Sound effects key weapon in 'War of the Worlds'

Actors showing fear.Audiences attending SUNY Oswego’s current production of “War of the Worlds” will find sounds and storytelling designed to bring them into the action.

Sound design will be “a mix of live and recorded sound effects, meant to give the audience the opportunity to ‘be on the scene’ with the actors,” said sound designer Steve Shull of the theatre department. 

Originally written for radio by Howard Koch, this adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel tells the story of a Martian invasion through documentary-style storytelling mixed with dramatic scenes.

The radio studio setting of the play offers the opportunity for the actors to become Foley artists creating live sound effects. The term dates to Jack Foley, who began his work in the silent film era in the area of sets and properties and later provided expertly detailed post-production sound effects for many productions at Universal Studios. Because of the influence of this pioneer in sound effects, his name became linked to the art of sound in radio and film.

“Sound effects in storytelling have been around since the first fisherman came home to tell everyone about the ‘big one that got away’ or the sounds that the ‘monster makes under my bed,’” Shull explained. “We have a wonderful ability to hear a sound and then decide what it must be.” 

This production stretches the actors to create a believable sound effect or set of sounds to convince the audience that the scene is occurring in a kitchen, a car, a hospital or a battleground. “Audiences will be intrigued and delighted by this added dimension of theatricality,” said director Mark Cole, professor and chair of theatre at SUNY Oswego.

“The audience will be in on the secret by looking at the Foley artist make an effect, then as they listen to the actors, they connect the sound to the context,” Cole said. “This is much more than a staged reading—the language is thrilling, to be sure, but our door into the play also opens into a room where anything can happen.”

The radio studio setting for this play, designed by Tim Baumgartner, “is the pretense: the place of dreams, nightmares, the imagination and the uncanny,” Cole added. “With a mixture of sound, physical theatre and multimedia, the production promises to be a complete theatrical evening.”

In the production, a radio show is repeatedly interrupted by news bulletins regarding atmospheric disturbances on Mars, a report of a mysterious crash landing of what is thought to be a meteorite followed by reports and eyewitness accounts of a full-fledged invasion by Martian creatures.

In the 1938 script, a performance by “Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra” added to the authenticity of the breaking news bulletins and from-the-field interviews. “In our production a retelling of a local ghost story is continually interrupted by the news bulletins,” Cole noted. “The tensions escalate as the cast bounces between the radio play and the reports concerning the invasion.”

“War of the Worlds” will have 8 p.m. curtains Oct. 14 to 17 with a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee Oct. 18. Tickets cost $12 for adults ($10 for seniors or students, $7 for SUNY Oswego students).

The production is suggested for theatre-goers age 12 and above.

Tickets are available at or by calling Tyler box office at 312-2141. Patrons with disabilities who require assistance should call the box office to make arrangements.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Staged fright—The upcoming SUNY Oswego production of “War of the Worlds” will use sound effects and actors’ reactions to create the terror and tension of a Martian invasion. In this rehearsal image, student performers (from left) Courtney Bennett, Stephanie Martinez (seated), Kate Boswell and Chris Wilson react to an off-stage horror.

(Posted: Sep 30, 2009)

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