Classic movie reimagined as radio play by Waukesha Civic Theatre

2020 has been rough for everyone, so it’s no surprise many are finding comfort this holiday in a timeless tale.  A classic movie is being reimagined as a staged radio play to bring cheer and art at a time when we need it most.

It is called, “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” and it’s performed at the Waukesha Civic Theatre. It means for the first time since March, actors are returning to the stage at WCT in front of a live audience.  

“It’s so fulfilling to be back here, and to be working on something and provide an opportunity for all these artists that get to be working on the show, as well,” said Director Ryan Albrechtson. 

It’s a story you know as a holiday tradition stripped down to dialog and sounds, with “It’s A Wonderful Life” unfolding as a 1940s radio play.

Ryan Albrechtson

“It really puts you in the moment,” said Albrechtson.  “It’s been really interesting to play with all of that.  If you closed your eyes, you’d feel like you’d see the whole thing.”

Staging the play like this helped the production team navigate strict COVID-19 safety guidelines.  WCT’s Executive Director, Rhonda Schmidt, explained the cast keeps six feet apart and wears see-through masks during the performance.  The audience will wear masks too, but there won’t be as many of them in the seats.

Rhonda Schmidt

“We cut costs tremendously,” said Schmidt.  “Having 65 audience members instead of 250 is really impactful financially.”

Throughout the pandemic, the theatre faced its own "George Bailey crisis." During the shutdown, the staff wondered what Waukesha would be like if financial burdens forced the place to close for good.  Donations and loyal theatergoers proved to be their "Clarence" right in time for the holidays.

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Waukesha Civic Theatre

“When we are on stage, and the mood has been set and Clarence tells us, 'It’s going to be all right,' it’s a moment I certainly need,” said Schmidt.  “I know that everyone involved in this production feels honored to tell this story and to give a little bit of this hope to our community.”

The Waukesha Civic Theatre is ending a rough 2020 with a reminder to us all: After everything we’ve been through, it’s still a wonderful life.

“It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” continues at the Waukesha Civic Theatre through Dec. 20. CLICK HERE for ticket information.