- “We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s, and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
- “With infinite complacency people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small, spinning fragment of solar driftwood which, by chance or design, man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space.
- “Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.
- “In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment. It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30th, the Crosley service estimated that thirty-two million people were listening in on radios.”
So opens one of the most famous radio broadcasts of the last century, Orson Welles’ famous interpretation of H.G. Wells’ allegorical classic War of the Worlds.
Set in 1939, but actually broadcast on October 30th 1938, the adaptation was part of Welles’ own weekly (and largely dramatic) Mercury Theatre on Air presentations for CBS Radio.
So real did the show seem, that many who tuned-in after it had commenced broadcasting – so missing the opening announcements – took it for genuine reports of an unimaginable invasion, rather than the usual fictional offering from Welles.
It has been claimed that Welles structured his adaptation specifically so that the first “news broadcast” from Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, would occur some 12 minutes into the broadcast, knowing full well that it was around that time that those listening to NBC Radio’s The Chase and Sandborn Hour would frequently re-tune their radios to listen to The Mercury Theatre on CBS, and this added to the confusion the show created among listeners.
While history suggests that the show may not have caused quite the panic that newspapers at the time suggested (at least during the actual broadcast), that it did have an impact both while on-air and in the days that followed cannot be denied. Certainly, it became something that was – a notable event in history, one that is still known to many the world over even now, some 73 years after the original broadcast.
And it is this history that is about to come to life in Second Life this month.
To mark Halloween this year, the Seanchai Library will give three performances of War of the Worlds in Second Life. What is more, thanks to the gracious permission of the family of playwright Howard Koch, the performances will be and adaptation of the 1938 screenplay Koch and writing partner Anne Froelich produced for Welles’ broadcast.
The production is being directed by Seanchai’s own Caledonia Skytower, and will feature the voice talents of Shandon Loring, Bear Silvershade and Kayden O’Connell, Crap Mariner, Elder Priestman, BigRed Coyote and Caledonia Skytower herself among the cast.
Commenting on the production, Caledonia said, “I remember hearing the L.A. Theatreworks production of this script in the 1990s and imagining what it must have been like to have been listening that October evening in 1938. Orson Welles and company presented it in keeping with the spirit of the Halloween season.”
“War of the Worlds scared the pants off people back in the ’30s, using the power of voice to persuade folks this was real,” Derry McMahon, Seanchai’s chief librarian, added enthusiastically, “We plan to generate that same feeling with our production.”
This is definitely not something to be missed. War of the Worlds – be it the novel, the radio broadcasts (and its many later adaptations) or Jeff Wayne’s glorious musical version (also recently revived on stage) – is a fabulous tale with an allegorical heart that may still hold as true today as it did in Wells’ own time. The Seanchai production promises to continue the tradition set by its predecessors and, in the process, help to raise money for charity. Given this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it is fitting that the nominated charity is the Susan G. Komen Foundation.