Our third Halloween event of October was attending Bricolage’s Midnight Radio presentation of War of the Worlds. This was always an event that fascinated me in our history: on October 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his radio group Mercury Theater adapted the famous book into a radio play that many people took a little too seriously, believing that Martians were actually attacking our planet.
Bricolage is a theater group downtown that additionally puts on live radio plays through their Midnight Radio performance group. Their productions are apparently quite great, as every time we’ve tried to get in there for something (First Night, Gallery Crawl, etc.), it’s been sold out. So, once we found out they would be recreating War of the Worlds, we bought advance tickets.
The performance was truly a neat experience. Because it was live in front of you, you had the opportunity to see just how they were making all of the sound effects you were hearing, which was pretty neat. But at the same time, the piece seemed even more effective if you just closed your eyes and listened, as if you were listening in at home back in 1938.
What I loved about the show was that they adapted it to take place in Pittsburgh. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, War of the Worlds is about Martians landing on earth and taking over the place. The radio broadcast put the audience into the middle of it as it was happening with reports from people in the field with the Martians and the military on the ground trying (in vain) to fight them. The opening few reports came interspersed through what would have been the scheduled programming for the night from the radio station (live music performances, in this case), which gave it all a feeling of being very real.
The first news report in this production came from the Allegheny Observatory, which is an astronomical research institution here in Pittsburgh. The first saucer landing was at McConnell’s Mill, which is that fantastic hiking place I always talk about north of the city. All of the geographical details were set in the Pittsburgh area.
Additionally, the cast performed funny fake commercials throughout the broadcast, and the live music was really quite good as well. If you closed your eyes during the most terrifying parts of the broadcast, you could really understand how people believed this was real. The fear in the actors’ voices was authentic, and the use of different microphones gave the effect that the actors were truly calling in and reporting from different locations.
However, what I loved best were the Martian spaceship sounds. I was trying to think of the last alien movie that I saw (I did not see the Tom Cruise War of the Worlds, because he makes me crazy, and the aliens looked too scary for me), and I came up with Independence Day. (Yes, I know that’s old as hell.) You know how aliens in recent movies are all very sleek and sophisticated, and they have these super high-tech ships that make whooshing and gliding sounds?
Alien spaceships in 1938 were not like that. They were made with 1938 mechanics, which meant that there was a lot of scraping and grinding when they opened, metal on metal sounds that made everything even scarier. I loved it. In a scary movie, when a coffin opens and there’s a sickening creak, it makes the experience scarier. When an alien is coming out of some heavy metallic ship with a lot of scraping sounds, it sends a shiver up your spine. Excellent sound effects!
So all in all, we really liked the show, and I think we would definitely go to another Bricolage event, based on this experience. Also, before the show, they had a ‘make your own Martian’ table, where you could make an alien out of old cans and scraps, and then enter them in a contest. Mine didn’t win, unfortunately, but he is sitting on my desk proudly anyway!
Here’s what the little guy looks like. The top 3 Martian-makers had to give their Martians voices so the audience could judge the winner, which I wish I could have done. As my Martian was made of a PBR can, he would probably have said something like, ‘Gosh I was totally invading planets like, last year, before it became so popular. It’s like everyone invades planets these days. Gosh.’ 🙂