Western Reserve Playhouse turns on the radio for “It’s a Wonderful Life” this December

“This is a brand-new show that we’ve chosen! Originally, we were meant to perform the musical “My Favorite Year,” but were unable due to the pandemic. So, we decided to adapt a holiday classic into the radio show medium,” says Hannah Hilty of Western Reserve Playhouse (WRP). This year, “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play” will be a vibrant splash of color for virtual audiences in the gray of a COVID-19 reality.

As curfews and restrictions continue to affect the world, organizations and artists are finding ways to lift the spirits of those in our communities and beyond.

Hilty says that “It’s a Wonderful Life” can show us “that every life is precious and should be treasured. In addition, one person can make such a positive impact on so many other lives and families! I think that, if we keep this positivity and sense of community, we can make it through this pandemic together.”

Radio plays are not a new concept, but producing them via Zoom and other virtual platforms is just now becoming popular during a time when gathering in large groups is not permitted.

In his book, Radio Drama: Theory and Practice, author Tim Crook says, “It is auditory in the physical dimension but equally powerful as a visual force in the psychological dimension[1].” Radio plays trace roots back to Roman playwright, Seneca, and then to the 1880s (when upgrades were being made to telephones in theatres), and then to the 1920s when full-length plays began airing on the radio[2]. It is nothing but pure sound with no visuals to paint the picture of the storyline, action, and characters.

WRP promises that their experience will be a vocal and a visual storytelling experience. Hilty says, “This play will be completely virtual and will be available for streaming the weekend of December 18th, 19th, and 20th. In a high-energy retelling, our radio DJs will scramble to tell you this tale while also making every sound effect and playing multiple characters! Listen to it as a radio show or watch it as a play – you’ll enjoy it, no matter what!”  

Performance experiences like this radio play aren’t just appreciated by audiences, but are cherished by those working on the actual production, and in the other programming that’s continued in virtual format.

“We made the decision to close our doors in March 2020, on opening night [for what was] our current show. It was heartbreaking to tell those actors that they wouldn’t be going onstage, and unfortunately, things haven’t gotten much better. Theatre is meant to be live and in-person, so when there’s a pandemic, we have no source of income or way to bring the shows that we promised in 2020 to the stage. However, we put our resources into building an online play platform, WRP Connect (a new online series), as well as integrating larger shows into the virtual space, and bringing our Education Department online as well. Things aren’t the same – we miss our stage, our audience, and our community so much! But we’re determined to weather the storm until this pandemic is contained!”

There is a full line-up of virtual Education workshops for young, creative brains:

  • “Basics of Costume Rendering” with Jasen Smith (ages 12+)
  • “Time Travel” with Victoria Kirgesner (ages 8-11)
  • “Staging the Problem: A Play Directing Workshop” with August Scarpelli (ages 16+)
  • “College Audition Prep” with Dayshawnda Ash (ages 15-18)

Hilty and the WRP organization feels like keeping the arts alive especially during a pandemic is important.

“Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Originals have gotten a lot of people through the state shutdown. Yet, who made those shows? Artists. Art is what keeps the world feeling fresh and new for us; it’s what gives us a release for our emotions and our creativity; it’s what gives us peace (even if it’s just an episode of “The Office” before bed). The arts are important, both for the creators and the viewers. In the end, it makes us happy!”

“Art is what keeps the world feeling fresh and new for us; it’s what gives us a release for our emotions and our creativity.”

Hannah Hilty, western reserve playhouse

Community is central to the mission of WRP. The small town of Bath, OH has been home to WRP for over 60 years, and Hilty stresses the need to give back.

“We make sure that all of our virtual content is available for our community, and we try to make it as accessible and affordable as possible. For example, our virtual play program, WRP Connect, has always been free to view, both through our Facebook and YouTube pages. We were also given a grant over the summer which made ALL of our summer workshops and camps free to the public! It felt so good to give back to the people who have always supported us, and we want to do more in the future!”

In this virtual world, this programming is available to Bath, OH and well beyond to help lift spirits and educate.

“It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play” will be available for streaming the weekend of December 18– 20, 2020, with tickets at $15. Once purchased, a specialized viewing link will be sent around 7pm on the night of your selected show.


1 Tim Crook: Radio Drama: Theory and Practice. Wayback Machine. London; New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 8.
2 Radio drama – Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_drama

Published by Kate Klotzbach

After writing for Examiner for 7 years, I brought my content to a new venue! Founded in June of 2016. I'm a Musical Theater graduate of Ohio Northern University and a long-time performer, arts lover and former stage manager. I spent 3 years touring the U.S. with VEE Corporation, and am a proud Cleveland Singing Angels alum. Lover of Cleveland, chocolate, coffee, dogs, scary movies, Cards Against Humanity and (of course) my awesome family. PLEASE BE SURE TO "FOLLOW" MY BLOG FOR ALL OF THE LATEST UPDATES AND POSTS!

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