This year marks the 75th anniversary of actor, director and noted healthy eater Orson Welles' infamous War of the Worlds radio broadcast. It famously led anxious Americans to believe that aliens were landing and sparked a height of panic and rioting that wouldn't be seen again until Detroit's last World Series win. It's both one of the unintentionally funniest moments in American broadcast history and the launchpad for one of film's greatest directors and visionaries.
And for some bizarre reason, none of the five members of the Dallas Comedy House movie improv group APB: Atlantic Pacific Billy (all "oceans") have ever listened to the entire broadcast. This changes on Saturday at 9 p.m. when the group improvises an entire performance based on the recording.
"Everybody has heard clips of it growing up but we never actually listened to it and we didn't want to taint that improv spirit by listening to it," says performer Noa Gavin. "The most I know about it is that aliens attack, and that's about it."
The idea came from creative director Michael Corbett, who was a student in one of the summer improv classes taught by Gavin. It will be a 45-minute "mono show" in which all five members of APB -- Gavin, Nick Scott, Terry Catlett, Alicia Sherrod and Clifton Hall -- play characters hearing plot point clips from the actual 1938 broadcast, presumably the ones that sound like a real, live news report.
"Each time, we'll get a new update and flood of information as to what's going on," says Scott. "None of us have listened to the broadcast. Nobody has ever heard it before." That is until the night of the show, allowing the performers' reactions to be genuine.
"For that night, we're trying to play it pretty real. Our goal is to make people laugh, but our characters think they're going to die and the world is ending," Gavin says. "So it also explores what would you say to the people you love, and what you would do in that situation."
It's difficult to preserve those genuine reactions if they hear spoilers in rehearsal, so Corbett helped the group come up with a creative way of tackling scenarios without leaking details from War of the Worlds. He recorded several phony radio broadcasts of different disasters, like animals escaping from a zoo and an accident at a state fair (will burning Big Tex jokes ever stop being funny?) to guide their early trial runs.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"They are so outrageous and so funny that it has really helped us prepare to be shocked if it was enough to drive people into a panic. And I imagine the broadcast contains some content that you can't really account for," Gavin says.
Their genuine reactions makes the show's "one night only" moniker a bit of an understatement. Scott explains that APB just couldn't resist doing an authentic exploration of comedy and fear for Halloween.
"It's normally different from what you have for a Halloween show," Scott says. "We could have just done one of the Halloween movies, but we were looking for something that's different or outside the norm."
Don't miss Saturday's show at Dallas Comedy House or you're outta luck. For this improv to be successful, it has to stay in the now, with no promise of future syndication. "We talked about the possibility of doing it a couple of times but ... we realized it was a one-time thing and it needs to stay one-time only," Gavin says. Besides, she notes, "The sequel is never as good as the original."