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On this page, you'll find resources in producing It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

Concept
Characters / Breakdown for Five Actors
Sound Effects
Music
Commercials
Production Design
Marketing
Other Resources
FAQ


Concept
It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is an stage play adaptation of Frank Capra's film classic. At the time of the film's initial release, it was popular for films to be adapted and performed live on the radio in front of a studio audience. This adaptation is set at a live radio broadcast in the late 1940s, with five actors playing all of the characters. Live sound effects and a live musical accompaniment is strongly suggested, as this follows traditions of the period. The actors have performed the sound effects and music accompaniment in previous productions, and although this was not typical of period radio, it provides an additional element.

Characters / Breakdown for Five Actors

CHARACTERS

ANNOUNCER
MARY HATCH BAILEY
ROSE BAILEY
HARRY BAILEY
OLD MAN GOWER
BERT THE COP
VIOLET BICK
HENRY F. POTTER
UNCLE BILLY BAILEY
PETE BAILEY (Child)
ZUZU BAILEY (Child)
PETER BAILEY
CLARENCE ODDBODY, AS-2
YOUNG GEORGE
BOYS
YOUNG HARRY
YOUNG VIOLET
YOUNG MARY
TELEGRAM BOY
OLD MAN COLLINS
BAILEY BROS. BUILDING AND LOAN BOARD MEMBERS
RUTH DAKIN BAILEY
EDWINA HATCH
SAM WAINWRIGHT
PASSERBY AT RUN ON BANK
CROWD AT RUN ON BANK
ED
RANDALL
MRS. THOMPSON
TOM
MRS. DAVIS
SCHULTZ
GUISEPPE MARTINI
TELLER AT THE BANK
SADIE VANCE
JANIE BAILEY (Child)
TOMMY BAILEY (Child)
MR. WELCH
RESTAURANT PATRONS
MAN AT RESTAURANT
NICK THE BARTENDER
BRIDGE KEEPER
BOUNCER AT NICK'S
HENRIETTA (Child)
CROWD AT GEORGE'S PARTY
WOMAN AT GEORGE'S PARTY

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BREAKDOWN FOR FIVE ACTORS

Production history has taught the lesson that the fewer actors used, the greater the sense of excitement for audience and actor alike. The following breakdown for five actors (three men and two women) has worked extremely well, and is suggested.

MALE 1
GEORGE BAILEY (and YOUNG GEORGE)

MALE 2
ANNOUNCER, OLD MAN GOWER, HENRY F. POTTER, UNCLE BILLY BAILEY, PETE BAILEY (Child), PETER BAILEY, OLD MAN COLLINS, ED, GUISEPPE MARTINI, NICK THE BARTENDER, BRIDGE KEEPER, BOUNCER AT NICK'S

MALE 3
HARRY BAILEY (and YOUNG HARRY), BERT THE COP, CLARENCE ODDBODY, AS-2, TELEGRAM BOY, SAM WAINWRIGHT, RANDALL, TOM, SCHULTZ, TELLER AT THE BANK, TOMMY BAILEY (Child), MR. WELCH, MAN AT RESTAURANT,

FEMALE 1
MARY HATCH BAILEY (and YOUNG MARY)

FEMALE 2
ROSE BAILEY, VIOLET BICK (and YOUNG VIOLET), ZUZU BAILEY (Child), RUTH DAKIN BAILEY, EDWINA HATCH, PASSERBY AT RUN ON BANK, MRS. THOMPSON, MRS. DAVIS, SADIE VANCE, JANIE BAILEY (Child), HENRIETTA (Child)

ALL - CROWD, ETC.
BOYS
BAILEY BROS. BUILDING AND LOAN BOARD MEMBERS
CROWD AT RUN ON BANK
RESTAURANT PATRONS
CROWD AT GEORGE'S PARTY
WOMAN AT GEORGE'S PARTY

Sound Effects

Background / History | Sounds in WL | Sound Effect Prop List | Additional Notes

Background / History

In the era of Old Time Radio (OTR), sound effects were created by sound effects men and occasionally women. The sound effects technicians collected an enormous array of objects all used in the creation of live sound effects. While recorded effects were first used as early as 1928, most of the sounds heard were created live.

