IOWA CITY — Instead of taking the stage, theater students at Iowa City West High School recorded a radio broadcast of “It’s A Wonderful Life” to be streamed into homes at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday
Theater director Katy Nahra had to rethink performances during the coronavirus pandemic after the school’s production of “The Sound of Music” was canceled this past spring.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” is a Christmas movie from 1946 that follows the story of George Bailey and his wife, Mary, and their life in Bedford Falls.
Voicing the part of Mary is Grace Hinrichs, 18, a senior at West High.
Before being cast in the radio broadcast, Grace had never seen the movie, she said.
In preparing for the broadcast, Grace said she would read the lines out loud to herself, working to put more passion and energy into every word.
“Working on building a character voice, I tried out what worked best for me and what I could keep the most consistent,” she said.
Recording sessions started in November for the production, spanning two weeks. Nahra edited the audio together with sound effects and music.
Some students came in to school to record their parts, standing on opposite sides of a room for social distancing. Others didn’t feel safe coming in to school and recorded their sound bites from home.
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“The hardest thing was being vulnerable enough to be big with it,” Grace said. “Watching the plot unfold was so much fun. My favorite part was watching my friends run with their artistic creativity and build these characters.”
Grace is looking forward to sitting down with her family Friday and turning on the broadcast.
As an actor, she doesn’t often get to rewatch her work, she said.
“I’m so excited to hear it and think about the memories we made producing it,” she said.
Schuyler Houston, 18, a senior at West High, voiced the part of the angel Clarence, who is sent down from heaven to convince George Bailey his life is worth living. He also voiced the part of George’s brother, Harry.
Schuyler pulled out all the stops for Clarence, including a British accent.
Getting to rehearse with his theater friends over Zoom “definitely keeps you tied down a little better,” Schuyler said, as he’s in 100 percent online school.
One of Schuyler’s good friends, Evan Zukin, 16, a junior at West High, is playing George Bailey.
In the play, Clarence shows George how life would be different for the people he loves and his community without him.
“As we were recording, there were special moments doing that,” Schuyler said.
Evan said he liked playing George Bailey because of his resilience.
“He comes back stronger and better, and shows love toward the people around him. That’s special to me because of my connection to my family and the people I’m around,” Evan said.
Evan missed live, onstage acting, seeing the audience’s response and spending time with the cast after the show.
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Because he didn’t have to have his lines completely memorized to record the broadcast, Evan said he was able to focus more on the way he spoke, his inflection and the passion of his words.
Lost revenue from virtual productions
While Nahra put together a virtual production of “The Sound of Music” to be streamed over the summer, the department already had spent $15,000 for the show, including the rights for the musical, costumes and set design.
Nahra said they anticipate making up that $15,000 plus profits from ticket sales.
“It took a cut out of our savings,” she said. “You just don’t have the community audience, and it really affected us.”
The radio play won’t be a “big moneymaker,” Nahra said, but she’s glad for the opportunity for students to perform and do it safely.
Tickets for “It’s A Wonderful Life” can be purchased at theatrewesthigh.com, for $25 for a family or $10 for an individual.
The department also is accepting donations to continue to fund its theater program.
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