After a successful series of performances prior to last Christmas, the radio play It’s a Wonderful Life is returning to the Hay River Heritage Centre.
“We very much want this to become a yearly production as part of Christmas,” said director Judy West-Pratt.
Open auditions were held for the radio play – a version of the classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life – and 15 performers will be on stage.
All except four actors are different from last year’s performances.
Devon Beck is returning as the main character George Bailey and Wayne Bennett is back as the angel Clarence.
“It makes it different, and you’re working with a different crew,” said West-Pratt.
The performers will be voicing 36 characters and one bird.
In the story, Clarence the angel comes to Earth to save a despondent George Bailey, who was played in the 1946 movie by Jimmy Stewart.
“I like the idea of the story behind it,” said Bennett. “Everybody is having a good life. You just don’t realize you are.”
Last year’s performances were his first time acting in a play.
“I enjoyed it last year and I’m back at it again,” he said. “And probably again next year.”
Radio plays in the 1940s – in theatres such as Radio City Music Hall in New York City –attracted huge audiences and sometimes even the stars of the original movies or plays would perform.
This year’s performances of It’s a Wonderful Life at the heritage centre will take place on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24 at 7 p.m., along with a matinee on Nov. 26 at 2 p.m. Admission will be by donation.
Last year, the performance was in the form of a traditional radio play in which the actors – dressed in the styles of the 1940s – read their lines into a microphone.
This year, West-Pratt added another dimension to the play to make it more of a visual experience.
While the performers will still be reading their lines, they will also be behaving like actors in the play from days gone by.
West-Pratt explained she gave each of the actual actors a suggestion for a character, and they developed the personas.
In essence, it’s a play within a play, although the secondary personas do not speak.
“On stage when they’re not talking at the radio, they all have a character that they’re playing,” said West-Pratt. “It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
For example, Beck, while reading the role of George Bailey, will also be doing so while appearing to be James Bean, a young actor from Hollywood in the style of James Dean.
“There’s lots and lots of stuff happening in the background,” said West-Pratt of the secondary performances. “We have one gentleman who starts out sober and by the end of the play is drunk.”
The director said it was her idea to add personas to the actors.
“I wanted to give them something more to do on stage,” she said. “There isn’t a lot to watch in a radio play, and I’m a fan of Shakespeare. And in good Shakespeare there was always something running in the background. It didn’t matter where you looked on stage something was happening and so that’s what I used as the inspiration. And they needed something more to do.”
Bennett is also enjoying the addition of personas for the actors.
“It makes it more real,” he said.
In addition, the costumes for the play are more elaborate this year and it will be performed on a new set.
Overall, the production is very much improved, said Bennett. “And it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable.”
Last week, the radio play was recorded to be aired on community radio station CKHR at an undetermined date. It is also hoped that it will be played on a radio station in Yellowknife.
The radio play, which was created by American playwright Tony Palermo, is being presented with $850 in financial support from the Hay River Elks.