It’s Oct. 31.
You might not be thinking of Christmas.
John Campbell certainly is.
Actually, he has been for months now.
He really didn’t have much of a choice, as the holiday spirit, early it might be, was his choice.
Campbell, a regular on-stage performer with Georgetown Community Theatre, will be spreading his wings this December when he makes his directorial debut with the group for It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. ” The play will be held Dec. 7 and 8 and John L. Hill Chapel at Georgetown College. Audience members are asked to be in their seats by 7:45 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., respectively.
The concept is simple: Take Frank Capra’s beloved holiday staple It’s a Wonderful Life and transform it into the tale of a group performing a live radio play (hence the self-explanatory title, complete with a colon). It’s a show within a show, and audience members will likely get caught up in the emotions of Capra’s original story and the excitement of seeing a radio broadcast unfold.
“A lot of the fun of this version is the constant awareness that what is happening is in two different realities — the people in the room see the actors create George Bailey’s world through the medium of sound,” Campbell said.
That should lead to a blending of the senses, sight and sound uniting to tell the full story. The audience will watch someone create an imitation of the sound of George Bailey jumping into the river, “but if they close their eyes they will hear it (we hope) as if it’s the real thing,” Campbell said.
The result should be a relatively interactive performance for the audience, requiring them to stretch their imaginations as the story unfolds.
“Sometimes the reality is quite different from what is supposedly going out over the airwaves,” Campbell said, “and that will be fun for our audience.”
But lest would-be viewers think this is too radical a departure from the chestnut they watch every Christmas, much of the old standbys will be there, from the angel Clarence to Zuzu’s petals (Jimmy Stewart impersonations not included).
“Most of the dialogue of the movie is there, along with an occasional verbal description so that the listener knows what is going on,” Campbell said. “One of the advantages for our version, however, is that the audience has to bring more to it — make it their own —rather than letting the movie do it all for them. I think that is a much more powerful experience.”
That’s not so say it’s a complete carbon copy.
“We’ll also have features you won’t get from the movie,” Campbell said. “When the audience enters the chapel, they will be transported back to 1946. They’ll be escorted to their seats by uniformed ushers and be warmed up by the master of ceremonies. There will be a newscast on the hour. The show will have a couple of commercials hawking real products from that era. Certainly, the art deco set and period costumes will contribute to the illusion. And the audience will be part of the show, providing the crowd noises in a couple of key scenes.”
Campbell, a regular on-stage performer for GCT, might be the perfect choice to helm this particular story.
“I don’t know if I chose it as much as it chose me. I had just been invited to join the board of Georgetown Community Theatre, and they needed someone to direct this show. I’ve directed a radio play before. I enjoy directing, and the timing was good for me to take it on.”
So far, so good.
“Some of the things he’s going to do are fascinating,” said Carol Brannock, GCT’s executive director. “He’s really into this. It’s interesting the way he’s taken over and the life he’s bringing to it. He’s really just tickled with it.”
The audience should be pleased, too, which will suit Campbell just fine. Because, after all, every time an audience claps, a director gets his wings.