For OTR, the approach to using sound effects was one of requiring the effect to have a definite function. No sound should be included for the sake of adding sound. It is better to err on the side of using too little rather than too much. Sound effects were also considered to be background with a few exceptions. Modern Audio Drama began to use the principles and techniques of, if not actual, foley artist. The term foley slowly crept into the language of audio drama. While the purist will argue that foley is strictly a film term, in the mind movie mad creates, it is foley. Adding all of the sounds that are missing from the steril studio recording.


Sounds in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Here is a listing of the sound effects used in the production, as well as samples of how these sounds can be made. It is suggested to make the sounds in the most visual manner possible, as this adds excitement and diversion to the production:

Sound Effect Suggestion
A loud clap of thunder Thunder sheet
Ice cracks Corn Flakes crushed on baking sheet
Door with bell opens and shuts Door with bell (miniature)
Capsules falling to the floor Jellybeans dropped onto baking sheet
Gower slapping Young George Belt (fold and snap)
Door (without bell) opens and shuts Door (without bell)
Dinner plates, silver, etc. Dinner plates, silver, etc.
Violet's heels stomping off High heels on surface
Glass breaks Glass breaks (crashbox)
A train whistle blows Train whistle
Trash cans knocked over Trash can and lid
Train station noises A scrub brush with a good handle on it. The beat or rhythm of a passenger steam locomotive sounds like this: CHUFF chuff chuff chuff, CHUFF chuff chuff chuff. The accent is on the first of every four beats.
Telephone rings Vintage telephone (or bicycle bell)
Phone drops to the floor Telephone
Edwina faints Drop a melon from the top of a ladder
Telephone reciever slammed Telephone
Crowd pounding on door Pounding on door or table / stomping on floor
Zippo lighter struck, draws on a cigar Zippo, cigar
A newspaper opening, an envelope falling to the ground Newspaper with weighted envelope
Sadie flipping through a pile of cash Playing cards (quick shuffle using thumb)
Huge crashing Crashbox / table
Telephone dialing operator Telephone (period, with dial)
Welch punches George Strike a baseball glove with a short piece of garden hose
Water under a bridge Stir basin of water
Clarence's decent from Heaven to Earth Bells (wind chimes)
Clarence jumps into the water The important thing here is to get the impact of the hit on the surface of the water. To simulate this effect, however, reverse the procedure this way: Secure a large wash tub or wooden tub. Fill it about 3/4 full of water. Get a bucket and sink it until it is full of water, then turn it over, but keep it submerged. With the bottom side up, yank sharply out of the tub.
A crash of thunder, a huge wind blows Thunder sheet / Wind machine
A cash register bell rings Vintage cash register or drawer with bell
George runs off Shoes in corn flakes (for snow)
Bert fires gun twice Pistol with blanks (or baloons with hatpin)
Flashbulbs pop Flashbulbs with period camera(s)
A bell on the tree Bell
Breaking glass Drop handful of tiny pieces of sheet metal on board
Crickets Run finger nail along edge of pocket comb


Sound Effect Prop List

Based on the above suggestions, here is a list of all the foley props:

Note: If any packaging is used, it should be period (i.e. if a box of Corn Flakes is in view, the package design from the 1940s, etc).

Thunder sheet
Corn Flakes
Baking sheet
Door with bell (miniature)
Jellybeans
Belt
Dinner plates, silver, etc.
High heels on surface
Glass breaks (crashbox)
Train whistle
Scrub brush with a good handle
Trash can and lid
Vintage telephone (or bicycle bell)
A melon
A ladder
Zippo lighter
Cigar
Newspaper (period)
Weighted envelope
A deck of playing cards (period)
Baseball glove (period material)
Short piece of garden hose (period color)
Basin of water
Bells (wind chimes)
Large wash tub or wooden tub
Bucket
Door
Wind machine
Vintage cash register or drawer with bell
Shoes in corn flakes (for snow)
Pistol with blanks (or baloons with hatpin)
Flashbulbs with period camera(s)
Bell (on tree)



Additional Notes

PHONE CONVERSATIONS
It is suggested that the person on the other end of the phone (the party not in the room in which the scene is taking place, i.e. Sam Wainwright) speak into a glass or tin can to create the atmosphere of a voice through a telephone line.

LIVE MICROPHONES
No matter how small the performence venue, sound is a major part of this piece. Period microphones should be used, with wireless microphones attached to them. The foley station may require more than one live microphone.

FOLEY ARTISTS
In some productions, one person was used as the foley artist and appeared on stage for the entire performance, performing all sound effects (with help from actors when needed). Since there are very few times all actors are on mic at once (even using the suggested five actor breakdown), most productions use the actors as foley artists as well. This provides an added visual sense of excitement, as it involves more motion.

