MHS Drama club decides show must go on through radio performance

Raghav Raj | Staff Writer

Sophomores (left to right) Nathanael Lape and Ben Ginsburg rehearse their lines as Junior Megan Biddle provides sound effects

On December 4th, with a bevy of COVID-19 precautions in place, the Mason High School Drama Club will return to theaters for their upcoming annual fall production. The show, an adaptation of Frank Capra’s timeless 1946 Christmas film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, has a decidedly unique twist: it’s being told in the format of an old-fashioned, live-broadcasted radio play.

For the Drama Club’s theater director, Allen Young, the idea to put out a radio play came primarily out of necessity. “With the onset of COVID-19, our plans for future plays were turned upside down, and we had to consider the new safety measures and the lack of revenue from our decreased audience sizes when thinking about how we were going to put on a show,” Young said.

After COVID-19 related lockdowns in March effectively postponed the spring show — a production of the musical Mamma Mia! — for at least a year, the Mason Drama Club found itself in unexpected trouble. According to Young, COVID-19 cost the club approximately $15,000 in savings, mostly due to a combination of licensing fees and a lack of revenue from ticket sales. During quarantine, the idea of having another play remained up in the air.

Eventually, after a lot of deliberation, the school settled on running the radio version of It’s A Wonderful Life. “The play is something that really connects with the holiday season, which is why we moved it back to the beginning of December,” Young said. “Since it’s all done on four separate microphones, it allows our cast to socially distance so that we’re never in danger of a quarantine sweeping out everyone on cast and ruining our rehearsal schedule.”

As Drama Club senior Jason Fish explains, the radio play concept was something that the cast and crew had to adjust to. “A radio play was something that a lot of us had an initial reaction to, because it’s a whole ‘nother medium for us to try and work to master,” said Fish. “Essentially, a radio play removes the motion and physicality of being on stage, and instead we just have this combination of voice acting, effects, and music that puts together the story in the audience’s head.”

A big part of this mental image comes from how the radio play uses sound effects, similar to how blocking and sets are utilized by theater plays. Primarily, these effects are created at a Foley table, which has a microphone hooked up to it and is overflowing with all sorts of props. One of the crew members operating at the Foley table is junior Megan Biddle, who’s taken the challenges of being a sound effects artist in stride.

“Being a part of sound effects is actually really interesting, and a lot harder than it looks, but it’s incredibly rewarding when it’s executed correctly,” Biddle said. “These sounds allow us to create an environment for the audience to engage with, even if COVID-19 ensured that that couldn’t happen physically.”

Even though performances of the play still involve a lot of physical motion from actors, this lack of physicality that COVID-19 safety protocol requires has been a particularly jarring change for many. One of these actors is Eliana Meadows — a Drama Club senior and four year veteran — who is still adjusting to the distance that COVID-19 has added to the experience of theater, especially between the cast on set. 

“Drama kids usually like to get up close to each other, to hug and talk face to face like a big family, but now we can’t really do that as much,” Meadows said. “It really is difficult for these performances to feel as intimate as they did before, especially when we have to be so particular with COVID-19 by setting up the room to be distanced, staying six feet apart, and using lots of hand sanitizer.”

Despite these changes, Meadows is just glad that Drama Club is back and able to put on a show amongst the chaos of the pandemic. “Personally, I am just so grateful that we were able to have a show in the first place, because lots of people were very concerned that COVID-19 would ensure that we’d have to abstain from having shows for a little longer.”