Utica College rehearses for Martian invasion

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“They look like tentacles!”

“We’re edible ants!”

Last Friday, I attended a Zoom meeting that was especially interesting and actually entertaining. The Utica College Theatre Department was rehearsing for a live October 30th radio and streaming broadcast of The War of the Worlds. The drama about a Martian invasion is famous for its verisimilitude, which the cast and crew plan to capture by having actors playing reporters cut into what seems to be a live music broadcast complete with a soundtrack made up exclusively of local bands and performers, Cait Devon, JswaeZ, and Atkins Riot.

Isabella Hudziak, a freshman, plays “Carol Phillips” and ensemble characters. This is her acting debut.

“I’ve never been in a show, I’ve never been on the radio,” she said.

While listening to the rehearsal, I was watching a Google spreadsheet of music and other sound effects that Charles Buckley, a sophomore, has to grapple with.

“I’m more of a writing type of person,” he said while looking up YouTube royalty-free audio clips of crowd sounds, lasers firing, and queuing up videos from local artists. I noticed one of my former students, Emmalyn Ylaya’s name was popping up as one of the people helping to gather the audio. She is a student in the Theater Design class, and participating is part of her course work.

Abby Whitt, a freshman, has her hands full understudying for all the actors. She is up to the challenge, however, keeping track of who ways what by color-coding her copy of the script using a different highlighter for each character.

“Honestly, being an understudy is super fun,” she enthused. “I get the opportunity to play all of the characters, so my rehearsals never get monotonous.”

Stage Manager, Seth Shaw, who is a senior majoring in Chemistry, said that he is actually a “math person,” or had been until he was introduced to theatre at Utica College.

“I was a three-sport athlete in high school,” Seth told me. “I never thought I’d be involved in theater.”

He says the infectious atmosphere created by the department faculty and the students working on productions drew him to become involved.

“A lot of jocks find theatre entertaining,” director Rachel Wolfe, Assistant Professor of Theatre, explained. She said that the nature of rehearsing scenes over and over was similar to being coached during sports practice.

“I really like it here,” Derek Corsner, a junior studying Political Science, said of his participation in the project and of the college in general. For him, it’s a way to do something social and cultural despite the restrictions presented by concerns about COVID.

“Being here, being able to do theatre makes it feel like a school,” he explained, saying that he is getting a good education from both hybrid and in-person classes.

“I always knew I wanted to go to Utica College,” Isabella Hudziak agreed.

Isabella’s older sister, Gabriella Hudziak, a junior majoring in communications and media, pulls off the impressive feat or recreating the role of “Professor Pierson” played in the original by Orson Welles. I asked her how she prepared to deliver a monologue that spans the entire second act of the play with con

“I’m thinking she was having a regular old day when Martians attacked,” she laughed. “It’s freaky!”

“There were no men in the original drama,” Rachel Wolfe told me. “Radio was a man’s world.”

The War of the Worlds was broadcast nationally on the Columbia Broadcast Radio Network on Sunday, October 30, 1938. It was based on the H. G. Wells science fiction novel of the same name and is reputed to have caused mass panic in listeners who are alleged to have believed the world was truly under attack by invaders from the Red Planet. While that may be largely apocryphal, its popularity has never dimmed; it is often adapted around Halloween. In the year of COVID, it makes a perfect show for the Utica College Theatre Department to present since it lends itself to radio and streaming, allowing for social distancing.

“I chose it because we were suddenly going online while the whole world seemingly fell apart overnight,” Prof. Wolfe explained.

When I asked the assembled cast and crew if they believed that extraterrestrial beings had visited the Earth, every hand but Wolfe’s shot up.

“The cause could be COVID or aliens; that’s less important than the story about how society can collapse,” she said, pointing out why it’s so congruent to our current culture. “In the 1930’s it was the Great Depression. That caused their instability. Now the pandemic hit, and suddenly it was relevant again.”

“You know how your characters responded when Martians invaded, but what you do personally in that situation,” I asked.

Haleigh Vescio, who plays the “Radio Announcer” and other ensemble characters, insisted she was prepared because she has “watched a crapload of apocalyptic shows.”

She would get her best friend and fight back.

“But we wait it out for at least a month,” she laughed; it would take that long for them to come up with a strategy.

Haleigh plays a radio announcer as well as several other characters. For her, the adventure is that she is part of a college dramatic production while she is still a senior at New Hartford High School. This is her first time performing with the group. She plans to study Music Education next fall and is a part of the Utica College Choir.

Seth Shaw is from Crogan, a rural community in Lewis County, “an hour up 12 North.”

He is a hunter and fisherman with four-wheelers who knows what his “best chance would be.”

“I’m going to the woods!” he declared.

For now, at least, the alien invasion is limited to the airwaves, broadband, and a fictionalized Grovers Mills. Haleigh, Abby, Seth, and the rest of the cast and crew will present The War of the Worlds live at 5 pm on Friday, October 3th to audiences who turn into Utica College’s radio station WPNR 90.7 FM or stream it internationally on the web at: Player.Listenlive.co/42951

Political Science major Derek Corsner is already thinking long term and interstellar.

“I want to go into government so I can find out!” he laughed.

Ron Klopfanstein is an adjunct English instructor at Utica College. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein.

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