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Little Theatre of Virginia Beach Presents IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY

Little Theatre of Virginia Beach Presents IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY

"Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings" is one of the most memorable quotes from the holiday classic film "It's a Wonderful Life," but Little Theatre of Virginia Beach brings us more sound effects than just a bell in their production of the radio play version. Foley artists create all the sounds of 1940s Bedford Falls, just like it was done when radio was the center of family entertainment in the home. Instead of huddling around a radio, families turn to a smart TV, computer, or mobile device for the story of the life of George Bailey and his fateful Christmas Eve encounter.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced Little Theatre of Virginia Beach to re-think its season, they looked for options to bring theatre to the community in a safe way. With a cast of five actors, two Foley artists, and the option to record and offer the performance online, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" adapted by Joe Landry, allowed that to happen.

The radio play format relies on the art of making sound effects from everyday objects, called Foley. While radio studios in the 1920s were adding sounds to their broadcasts, the movie industry followed suit as they moved out of the silent film era. Jack Foley earned the naming credit for the art form due to his life-long career creating film sound effects, dating back to the 1929 part-talkie musical "Show Boat," and for developing methods still used today. Donna Lawheed, the properties chairperson on the board of directors at Little Theatre of Virginia Beach, relied on those techniques. "I imagined the Foley props as part of the cast of characters with voices of their own. I loved the challenge of listening to ordinary things to hear what noises could be made," said Lawheed. "The challenge for this show was that not only did these props have to produce believable sounds, but they also had to look like they were from 1946."

The two on-stage Foley artists, Sandra Epperson and Cai Luzak, used items such as a World War II style ammunition box to recreate the sound of a car door opening and closing, an old typewriter for the sound of a 1920s automobile motor, a steel brush on a washboard coupled with a cabasa - loops of steel ball chain wrapped around a wide drum - and a train whistle to make the sound of a train pulling into a train station. They made a squeaky door using a paper cup, a string, and a stick. The sound of running in the snow was made with crunching cornflakes on a baking sheet.

Of course, they each had their favorites. "I really liked the breaking glass sound effect. I get to whack a bag with glass in it to create that sound. It is fun and probably the most I move to create a sound," said Luzak, who is a sophomore at the Governor's School for the Arts and Cox High School.

"I have to say my favorite sound effect was the aeoliphone, which is a wind machine," said Lawheed. "It was a challenge as I could not find any instructions on how to make one - just how it worked. It's basically just a drum shaped with wood slats that rests on a stand. It's covered with canvas and the friction over the slats as the drum is cranked produces the sound of high wind."

Epperson recently moved to Virginia Beach and brought with her a resume of 115 shows and 56 years of theatre experience including a master's degree in acting and directing, but this is her first time as a Foley artist. She said, "I really enjoyed kicking over the metal bucket and lid to enhance Billy Bailey's drunken exit from a party," said Epperson. "But my favorite was the chimes that made the transition from scenes on earth to scenes in heaven. We tried for variety in the playing of the chimes - playing them fast and loud when a laugh was called for and slowly when the scene was serious."

Those heavenly sounds, and all the other whistles, squeaks and crunches make "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" a unique theatrical experience. If watching the movie version is a part of your family's holiday traditions, make sure you catch the Little Theatre of Virginia Beach production, too. Tickets are on sale at through January 1. When you purchase a ticket, you can view the show at any time during the time frame you select. Single tickets for adults, seniors, military, and students are $15, while family tickets (two or more) are $25.

And when you watch the show, listen. Listen for that famous bell, and all the other sounds that help tell the story of a life worth living.

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