In 1938, director and actor Orson Welles frightened scores of radio listeners with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds.” Next week, Southwest Louisiana will have the opportunity to listen to a recreation of the infamous broadcast of an alien invasion from Mars, and the helpless humans trying to survive the ruthless invaders.
“Orson Welles did a series of broadcasts that were well-known and extremely popular,” Brook Akya Hanemann, director of Banners at McNeese State University, said. “Families would gather around their radios religiously to listen to his radio plays. But this one supposedly caused a bit of massive hysteria. Although it was done as we’ll be doing it, some folks tuned in a little bit late and were unaware that they were in the midst of hearing a radio play. What they thought was that they were hearing actual live coverage of martians landing all across the United States and taking over the human race.”
Hanemann said the play will be recreated in the same way Welles originally broadcast it — live. The play will be broadcast on McNeese’s radio station — 88.3 KBYS.FM — at 6 p.m. Oct. 30 and will be rebroadcast at 6 p.m. Oct. 31.
She said the play has been slightly updated for a modern-day radio show, and will be presented as if they were happening live and being covered by radio station broadcasters.
“We are fortunate in that I was able to reach out to the Orson Welles Estate and ask them if we could localize the play just a bit,” Hanemann said. “We didn’t change much, but we did change some locations. Instead of the story itself beginning with an alien object landing in a field in New York, we have that object landing right here in Southwest Louisiana. Instead of our professor being based out of the observatory in Princeton, we have our professor being based out of McNeese State University — and not only that, but we have an actual McNeese State professor who will be reading that particular role. It’s going to be special.”
Hanemann — who will be directing the voice actors — said the names of hotels featured in the original broadcast are also being changed to include local landmarks like the Majestic and Charleston hotels. “It’s going to be a fun way to localize it while also keeping the integrity of the original piece,” she said. “We just want to give the people a little bit of a break. All of us, individually and collectively, have been through so much and there’s not much of an immediate end in sight. We want to give folks a break in the evening after they’ve come in from toiling in their businesses and their homes and they can sit back and go back to the good old days where people did gather as a family around the radio and they listened and allowed their imagination to paint the pictures they were hearing about.”
Hanemann said the broadcast is a collaboration between McNeese and The Lake Charles Little Theatre.
“That’s what makes it so special during what I call this ‘post-pandemic-cane,’ ” she said with a laugh. “We’re reaching out to each other, we’re collaborating with each other, and this is only making us stronger than ever. This project is a mirror of that.”
She said listeners will be able to hear local celebrity guests voicing many of the roles — including Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter; Matt Young, director of cultural affairs at Historic City Hall Arts and Cultural Center; McNeese Theatre Director Charles McNeely; radio personalities Gary Shannon and Heather Partin; Lake Charles Little Theatre president Randy Partin; and more.
The broadcast is expected to last an hour.
“We’re also trying to do it in a way so that once someone is done with their section of reading they will then exit the building so we don’t have a congregation of people inside,” she said. “We’re utilizing all three of the studios in KBYS so we can keep people separated and can disinfect one room when others are reading in another.”
Hanemann said directing “War of the Worlds” is a dream come true.
“Truth be told, my father exposed me to this when I was just a child and it’s been a bucket list production for me forever,” she said.
Hanemann said Southwest Louisiana deserve a night of fun as the area recovers from Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
“The people of Southwest Louisiana are so resilient, so helpful; they’re just warriors,” she said. “They’ll do whatever needs to be done to help people, 100 percent, but I also believe something else that makes them unique and incredibly helpful as a community is that we really do honor and enjoy our culture, our heritage — and this production is a nod to that.”
She said Southwest Louisiana residents should also stay tuned for more radio productions being planned in the future, including “It’s A Wonderful Life” this Christmas season.
“Our theater community took some immense hits from the hurricanes and this will be a way for us to give the people of Southwest Louisiana a gift of a little bit of entertainment while we recover.