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Aliens on the airwaves
Original play recreates “The War of the Worlds” radio broadcast

10/04/18



 By Angie Sykeny 

asykeny@hippopress.com
 
On Oct. 30, 1938, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players sent millions of Americans into a panic with their “The War of the Worlds” broadcast, a realistic dramatization of an alien invasion and attack on Earth. Merrimack playwright Gary Locke recreates the infamous event on stage with his original play, Invasion from Mars, opening at the Hatbox Theatre in Concord on Friday, Oct. 5. 
“I’ve always marveled at the story of ‘The War of the Worlds’ broadcast and the effect it had on people,” Locke said. “I find it fascinating that these few people managed to make millions of people believe that Martians had invaded Earth, simply through their acting and a few sound tricks.” 
The play takes the audience behind the scenes to the CBS studio and control room where Welles voiced and directed the broadcast, and tells three stories of people who were listening to it around the country. 
The first story goes inside the home of Steve Allen, the first host of The Tonight Show, who was a kid at the time. The second story, which is “steeped in legend,” Locke said, follows two drunken men in a cabin in New Jersey, where the aliens were said to have landed, and the third is an entirely fictional story about a woman whom Locke modeled after his own mother, who remembered the night of the broadcast. 
Locke said he got “really obsessed” with the story, and a lot of research went into making the play as true to the real event as possible. The play features 1930s period costuming and authentic 1930s radios and audio equipment. The actors create the sound effects for the broadcast using the same tricks that were used in the real thing. 
“The sound of the spaceship top coming off and the creature coming out was all done by unscrewing a jar next to a recording device inside a men’s bathroom,” Locke said, “and we show how all of that was done [in the play].” 
While holding auditions for another show that he was directing, Locke found his Orson Welles: University of New Hampshire Theater major Lucas LeBlanc. 
“He’s a dead-ringer for Orson Welles, and he’s the same age that Orson Welles was when he did the broadcast,” Locke said. “When I laid eyes on him, I said, ‘I have to get this guy for my show.’” 
LeBlanc said he immediately accepted the role and started researching the event, about which he knew very little. 
“I had heard about it — it’s something almost everyone hears about at some point — but I only knew the basics, so it was massive learning process,” LeBlanc said. “But once I started learning about it and how much of an impact it had on people, I became very interested and excited to be able to recreate the story.” 
LeBlanc spent a lot of time listening to the original broadcast and watching videos of interviews with Welles to learn Welles’ mannerisms and characteristics. The most challenging aspect of playing Welles, he said, is recreating his iconic baritone voice. 
“His voice was one of his most notable features, so I’ve been working really hard to perfect that,” he said. “My natural speaking voice is higher pitched, so I have to do a lengthy routine of warm-ups to get my voice to go that low comfortably.” 
While the play is, in many ways, a comedy, Locke said, it’s also a reminder of “how careful we must be” with the media. 
“Millions of people tuned in to the Welles broadcast just a few minutes too late. … By the time the Mercury Players read a disclaimer, the damage was done. Americans trusted the source,” he said. “How many people retweet or repost a story without checking to see if it’s genuine? [The play] tells us as much about ourselves today as it does about people 80 years ago.” 





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