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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

SJU Theatre Company goes virtual for fall production

Nicole Butch ’21 is cast as Mary Bailey in the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play.” PHOTO: KELLY SHANNON ’24/THE HAWK

The SJU Theatre Company will present a streamed performance of “It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play” by Joe Landry on Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. 

The play is based on the Frank Capra film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and will be performed as a 1940s radio broadcast, according to Renee Dobson, M.F.A., associate professor of performing arts and artistic director of Bluett Theatre. 

“The [setting] is a radio station,” Dobson said. “[The students] are playing actors who are then playing these roles in 1940s period costumes.” 

During the production, each actor or actress will stand on stage with a microphone, six feet from one another. Viewers will be able to see the actors and actresses on stage through the recording. The performance will be available to the public for free through a platform provided by Playscripts Royalty Company, according to Dobson. 

Robert Whitney ’23, who plays Henry F. Potter, the old villainous banker, Joseph, the angel supervisor and Pete, George Bailey’s son, said the radio play is a unique experience because it relies more on auditory changes. 

“It’s just a whole different style of theater,” Whitney said. “Normally, it’s all about having yourself fully engaged, physically, but now, I have to put on different voices for different characters.” 

Dobson said it is very similar to how radio plays would be performed before there were televisions, and the actors are able to develop their characters’ voices on their own and during rehearsals. 

“In the 1940s, there would be four or five actors in the radio studio, and they would have to voice several roles,” Dobson said. “We have quite talented students doing this, and they’re working to be really aware of creating the distinction between each.”

Dobson said the SJU Theatre Company originally planned to perform another, much larger, production this semester but decided on a smaller production with no live audience and a six person cast. 

“In a discussion with the dean and the department chair of Music, Theatre and Film, we thought it’d be best if we don’t have a live audience in the theater due to COVID-19,” Dobson said. “We wanted to keep the cast small so that we could follow social distancing protocols.”

Nicole Butch ’21, who plays Mary Bailey, the wife of George Bailey who helps him through his hardships and lifts the spirits of everyone, said this experience taught her to be more confident on stage and trust her own abilities as an actress. 

“When you have an audience, you are dependent on them and you get a sense about how well you’re doing based on their reactions, but with this format, no one is there,” Butch said.

One benefit is that a streamed performance allows the actors to connect to a much larger audience, and provide some positive action for people. 

“I’m excited to be able to perform it for people who are out-of-town or in quarantine at home and can’t go out,” Butch said. “I’m glad that we can bring a safer alternative for people to still enjoy theater at home.”

Dobson said this is a great experience for students to learn a new type of performance. She is hopeful that live and in-person performances will return when it is safe to do so.

“This is the best way to continue to move forward with theater, but this is a temporary situation.” Dobson said. “Streams will never replace an event with a live audience because it’s a very specialized experience.”

Ultimately Butch was thankful and excited when she heard the SJU Theatre Company was still able to hold a production during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re doing this in the safest way possible, and I’m still able to do what I love,” Butch said. “Even though it’s my senior year, I’m just so glad that we do not have to close the curtain.”

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