4th Grade Experiences: The War of the Worlds

October 1, 2018

Students in the studio

“This just in!” chimes the radio announcer, “Nearly 800 students from Northwest Allen County Schools will experience the 1938 Martian landing first hand!”…Or at least as presented by the University of Saint Francis School of Creative Arts in in their fall play production of ​The War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast​, adapted by Joe Landry.

When the USF School of Creative Arts announced they would be performing ​The War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast ​this fall, a collaborative opportunity immediately presented itself between SOCA and NWACS. Every fourth grader in the NWACS district studies ​The War of the Worlds​ live radio broadcast, delivered by Orson Welles in 1938, as part of their curriculum and state standards.

“Fourth graders in Indiana are expected to describe a character, setting, or event in a story or play, drawing on specific details in the text, and how that impacts the plot,” explained Angie Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at Huntertown Elementary. “We are also supposed to explain major differences between poems, plays, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems and drama. We do this by examining different genres to identify and explain the elements of each.”

Breaking news interruptions during radio broadcasts were nothing new to listeners in 1938. With the events preceding World War II, listeners were on edge as developments were reported from Europe. Building upon this anxiety, the actor and CBS radio broadcaster, Orson Welles, delivered a Halloween special radio drama that described a Martian landing in New Jersey so vividly it changed the history of broadcast radio forever.

Now adapted by Joe Landry, ​War of the Worlds: The Panic Broadcast​ retells the story of this infamous evening on stage. Music, live sound effects and vintage commercials thrill audiences as they relive the Martian invasion over the Halloween season.

“Behaviorally—We discuss theatre etiquette and how it’s different from attending a concert, game, etc.” shared Angie. “This may be the first theatre performance some of our students will attend, so we really need to emphasize how to behave during, before, and after a play.”

In order to prepare for this experience, Jane Martin (Professor of Communication, and Communication Department Chair) and Kristin Miller (Assistant Professor of Public Relations), created a short video series featuring cast and crew members to accompany NWACS curriculum both before the play and after the students return to school. Videos include topics such as how to attend a play, ​how a director leads and makes decisions, how actors develop characters, and how light designers work.

This collaboration truly enhances how students will get to experience this radio drama. “It’s actually one of our state standards: Describe how visual and multimedia presentations and representations can enhance the meaning of a text,” explained Angie. “It will be fun to make connections with the written text. I am sure it will bring on many discussions of what they had envisioned in their minds beforehand from the text vs. the performance. Also, we are hoping this starts of love of theatre for many of our kids!”