A new take on a holiday classic will wrap the fall semester for SUNY Oswego’s theater season when “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” has five free virtual performances Dec. 11 to 13.

The production is a collaboration between student actors led by director Jonel Langenfeld-Rial of Oswego’s theatre department and broadcasting students working with Francisco Suarez of the communication studies department.

The adaptation, written by Joe Landry, follows the structure of the holiday favorite starring Jimmy Stewart, but due to COVID-related restrictions, the performance involved recording the show in separate rooms to meet health and safety guidelines. To maintain continuity, the production had to make two rooms look exactly the same, with the same background and the same design.

“One of the challenges is that the actors become more than just actors, meaning that the students in the acting class have to take care of certain video production values,” Suarez said. “We moved a concept that was meant to be only for the stage to ‘how are we going to translate this into a video format?'”

Langenfeld-Rial, Suarez and their students adapted and developed solutions along the way to complete the performances and filming before Thanksgiving and the end of face-to-face classes.

“The initial plan was to take my video production class and record the live performance of the show, however, that couldn’t happen because there’s no live performance of the show,” Suarez said. “Basically, we are taking advantage of the technology; we are taking advantage of Zoom.”

Additional logistical challenges emerge as so many performances go this direction. 

“What’s been really hard producing shows this way is that these publishing houses or licensing houses are also having to create new rules in contracts for streaming and video capture,” Langenfeld-Rial said.

“We hope people are not scared away by this new way we are trying to produce our work and that they will embrace it and learn and be patient," she added. "If we can do it, they can do it.”

Langenfeld-Rial added the plan for the foreseeable future is more such collaborations involving performers and video.

“We’re already planning for the spring, that the show in the spring will be done via Zoom,” Langenfeld-Rial said, referring to “Dog Sees God: Confessions of A Teenage Blockhead,” the student honors production in March.

Despite the struggles, these projects allow students to come up with new ideas and learn new skills.

“I’m a very optimistic person by heart, but I always feel like one of the beauties in life is your ability to reinvent yourself,” Suarez said. “This is a way to do it -- let’s reinvent what we can do with the technology that we have.”

Through a partnership with the Broadway on Demand streaming service, virtual showings of “It’s A Wonderful Life” will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, with 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. shows Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 12 and 13. For reservations for one of the free showings, visit tickets.oswego.edu.

-- Written by Tomas Rodriguez, Class of 2021