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Broadcasting Scares: Big Dawg kicks off a month of fright

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Humans always have held an innate, arrogant idea that they have domain over Earth. From the onslaught of carbon-monoxide emitting from SUVs that line 5 o’clock rush hour, to the swiftly disappearing lushness of the planet’s natural surroundings, it’s clear earthlings have no concept of the universe’s scope. “The War of the Worlds” ponders the effects of us actually learning we are in fact not alone.

Originally penned as a novel in 1898 by H.G. Wells, the stage-version will take over Cape Fear Playhouse this weekend under the direction of Cole Marquis—Thalian Hall’s current production manager. Though the book has undergone two film adaptations (one in 1953 and a 2005 remake), Marquis will craft his version of the classic, alien-invasion tale based on Orson Welles’ 1938 radio-broadcast production.

Welles’ broadcast, which premiered on October 30, made a splash because of one crucial component: It was made to sound like an authentic news story. It even went so far as to interrupt music to update confused listeners on a space crafts’ landing on a farm near Grovers’ Mill, NJ. Some of the listenership were duped into believing the broadcast was true, and so they hid in cellars and wrapped their heads in towels to shield themselves from poisonous gas. Though today we would laugh it off as a common occurrence read in the Onion or one of many Facebook hoaxes, back then, when news was “revered as truth,” it created a national scandal. 

“There are countless lies, deceptions and fake stories hoisted upon the public daily through the Internet and TV news,” Marquis elaborates. “Jumping to conclusions is now a cottage industry. Welles did the show for entertainment’s sake and got more than he bargained for. . . . I’ve been fascinated by this show since I was a kid. I read a lot about the history of the broadcast and its aftermath. I still have the vinyl LP with the original broadcast on it.” 

Marquis discovered the gem at a yard sale. He even watched a made-for-TV movie called “The Night That Panicked America,” which chronicles the chaos created by the broadcast. “The fact that it was a sci-fi radio show (I was a classic sci-fi nerd) and that it fooled so many people intrigued me,” Marquis adds. “Plus, I was interested in radio drama anyway. When I was a kid, the heyday of radio wasn’t that far in the past.” 

Marquis’ first foray into the production was with Big Dawg’s artistic director, Steve Vernon, who led a version of the story onstage in 2007. Marquis immediately came to mind when Vernon was scouring Wilmington’s ample pool of thespians to participate in Big Dawg’s Halloween Horror Theatre Festival—a month-long series of scare-tastic productions. Marquis signed on without hesitation. Though he never read the book, he latched onto the 1953 motion picture. 

“I love the whole aspect of the story about man’s near-sighted belief that we’re the center of the universe, and how these nasty martians come to put us in our place,” he says. “I think Wells’ script really captures that feeling best: We are supremely arrogant, but, ultimately, powerless to stop this threat.” 

As production manager at Thalian Hall, Marquis routinely hones his sound design skills. Alongside his experience as being a part of an indie-rock group in the ‘80s, his ability to produce foley effects will prove handy. Much of “War of the Worlds”  will rely on sonic cues. Local musician Vince Stout will aid him by manning the effects table. They will create live sound effects to up the ante on creepiness, with eerie noise beds and recorded sounds underpinning the show. 

Showcasing their best ‘30s radio voice throughout will be Robin Dale Robertson, Bob Workmon, Eben Mastin, Norman Aronovic, Eric Robison, Charles Calhoun, and Carole Pendergrast. “They all have great vocal and speaking abilities,” Marquis proclaims, “which is essential for this show.”


War of the Worlds

Cape Fear Playhouse
613 Castle Street
Thurs. – Sun., Oct. 2-5, 8 p.m.; Sun. matinee: 3 p.m.
Tickets: $15-$20

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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