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Behind the microphone: What an OSU radio play entails

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Radio mic

The OSU theater department is adapting to COVID-19 by performing a radio play instead of in-person ones.

Since the announcement that Oklahoma State University’s theatre department would host radio plays, those involved in those productions knew they would chart in challenging territory.

The theatre department’s production of “War of the Worlds” is the first of its kind at the university. Never before has a radio play been hosted at OSU, let alone during a pandemic that’s affecting the performing arts industry.

However, for department head and director David Kersnar, the pandemic is allowing local theatre to evolve in the middle of unforeseen circumstances.

“We can pause our degrees and pause our industry, or we can do what’s really happening,” Kersnar said. “The industry is transforming and therefore our theatre department needs to change with it and our job is to lead.”

In preparation for directing the first radio play at OSU, Kersnar listened to the original radio adaptation of “War of the Worlds” with Orson Wells as well as the original material written by H.G. Wells during a road trip.

“I noticed when I was gripping my steering wheel harder I realized ‘Hey, I’m into this,’” Kersnar said. 

Although the cast meets over zoom most nights of the week, the members have been able to meet in person once a week on Monday nights. However, the layout is much different than any other ordinary rehearsal.

There are a total of six cast members and two understudies. Each member has his or her own microphone in a chair more than six feet apart from other members and every one wears masks to maintain social distancing measures. 

Olive Payne is junior studying theatre at OSU. Comparing her time in the production of “Steel Magnolias,” Payne said one of the most difficult parts in transitioning from a stage play to a radio play is the lack of audience interaction to see which jokes get laughs and which jokes need work..

“[Performing] is so much about the comedic timing and we didn’t even know until we got an audience,” Payne said. “With [radio], we’ll never have an audience. Our audience is each other.”

However, Payne also said that the students working on the soundstage provide great feedback and have helped the cast work on the comedic timing.

“We feed off each other. It’s hard because, like, when you’re recording you have to stay in it … but no one can see you because its just your voice,” Payne said. “So, you can smile and nod at them and be like ‘That was good.’”

Off-stage has been converted into a fully-fledged sound studio with several crew members working the soundboards. With what was once a venue used for stage plays, the Vivia Locke Theatre has become a recording studio.

“This is one of those experiences that you’re gonna wanna listen to with headphones,” Kersnar said. “We’re going to be recording some sequences with the cast live, but also we’ll do retakes with each of their parts separately.”

“War of the Worlds” will air on the O’Colly Media Group app on October 22. A fundraiser in collaboration with the Red Dirt Rangers will occur between the intermission period to help those in performing arts affected by the pandemic.