This story was corrected on Dec. 5. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
Actress Laura Stark is playing the role of seven different women in the latest production at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre. She also is lending her talents to create some of the show’s sound effects.
Stark is a member of the six-person cast of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” opening Thursday at the Frederick theater. Written by Joe Landry, the award-winning play is based on the beloved Christmas classic starring Jimmy Stewart.
The story of distressed businessman George and the angel who saves him by showing him what life would have been like had he never existed, has become an American staple during the Christmas season. This particular version is played out like a 1940s radio show, complete with microphones, a sound effects table and even commercial breaks.
“The idea is that we’re in the sound studio and we’re broadcasting live on the air,” says Stark. “The production is for the listeners and also acted out to entertain the audience.”
Director Joe Brady says while “It’s a Wonderful Life” will not actually be broadcast on the radio, “There is the illusion that we’re doing it for a radio audience ... it has that sort of energy.”
With the exception of the two main characters, George (Matt Kline) and Mary (Courtney McLaughlin), the cast will all be playing multiple roles. When their characters are not in a scene, they’ll be providing the sound effects.
“We rotate who does sound effects based on who is in the scene,” says Stark. “The sound effects table [utilizes] shoes on cornflakes to imitate leaves crunching, [you use your] finger in a bottle to imitate opening wine, a car engine is just a bike wheel with cards.”
Stark adds that the sound effects give the cast more freedom with set changes.
“If you were on stage it would be too many scene changes,” says Stark. “[Sound effects] allow you to have outdoor scenes, have more location changes ...”
When it comes to portraying several different people, Stark says she developed certain devices to help her remember who she is supposed to be in any given scene.
“It’s challenging to remember characteristics you’ve established for each character,” says Stark. “I wrote down names of each character and what kind of voice they would each have.”
Despite experience acting in shows with small casts, Stark, an ensemble member at Maryland Ensemble Theatre, says “It’s a Wonderful Life” is different from anything she’s done before.
“Other than doing sketch or improv, I have never done a play where you play multiple characters,” says Stark.
Brady, who also has a history with improv — in 1998, he was a part of the famous Chicago-based improv comedy group, The Second City — says it isn’t the show’s format that’s daunting so much as its legacy.
“The thing that is intimidating is how much people love this movie,” says Brady.
While the director, who works as an associate professor of theater at Hood College, had his whole cast watch the film during one of the first days of rehearsal, he says he doesn’t want to replicate the iconic movie.
“There is no way we are going to touch this movie,” says Brady. “I think it would be really scary if we tried to recreate it.”
Brady says he does hope to give fans of the film some familiar moments throughout the play.
“There are a whole bunch of details in the movie that aren’t in the script,” says Brady, who adds he’s seen the movie countless times. “[I’m] sort of picking little details [to put in] ... I pulled a few things from the movie ... that for people who have seen the movie, will have some sort of significance.”
Correction: Actress Courtney McLaughlin’s name was misspelled in a caption.