NEW ULM - During rehearsal, the company of the New Ulm Actors Community Theater's upcoming production of "It's a Wonderful Life" sit perfectly still on either side of a long table, competing to see who can do the best impersonation of a bird.
You can tell this isn't going to be your average play.
Although the play will be presented on a stage, the NUACT will be performing the "It's a Wonderful Life" story as a radio play, with the actors reading their lines into a microphone rather than acting out the scenes.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
The members of the Bailey family (left to right, Kent Menzel as George, Janet Holm as Mary, Rachel Hohensee as Janie and Gracie Reyes and Ashley Schaefer, who will take turns playing Zuzu) speak their lines into the microphones while the Stage Mother (Megan Wetzel, far right) makes sure that the children are behaving themselves.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
Keara Roberts (standing) will be filling the role of Radio Director, coordinating the audience’s participation in the play as if they were a live studio audience at a radio station.
Staff photo by Daniel Kerwin
The Company of the New Ulm Actors Community Theater production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Front row (from left): Cloe Cedillo, Rachel Hohensee, Ashley Schaefer, Gracie Reyes. Middle row (from left): Kandi Schaffer, Mike Stark, Paul Warshauer (director), Judy Sellner, Tara Kokesch, Kent Menzel, Janet Holm, Chris Gordon, Keara Roberts, Josh Menzel, Megan Wetzel. Top row (from left): John Knisley, Jared Schwab, George Hirschboeck, Mark Santelman, Justin Liepert, Craig Braulick. Missing: Zach Holmquist, Paul Henning, Miriam Henning, David Henning, Becky Comnick.
"It's a very difficult thing for most stage actors who get up and move with their arms," director Paul Warshauer said. "You're going to see when you come to the theater that some people can't be restrained to just do their voice, so they're going to move their arms anyway."
The production will be a multi-dimensional experience for the theater-goer. The actors will pretend to be broadcasting a live radio play from an actual radio studio, with the audience members participating in the action as if they were a live studio audience at the radio station.
"It's the world of the radio - there will be an announcer, there will be people holding up the cards that say, 'laugh,' 'cry,' 'ooh-ahh,' and 'walla-walla-walla' - which is basically make crowd noise," Warshauer said. "The crowd is going to be told when to applaud and when to cheer and when to do X, Y, Z, so that's going to be kind of fun. But in the process, they're still listening to the play."
IF YOU GO...
What: The New Ulm Actors Community Theater production of "It's a Wonderful Life."
When: Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16 and 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 18, at 2 p.m.
Where: The Martin Luther College auditorium, located at 1995 Luther Court in New Ulm.
Cost: General admission is $5. Tickets are available at HyVee, Cash Wise and the Chamber of Commerce office downtown, or online at www.newulmact.com. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
George Bailey - Kent Menzel
Clarence D. Angel - Jared Schwab
Gloria, Superintendent/Charlotte Carter - Judy Sellner
Mary Hatch Bailey - Janet Holm
The Radio Announcer/Uncle Billy Bailey - Mike Stark
Henry F. Potter/Bert Bond/Eddy Adams - Chris Gordon
Sam Wainwright/Dr. Harry Campbell- Zach Holmquist
Violet Bick/Mrs. Hatch/Mrs. Davis - Tara Ann Kokesch
Pop Bailey/Cousin Eustace/Mr. Welch/Randy Hull - Mark Santelman
Ma Bailey/Radio Director - Keara Roberts
Emil Gower/Giuseppi Martini/Toll Taker - Craig Braulick
Nick Leonard/Harry Bailey - John Knisley
Ernie Bishop/Dick Elliott/Best Boy - George Hirschboeck
Young George Bailey/Sign Gal - Cloe Cedillo
Petey Bailey/Charlie Wilson - David Henning
Janie Bailey - Rachel Hohensee
Zuzu Bailey - Ashley Schaefer (Fri and Sun)
Zuzu Bailey - Gracie Reyes (Sat)
Cousin Tilly/Mrs. Thompson/Bank Teller - Miriam Henning
Sheriff Baxter/Sign Man - Paul Henning
Stage Mother - Megan Wetzel
Director - Paul Warshauer
Associate Director/Stage Manager - Kandi Schaffer
Producer - Judy Sellner
Wardrobe Designer - Becky Comnick
Technical Director - Justin Liepert
Assistant Tech Director - Josh Menzel
Adding yet another level to the production, the final performance will actually be recorded and rebroadcast on KNUJ.
"On Sunday we really are going to record it for KNUJ," Warshauer said. "They're going to record it and play it back later - probably for years, we hope."
The story will accurately follow the plot of the classic holiday movie starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reid. Following in the footsteps of Stewart and Reid will be veteran actors Kent Menzel and Janet Holm as George and Mary Bailey, respectively.
Jared Schwab will play the role of Clarence, the "Angel in Training," and retired radio veteran Mike Stark will play the hard-boiled radio announcer. Teacher Chris Gordon will play the evil Mr. Potter and local high school star Zach Holmquist will play Harry Bailey.
Many of the actors will be playing several roles.
"Even the minor characters have a real chance to shine," Warshauer said. "Whereas many people don't recognize them, it's kind of an interesting deal. Some of these other characters are highlighted a little more in our radio show."
Warshauer - who recently assumed the role of Executive Director of NUACT - has starred in and directed radio plays in the past and is hoping the audience enjoys the unique experience.
"The idea was to use your imagination to concentrate on characters and plot and themes, and that's what we're kind of doing," Warshauer said. "Most everybody who's going to come to the theater has seen 'It's a Wonderful Life' with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reid, but for them to hear it and to kind of focus on the story and see how the characters play different roles, I think it's going to be a lot of fun, and it opens the play up to new interpretations, which we will present."
The production will staged at the Martin Luther College Auditorium and will have three performances, with 7:30 p.m. shows on Dec. 16 (Friday) and Dec. 17 (Saturday) and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Dec. 18.
General admission will be $5 and tickets are available in advance at HyVee, Cash Wise and at the Chamber of Commerce office downtown, or online at www.newulmact.com. Tickets are also available at the door.