Martians Invade UConn in ‘War of the Worlds’ on Campus Radio

War of the Worlds poster

When he was 16 years old, Mark Lowe first learned of the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” which was broadcast over the CBS Radio Network on Oct. 30, 1938 and caused a panic, as many in the New York metropolitan area listening to the radio thought Martians had actually invaded Earth.

“I read about it in the Classics Illustrated version of the novel, which had an article about the broadcast,” says Lowe, a doctoral student in philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I had always enjoyed science fiction and drama. And when I finally heard it when I was 16, I began thinking how much fun it would be to recreate it.”

Lowe, working with other graduate and undergraduate students and friends from the Windham Theatre Guild, has recreated “The War of the Worlds” and placed it in a modern context. Adapting the original Howard Koch radio script to place the Martian landing on Horsebarn Hill on the UConn campus, a cast of 13 actors will perform the 2012 version of the H.G. Wells story on WHUS (91.7 FM) on Tuesday, Oct. 30 from 7 to 8 p.m.

“It’s updated because the script was written in 1938 and a lot of the references are outdated,” says Lowe, who is the primary author of the updated script and has the role of Professor Pierson, originated by Orson Welles. “It was a perfect opportunity [to update the story]. They just landed a new rover on Mars and geographically it works out. In the original the Martians destroyed New Jersey and moved on to New York. We have them crash here and destroy Connecticut and then march on New York City. In the original script, a radio reporter was sent out to report on the crash. We’re going to have a reporter from the Daily Campus.”

The new script also provided the opportunity to update the sound effects needed for a radio play. Grant Steelman of Mansfield Center created the sound effects using computer technology, and will bring in synthesized sound effects that are an improvement over what was available in 1938. Steelman is also serving as co-producer of the production with Lowe.

The broadcast will be aired during the regular time slot of “The Mixed Review” program hosted by UConn students Ryan King ’15 (CLAS) and Trevor Morrison ’15 (CLAS), who will also be actors in the radio play.

WHUS program director Jason McMullan will engineer the live broadcast. He has produced original radio theater projects at WHUS during his weekly “Athena Audio Book” program.

“The challenge of doing this type of broadcast is in all the things that are happening at the same time,” McMullan says. “Typical radio now does not involve a group of actors filling up a studio and telling a story live. With the timing of lines, sound effects, crowd noise – usually with actors muffling themselves, or turning away from the microphone – all having to mesh together and create a story in the space that has been called the theater of the mind. Like any form of theater, this performance is a unique event, never to be repeated in the same way.”

Among the UConn students taking roles in “The War of the Worlds” are Emma White, a doctoral student in molecular and cell biology, and Steven Mollmann, a doctoral student in English. There will also be a cameo appearance by UConn President Susan Herbst, who will call for courage from the University community in the face of the Martian menace.

The cast has been rehearsing for several weeks. Lowe says most of those involved in the projection have acting experience, but the technical aspects of producing a live radio play have been challenging.

“The complexity is the biggest surprise,” he adds. “Coming to understand what’s involved and needing people to generate sound and making sure the sounds levels are correct, figuring out where people need to stand around the microphone or outside the studio when they are not on the air. They can’t move around a lot and can’t talk.”

“The War of the Worlds” will be broadcast from 7 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 30 on WHUS and will stream online at whus.org.