Music

Music Cues | Original Music

List of Music Cues

Fanfares, underscores, stings, jingles, etc., are suggested throughout the script. Here is a listing off any music related cues:

Holiday Music
WBFR Theme
"Wonderful Life" Theme
Commercial #1
Heavenly music
Passage of time, dramatic to calm
Transition to Main Street, bouncy and fun
Party music from off
Underscoring, light and playful
Commercial #2
A jazzy version of "The Wedding March"
Passing of time
Romantic theme
Dramatic transition into romantic theme
Patriotic WWII theme
Dramatic music into anxiety theme
Janie plays "Silent Night" badly
Dramatic transition
Dramatic sting
Commercial #3
WBFR Theme
Happy-go-lucky traditional or holiday
Curious theme
Seedy, honky-tonk piano
Curious theme
Curious theme
Creepy
Warped version of romantic theme
Anxious theme
Joyous holiday music
"Auld Lang Syne" at the piano
WBFR Theme
Exit music


Original Music

For information on an original score composed by Kevin Connors, please visit Kevin's website.
Commercials

This production incorporates the use of commercials, as they would have been heard in a 1940s live radio play. These commercials can be performed as verbal or sung in jingle fashion.

Local sponsors can also be incorporated into these commercials. However, only products or services which existed in the 1940s should be used in these commercials. If local business existed in 1940s, attempt to track down their advertising from that period (via local newspapers at library or historical society).

Production Design

Setting | Costume | Lighting

Setting
The setting is a radio station in the 1940s. This can be suggested in a simple fashion, so long as the selected elements typify the period. If the five actor breakdown is used, three microphones are sufficent and assit in creating stage pictures by combining actors at different mics depending on the action of the scene. There should be no chairs on the set unless absolutely necessary -- this provides additional off mic mingling, etc., rather than "sitting around." The foley station is typically on the same playing level as the actors, and off to one side. This area should be in full view of the audience. Electric "On the Air" and "Applause" signs are used, and should be suspended from above if possible. Other than that, it's Christmas Eve in a radio station, so period holiday decortion are always welcome.

Costume
The costume design should be circa 1940s. As the actors are performing in front of a live audience, the look should be on the dressier side (i.e. suits for the men, etc). While coming up with characters for each of the actors (as It's a Wonderful Life is the play-within-the-play that the actors hired by the radio station are playing), they might come from different walks of life or have different day jobs. For example, in one production, the youngest of the male actors chose to have this performance be his radio debut, and his day job was in the radio station's mail room, which is how the other actors knew him. He was dressed as if he was working in the mail room all day.

Lighting
Aside from the "On the Air" and "Applause" signs, lighting in previous productions has been kept relatively simple. If going for a naturalistic, setting specific look, generally all actors appear lit equally at all times. Depending on the director's vision, more stylistic approaches in any of the production elements are more than welcome.

Marketing

Logo Artwork
COLOR
72dpi | 300dpi
GRAYSCALE
72dpi | 300dpi


Merchandise
T-shirts and other products designed exclusively for It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play can be sold through your venue (and/or by a link from your production's website), and can also be used as cast/crew gifts, for promotion, or to create a general excitement about the production.
http://www.zazzle.com/wonderfulliferadio

Other Resources

Lux Radio Theatre Presentation of It's a Wonderful Life

March 1947 CBS Radio broadcast featuring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
Availble on CD at Amazon.com

"The It's a Wonderful Life Book" by Jeanine Basinger
Excellent book with complete screenplay, etc.
Out-of-print, but available through other sources at Amazon.com

Films
Here are links to the IMDB listing for films in which the setting is 1940s live radio:
Woody Allen's Radio Days
Mel Smith's Radioland Murders
Jon Amiel's Tune in Tomorrow...
Erle C. Kenton's Who Done It?
Ken Burns' Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (documentary)
All of the above films are available through Amazon.com

FAQ

Q. How long is the play?
A. Approximately 80 minutes, and performed without an intermission.

Q. How many rehearsals should I have?
A. Since the play is performed with the actors holding scripts in hand (as in 1940s live radio), few rehearsals are needed. The actors needn't necessarily memorize the script. The areas which require attention are scenes where one actor is performing two voices in conversation with each other, as well as the blocking and sound effects.







 

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY ©Joe Landry