The Apache Pow Wow

War of the Worlds

Tanya Lee, Staff Writer

With modern space exploration comes a new issue: are there really aliens out there? And if there are, what would happen if they landed on Earth? That nightmare appeared to come true on Oct. 30, 1938. As a Halloween special, an American radio drama series presented War of the Worlds. The broadcast seemed like a report of a Martian invasion, and apparently this fake report caused a nationwide panic. However, the effects of this broadcast have gone beyond panic: it has also led to admiration.

Yuval Sharon took the original radio script and used it as the foundation of a new opera piece. It was performed three times recently: once on Nov. 12 and twice on Nov. 18. In addition to being performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, it was also broadcasted on three refurbished World War II-era sirens, located throughout Los Angeles.

War of the Worlds was presented by The Mercury Theatre on Air and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. The program was an adaptation of the novel War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. It started out like any other news broadcast, but then was interrupted by reports of odd explosions on Mars. Shortly after, there were reports that an unusual object had fallen in New Jersey, and that Martians had emerged from the object and attacked using a heat ray, killing multiple people. This was followed by a series of news reports describing an alien invasion occurring across the United States and the world. After the broadcast, Orson Welles, who narrated the broadcast, explained that it was all a Halloween prank, but many media outlets showed widespread outrage, stating that the program was deceptive. However, the episode did secure Welles’ fame. Despite the initial uproar against the program, it’s become quite famous.

Yuval Sharon, the mastermind behind the new piece, founded and serves as the Artistic Director of The Industry, based in Los Angeles. The Industry is a company that experiments with opera, bringing it to unconventional places like moving vehicles, train stations, warehouses, parking lots, etc. He received the 2014 Götz Friedrich Prize in Germany for his production of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic. In addition, he currently holds a three-year residency at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, allowing us to experience such performances as War of the Worlds.

The performances featured various different elements to create one amazing rendition of War of the Worlds. The LA Philharmonic New Music Group performed onstage at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Then, the performance was broadcast through the sirens to various parking lots in Los Angeles. Performers stationed at each siren sent their “reports of alien invasion” back to the concert hall to make the performance even more realistic. In addition to Calder Greenwood’s amazing production design, the performance featured some fantastic music created by Annie Gosfield and conducted by Christopher Rountree.

If you missed the performance, there are various recordings of the original radio broadcast on YouTube. You can also find the original script online. Check it out, and as Orson Welles said, “if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian.”

Graphic courtesy of SHOOTING STAR FILM PRODUCTIONS

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