Murray State University's Theatre Department presents a radio rendition of the 1946 classic film It's a Wonderful Life this Thursday, December 10th. Assistant Professor of Theatre, Daryl Phillipy, speaks with Tracy Ross about the cast's COVID-friendly rehearsal process and upcoming performance.
From Murray State's website:
"Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life is a true classic of the American Cinema. Since its theatrical release in 1947, the film has been a "must-see" viewing for most American families on Christmas Eve. Now, there is a wonderful adaptation of the beloved Christmas film for the radio. The enduring story of the idealistic George Bailey and the denizens of Bedford Falls, New York, will leave you feeling hopeful and deeply moved by the power of love and redemption."
Those familiar with the story of George Bailey and Clarence Odbody can know what to expect with the MSU Theatre Department's upcoming radio play. "A lot of the dialogue is very similar," Phillipy explains. "There were obviously some cuts to the dialogue. But it's pretty much straight up Clarence and Joseph watching the events of George Bailey's life unfold so Clarence can bring some divine intervention to help George in this hour of need."
Phillipy grew up watching It's a Wonderful Life and carries the tradition on today. A radio format would allow COVID-friendly rehearsal and performances, and since the department rarely puts on a Christmas production, Phillipy knew they had to do It's a Wonderful Life. "One, because I think it's a chestnut, and everyone loves it. But it's got a lot to say for our times, it really does. That was the other thing that I'm drawn to...[the film] is so timeless and such a classic because it has something to say for all of us, even here in 2020 and the cynical world we're living in right now."
"I think the other thing that's real exciting about this is to help enliven the world that we miss visually," Phillipy adds. "There are lots of great sound effects. A lot of the sound effects were done live in the radio studio there. We did have a few that we recorded. The sound artist, Jillian, she's really another member of the cast in a lot of ways. The plays really came to life. She didn't come in until the last two or three rehearsals before we went to record it in the studio."
Phillipy and the actors were able to work together prior to the rehearsal process in a classroom setting. "I teach voice and diction here at the university, as well as dialects and voice acting," Phillipy says. "The one thing I constantly preach to our students is the most expressive tool we have as actors is our voice. The unique aspect of this particular production is I only had five actors, and they had to perform 25 different characters. Other than the actors who played George and Mary Bailey, it left three actors playing roughly 20 plus parts."
The actors emulate so many distinct voices and characters by manipulating voice variables, Phillipy explains. "Pitch, volume, tempos, and rhythms, shaping the oral cavity can create different sounds. Different ways of creating articulation was a challenge of working with those students." Most of this rehearsal process was done via Zoom due to COVID-19.
"I could oftentimes close my eyes and just listen to the voices. That [gave] me a sense of what the show was going to sound like as far as what the actors were doing with it," Phillipy says. "I just let them tell the story every night. They grew every single night that we Zoomed together, and then we got to a certain point where [they were] ready for the radio. That was the first time that they all came together."
"That was the exciting thing -- to watch them in the studio together because now, they could act off each other verses just the Zoom screen. You could just see the physical life generating itself in front of the microphones. That was exciting to see how they played off each other once they were together, never really having a chance to be together until the performance in the radio station."
The It's a Wonderful Life radio play will be broadcast at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 10th. You can listen on-air or online at wkms.org.
"I know [the movie] comes on every year, sometimes it comes on ad nauseam. But it truly is a different experience to hear it on the radio. If you just love the story, and it touches your heart and your soul the way it does most people, it'll do the same even as a radio production. I know how it all ends. I know everything about it, but that moment when the community pays him back for all of his sacrifice that he's given to the community. It's a really touching moment and will bring a tear to your eye. A joyful tear, hopefully," Phillipy concludes.