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‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ is On the Air

Set in a radio station in the 1940s, the play utilizes radio drama techniques to bring the familiar story to life. Five actors portray the 46 characters in the story, and also create all of the sound effects needed to make the narrative come alive.

Theater curtains provide the backdrop for the play's name with a radio microphone in front.
Performances will be in the Studio Stage of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Dec. 7-10.
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BRAINERD — One of the most beloved Christmastime stories comes to the stage in a uniquely entertaining form when ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ launches The Actors Repertory Theatre’s debut.

Performances will be in the Studio Stage of the Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts at 7 p.m. Dec. 7-10.

Actors Repertory Theatre is a collaboration between Beth Selinger, long-time director for several area community theatres and Patrick Spradlin, recently retired as theatre director at Central Lakes College. Selinger directs the play, and Spradlin is one member in the five-person cast. Curtis Jendro is the company member responsible for all technical aspects, including website, ticketing support, and technical aspects of each production.

“This play combines a very familiar story with a presentational form that is really intriguing,” said Selinger. "Radio plays were the popular entertainment prior to television. This show is a great mix of live theatre and the techniques of live radio.”

The film version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was released in 1946. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, it tells the story of George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams in order to help others in his community, and whose thoughts of suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence.

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“The film has become a classic,” said Selinger. “Anyone with a television set has probably seen it multiple times. What makes this stage play unique is the way in which the story is told.”

Set in a radio station in the 1940s, the play utilizes radio drama techniques to bring the familiar story to life. Five actors portray the 46 characters in the story, and also create all of the sound effects needed to make the narrative come alive.

“This play really fits ART’s focus on the work of actors,” said Selinger. “It’s so much fun to see actors change character, sometimes in mid-sentence. And watching sound effect being created from ordinary objects is fascinating. Anyone who was in the audience for a broadcast of ‘A Prairie Home Companion’ knows how entertaining this can be.”

People stand in a line
The Actors Repertory Theatre includes Patrick Spradlin, left, Kevin Yeager, Rebecca Timmins, Maren Martin, Jenny Kiffmeyer, Nicholas Kory, Beth Selinger and Curtis Jendro.
Contributed / John Erickson

In addition to Spradlin, the cast is made up of actors well-known for their area stage appearances. Jenny Kiffmeyer has appeared in nearly 20 different productions, most recently in ‘Sister Act’ at Brainerd Community Theatre. Kevin Yeager counts among his stage credits ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’ ‘The Woman in Black,’ and ‘Wait Until Dark.’ Nicholas Kory’s resume includes comedies like ‘Play On’ and ‘Dearly Departed,’ the musical ‘Young Frankenstein,’ and dramatic portrayals in ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘The Elephant Man.’ Rebecca Timmins is familiar for star turns in ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘All My Sons.’ The show will also include music and song provided by Steve Anderson and Sarah Aamot, formerly the instrumental and vocal music instructors at Central Lakes College.

“This play works really well in the Studio Stage of the G-Z Center,” said Selinger. “This black box space puts the actors and audience up close, so that you’ll be able to see how the sound effects are created, and engage in the play in ways not ordinarily done with other plays.”

Part of the Actors Repertory Theatre’s mission is to give back to the community by linking each production to a perceived community need. To that end, the company will have drop boxes in the lobby of the theatre and ask that audience members consider bringing a new, unwrapped toy or non-perishable food item for donation. The toys will be given to the Heartland Detachment of the Marine Corps League’s “Toys for Kids” program. The food items will be donated to the Salvation Army Food Shelf Brainerd.

Tickets may be purchased online at the company’s website, www.art4mn.org or at the door on nights of performance. For questions about ticketing, call 218-833-2459. For general information questions about the Actors Repertory Theatre, call 218-833-2350.

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