Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's a Wonderful Life, A Live Radio Play--Scene Design

Cast of "It's a Wonderful Life"

It's a Wonderful Life, A live Radio Play by Joe Landry was produced fall semester, 2013 in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho

A cast assembles on the set of a live radio stage and performs It's A Wonderful Life before a studio audience.

It's A Wonderful Life is the story of George Bailey, a young man with big dreams who gives up his dreams to to the right thing over and over again.  When he reaches his lowest point, he wishes he had never existed.  His guardian angel grants his request and he goes to his hometown to see what has become of it and everyone else if he had never been born.  It's then that he realizes he really did have a wonderful life.

Based on the classic film by the same name, made by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart.

The director, Roger Merrill suggested we recreate a live radio stage from the 1940's on our proscenium house.  For the radio play, he wished to create all the sound effects live on stage with the actors.  Additionally, he wished to broadcast it live on our university radio station for at least one night of the run.  Five actors play all the parts and so different costume pieces would be used to designate who was playing which character and when.

I did quite a bit of research on old radio stages.  I discovered that in the days before television, live radio plays were performed in theatre studios in front of live audiences.  Much like late night, live television is produced today.

The design of the set was quite simple.  I designed an Art Deco false proscenium and two portals in forced perspective.  I also designed a back wall with the same profile detail as the portals.  The back wall had acoustical tiles on it as a studio stage would have.  There was also a practical door in which the stage manager could enter and exit from.  On the stage right portion of the wall was a window into a phony booth.  My original intent was to have the light board and the stage manager in that booth and have the show called from there.  While it would have been cool, it became obvious during the rehearsal process that it would be impractical so we abandoned that aspect of it.

Thumbnail Sketch

Along the plaster line we had several old style microphones for the actors to perform at and behind them we had a complete Foley stage where all the live sound effects were produced by the actors.  The play takes place in December and so I dressed the studio with Christmas decorations.  Additionally, I dressed the stage with old photos and movie posters of film and stage stars from the period (1940's) and the two decades before.

Since this was a single set show, I decided to paint it a neutral grey so the lighting designer could change the space from past to present, indoor to outdoor, spring to fall to winter to summer and etc...

The set from the front

From the side

With different colored light

An old style wind machine we built for this show

Practical effect for horses hooves


Drugstore door slam

A costume change

This was a delightful show to be a part of.  It was a fun collaboration and it was an audience pleaser.  We did it as the last production in fall semester just before the Christmas break.  The set was simple and yet it was everything it needed to be.  The live radio broadcast was well received in the community.

Production Details
Director:  Roger Merrill
Scene Designer:  Gary Benson
Lighting Designer:  Richard Clifford
Costume Designer:  Kathy Schmid
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

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