Volume One hosts ‘War of the Worlds’ reader’s theatre

Eau Claire community members relive the chilling events of Orson Welles’ radio drama

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Photo by Sadie Sedlmayr

Eau Claire community members, faculty and students reenacted “War of the Worlds,” the radio drama which sent the nation into a frenzy.

“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special announcement.”

It was near the end of October. Business was good. The war scare was over. More people were back at work. Sales were picking up. On the evening of Oct. 30, 1938, the Crosley Service estimated 32 million people tuned into their radios to hear what appeared to be a close encounter with the third kind. What soon followed was mass chaos.

Last Friday night, in celebration of the 78th anniversary of Orson Welles’ classic radio drama, Volume One hosted a reader’s theatre of the infamous radio broadcast “War of the Worlds,” based on the 1898 science-fiction novel by H.G. Wells, to a jam-packed audience.

The reader’s theatre group was spearheaded by English professor B.J. Hollars and physics and astronomy professor Paul Thomas. The UW-Eau Claire Foundation and The Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild also helped sponsor this production.

The reader’s theatre consisted of mass hysteria, panic and laughs galore. In a contemporary manner, it retold the chilling events that caused a national stir as those listening to the radio broadcast actually believed the tale of an extraterrestrial takeover was happening.

Freshman student Emma Mabie, a history and science student, said she enjoyed the broadcast production immensely.

“It was dramatic and exciting,” Mabie said. “I loved it.”

Freshman art student Madison Deyor said she enjoyed the special effects, lighting and sound. She said there was a life lesson to be learned from this broadcast, especially regarding concerns of authenticity and credibility when we read or watch news.

Deyor said what she liked best about the reader’s theatre was the suspense as the characters tried to make sense of supernatural hoax.

“All I took away from this is not to trust everything you hear on the radio,” she said.

Hollars also said the decision to do the play around Halloween wasn’t a coincidence.

“I was sitting in a meeting one day and thought to myself what would be a really fun thing to do with the community, students, faculty and community members related to Halloween,” Hollars said, “and ‘War of the Worlds’ popped into my head.”

The process of choosing who to star in this production was not an easy feat.  

“We have so many talented folks in this community and I just kind of talked to one person who knew someone else who knew someone else who got into touch with Wisconsin Public Radio and Blugold Radio,” Hollars said. “Little by little we just kind of assembled a team.”

The actors included Rob Reid, a professor of education studies; Ken Szymanski and Jason Splichal, English teachers at South Middle School; Debbie Brown, volunteer and event coordinator at WPR’s Eau Claire studio; and sophomore English education student Katie Hennen.

Hennen said her reasoning for joining the cast was she thought this experience would be fun all around. Hollars was her creative writing professor last year and when he asked her to audition for the reader’s theatre, she happily obliged.

It was fun to work with Hollars and other actors in the community, Hennen said.

Hollars said he hopes that in the end, the stage broadcast production was able to capture the audience in the way he envisioned it would.

“What I really wanted to accomplish was to find a way to have a great and enjoyable night where everyone in the community comes together and just enjoys one another’s talents.”