The holidays in the Tri-State often have included special performances, like concerts from the Evansville Philharmonic Orchestra or various shows of the classic ballet, The Nutcracker. But the 2020 winter season looks a little different this year due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That hasn’t stopped the University of Southern Indiana Theatre department from working to bring holiday cheer with a well-loved Christmas tale.
Running from Dec. 16 to Dec. 23, the program will present “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” through an online broadcast. Those wishing to "attend" the performance can visit USI Theatre’s ticketing page to purchase passes to view the show for up to 48 hours. This adapted classic story of George Bailey is set in a 1940s radio station in the format of a live radio play production, the characters of the story are played by five actors, who utilize vocal nuances and the occasional prop to bring the tale to life. The production also will include a sound effects man in the background — professionally called a foley artist — to produce needed audio sounds in time with the play.
The play’s design team includes USI faculty member Paul Weimer as scenic designer; USI staff members Joshua Stallings as sound and lighting designer, Shan Jensen as costume designer, and Andy Hammond as technical designer; USI student Hadin Hart as production stage manager; and Charles Schefer as cinematic consultant. The cast includes USI students Zayed Braikat, Easton Crisp, Perci Hale, Noah Harrison, Nate Jenkins, Grace Koltz, Trevor Maxey, Samantha Stevens, and Noah Stiles.
While the hope by director Elliot Wasserman was to originally perform “A Christmas Carol,” the size of cast needed, and the interactive nature of the play could not guarantee a safe way to socially distance the actors says USI Theatre Managing and marketing Director Rebecca Lutton.
“This particular version of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is set up as a radio play. The actors are in their own ‘recording booths’ and therefore safely distanced from each other,” she adds.
Theaters not only at universities but across the country have been combatting the effects of COVID by getting creative in how they showcase performances. USI is no exception — “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” will be the second from the department that has been adapted, recorded, and broadcasted virtually for ticket holders to view.
“Our entire 2020-2021 season will be broadcasted. Our first performance of the season was our first recording, and we definitely learned a lot from it,” says Lutton.
That show, “Songs for a New World,” is available for streaming until September 2021.
Though it is not an ideal situation, the students and staff of the theater program are excited to use the opportunity continue to bring theater to the public. Future productions for the upcoming spring performances are also expected to be broadcasted. The hope is that publishing houses that hold the rights to plays may allow online streaming of plays and musicals an option for theater-goers after the pandemic has passed.
“The publishing houses made the decision to allow streaming during the pandemic, but even then, which plays and musicals have a streaming option are determined by the individual authors or their estates,” says Lutton. “Even at this point, there are plays and musicals that can only be produced live. USI Theatre’s decision will be based on how the publishing houses proceed once COVID-19 has passed.”
Keep up to date with USI Theatre shows and information by visiting usi.edu/theatre!