In October 1938, Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air had been on CBS radio for only 17 weeks. It didn’t have a sponsor like most other shows, but was known for fresh adaptations of literary classics.
But for the week of Halloween, Welles wanted something very different.
Many of Welles’ team thought the story was dull and child-like, with sci-fi themes and alien invaders nowhere near as popular then as they are now. But with less than a week until broadcast they frantically tried to make it work. Welles himself complicated the process since he was also rehearsing a play off-Broadway with his other theatre company and barely engaged in radio venture.
However, once the decision was made to play up the fake news broadcasts, the script barely started to come together. When Welles called to check on the progress, a technician told him “It’ll put the audience to sleep.”
But it was the structure of the play that ended up being a reason many people thought it was real.
As an article in Smithsonian Magazine explains: “Unlike in most radio dramas, the station break in War of the Worlds would come about two-thirds of the way through, and not at the halfway mark. Apparently, no one in the Mercury realized that listeners who tuned in late and missed the opening announcements would have to wait almost 40 minutes for a disclaimer explaining that the show was fiction.”
Radio audiences had come to expect that fictional programs would be interrupted on the half- hour for station identification. Breaking news, on the other hand, failed to follow those rules. People who believed the broadcast to be real would be even more convinced when the station break failed to come at 8:30 p.m.
CBS’ legal department had no inclination that the broadcast might frighten the nation, making only a few minor changes to the script. A radio critic was told by one of the actors: “Just between us, it’s lousy.”
When Welles finally made his appearance a few hours before the show aired, he started making changes — as was his style. But one of the things he did actually helped make the broadcast sound more realistic. By slowing down the pace, and insisting the musical interludes were more prevalent than the fake news bulletins, at least early on, he lulled listeners into thinking what they were hearing was real, not a staged event.
Ultimately, Welles succeeded far beyond his wildest expectations in being able to scare the nation and the publicity surrounding War of the Worlds took Welles to Hollywood, where he made his masterpiece movie Citizen Kane.
However, many of his radio cohorts at Mercury Theatre were just trying to avoid being laughed off the air.