‘War of the Worlds’ reimagined at Kiggins

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



If you go

o What: The next reimagined radio show features Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol."

o When: 7 p.m. Dec. 18.

o Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

“As I set down these notes on paper, I’m obsessed by the thought that I may be the last living man on Earth,” radio actor Sam Mowry said. He sat on a stool, dressed all in black, and peered through his spectacles at the rapt audience.

They sat in downtown Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre, which originally opened in 1936 — two years before the original broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” that Mowry helped re-enact Thursday night.

“All that happened before the arrival of these monstrous creatures in the world now seems part of another life, a life that has no continuity with the present, furtive existence of the lonely derelict who pencils these words on the back of some astronomical notes bearing the signature of Richard Pierson,” Mowry said, playing the part of a professor in the infamous radio story of a Martian invasion on Earth.

No one in the theater raised their hand when asked if they had heard the original broadcast, an adaptation of H.G Wells’ sci-fi novel. It’s been 76 years, after all, since the show aired on Halloween Eve in 1938.

Thursday evening’s live radio show was the fourth held at the Kiggins Theatre through a partnership with the Portland-based Willamette Radio Workshop and Washington State University Vancouver’s creative media and digital culture program.

If you go

o What: The next reimagined radio show features Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”

o When: 7 p.m. Dec. 18.

o Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main St., Vancouver.

More shows are planned for this summer. It’s part of reimagined radio, in which classic radio dramas are overlaid with multimedia, said WSUV Professor John Barber.

The show used digital and handmade sound effects while images appeared on the screen.

Foley artists onstage made sounds like the clip-clopping of shoes, the clinking of glasses and the ominous whirring of radio interference using everyday objects. They blew on glass bottles to make the sound of a whirling wind. An opening and closing umbrella sounded like the flap of birds’ wings. A spatula striking a stainless steel bowl mimicked the gong of a bell — tolling as New York City mourned the loss of lives in the alien attack.

“This may be the last broadcast. We’ll stay here to the end. People are holding service below us in the cathedral,” a radio announcer said before the Martians crossed the Hudson river and annihilated people in Times Square.

“Is there anyone on the air? Is there anyone?” a radio operator asked.

In the end, as the story goes, the Martians are killed by bacteria.

It’s said that the original broadcast incited panic among people who tuned in during the part of the show that mimics a news bulletin.

Mowry reminded the audience that the broadcast is “radio’s version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying ‘boo.'”

“So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian,” he said. “It’s Halloween.”

Orson Welles’ radio broadcast caused quite a stir in 1938

Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds” was aired the night before Halloween in 1938. Mercury Theatre on the Air performed the adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 19th-century science fiction novel about Martians invading Earth.

Voice actors described a meteor crashing into a farmer’s field in New Jersey and said Martians got into walking machines to destroy everything and everyone in their path.

Back then, the Sunday evening slot was prime time for radio and the broadcast was well done — perhaps, too well done. When people tuned in partway through, it sounded like a news bulletin unfolding. Panicked listeners reportedly tried to hide, flee and find out more information from news media about what was happening.

It’s unknown exactly how many people believed the country was under siege by aliens, or how many people were even dialing in. While those duped are believed to be a small fraction of the audience, the legend of massive hysteria persists. The broadcast and the reported panic became an infamous event in American broadcast history.

The story “The War of the Worlds” was eventually adapted into film, including the most recent version in 2005 starring Tom Cruise, and a television series in the late 1980s.