As stars twinkle above the quiet, soon-to-be snow-dusted streets of Kingsville, a story as timeless as Christmas itself is preparing to unfold at Migration Hall. Echoing the quaint charm and profound sentiment of Bedford Falls, “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” is set to captivate audiences from December 8-10. Under the direction of Julia Burgess and adapted from Marty Bufalini’s script, this rendition promises a heartwarming journey back to the golden era of radio, where every sound tells a story and every voice paints a picture.
Just as the beloved film opens with the heavens discussing George Bailey’s fate, this production invites audiences into a world where imagination reigns. In Kingsville’s own little corner of the universe, the spirit of the season comes alive, ringing with the nostalgia of a time when the radio was a centerpiece of the home. “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” and in this production, each bell, each sound effect, is a reminder of the simple joys and enduring truths that define our lives.
The transition from film to radio play offers a distinctive experience for the audience, as Burgess explains. “The audience will be pretending to be a 1940’s studio audience, so they’re engaged in the play by watching the action of the sound effects being done,” Burgess notes. This approach requires the audience to engage their imagination, enriching their experience of the narrative.
Directing a radio show poses unique challenges, particularly in casting. Burgess’s approach was focused on the auditory qualities of the actors’ performances. “I cast by testing the voices, sometimes with my eyes closed,” she shares, highlighting the importance of voice in conveying character relationships and emotions. The show’s format also allowed for a degree of improvisation, especially in ensemble scenes, which adds to the richness of the auditory experience.
In discussing the casting process, Burgess emphasizes the need for versatility in voice acting, especially for a character like George Bailey, who is portrayed at various stages of his life. The actors had to convey these transitions through voice alone, a challenge that Burgess navigated with careful direction and casting choices.
Burgess also speaks to the significance of the 1940s setting in the production. This era, often considered the golden age of radio, dictates not only the style of acting but also the overall aesthetic of the play. “You had to imagine the glory of an autumn landscape, the color of the silk gown,” Burgess says, underscoring the importance of this setting in bringing the play to life.
Incorporating 1940s-era commercials into the show, Burgess finds a way to involve local businesses while staying true to the period. “Early radio and early TV were almost entirely funded by sponsors,” she notes, drawing parallels between past and present-day media practices.
The challenges of directing a play that relies on auditory elements were significant, particularly in casting. “The biggest challenge is getting the right folks with the chops,” Burgess admits, also noting the creative solutions employed, like the ‘Bufalini Box’ for sound effects.
Exploring George Bailey’s character in this format offers a deep dive into his integrity and humanity. Burgess sees this as a reflection of hope, symbolized in the choice of Colio’s Hopetown red wine for the evening – a nod to both the character and the history of the region.
Burgess’s vision for the show is deeply rooted in authenticity, especially in the realm of sound effects, a crucial element of radio plays. “We use some outstanding vintage sound effects,” she explains, emphasizing the dedication to originality. Among the most fascinating is ‘The DOOR’ – a relic from the WXYZ studio in Detroit, used in iconic broadcasts like The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet. “Marty Bufalini saved that treasure, and we’ve rented it from his great collection,” Burgess adds, highlighting the historical significance embedded in the production.
The pre-show entertainment is another layer that enhances the audience’s experience, reminiscent of the era’s studio audience setup. “The pre-show is more informal, like you’re at a USO show or nightclub act,” Burgess describes, setting the scene for a night filled with Christmas and WWII-era hits, alongside social intermissions.
Discussing the concept of “theatre of the mind,” Burgess sheds light on the unique demands of a radio play. “It was the challenge of conveying character through voice and sounds alone that demanded the audience envision the action,” she says. This imaginative engagement is crucial, transforming simple sounds, like the crunch of cornstarch, into vivid scenes.
Directing actors in this format involves meticulous guidance to ensure that each voice conveys the right emotions and characteristics. “The voices, pace, and energy must be very intentional,” Burgess states, underscoring the intricate process of directing for radio.
Balancing nostalgia with innovation, the production incorporates both vintage and digital sound effects. “The thrill to me is seeing the actual old sound effects actively employed,” Burgess shares, her passion for blending the old with the new palpable.
Burgess hopes that audiences will appreciate the uniqueness of this theatrical experience. “A well-worn tale, a classic, but told with the incomparable je ne sais quoi of live theatre,” she articulates, emphasizing the rarity and charm of this ensemble piece.
Envisioning the audience’s role, Burgess anticipates an immersive experience. “I hope they’re swept away by the story,” she says, expecting them to actively participate in the unfolding drama.
Lastly, Burgess reflects on the rewards of directing this production. “It’s about the incredible camaraderie,” she states, emphasizing the collective effort and community spirit that makes such a project fulfilling.
The choice of cabaret seating for the show was another strategic decision by Burgess, aimed at enhancing the overall atmosphere of the production. “Migration Hall has fabulous acoustics and great sight lines,” she explains, adding that the setup creates a ‘dinner theatre’ atmosphere, perfectly complementing the 1940s setting of the play.
As the final scene of “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” will draw to a close at Migration Hall, the audience will most likely be left with more than just the echo of Clarence’s bell. This unique presentation of the beloved classic is more than just a play; it’s an invitation to a journey through the collective memories and joys of the past, reminding us to cherish the unspoken bonds and unsung heroes in our lives.
For those looking forward to being part of this magical holiday experience, tickets are available at the Migration Hall website and box office. This opportunity to step into a world where each life’s story is celebrated, and every moment is a gift, awaits those who choose to embrace the enduring spirit of George Bailey.