We might need George Bailey more than ever this holiday season.
But don’t go searching for Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Netflix or Amazon. Village Arts will bring a virtual production straight to you. The Christian arts organization, which is associated with Village Seven Presbyterian Church and provides music, dance and theater performances, as well as literary and visual arts events, will offer a streaming 1940s radio play version of the holiday movie.
“This story is absolutely critical right now,” says director Betsy Hailes. “It fits perfectly into what people are feeling and dealing with now.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, George, played by James Stewart in the film, arrives at Christmas Eve feeling desperate and suicidal. His life hasn’t turned out the way he planned. He never got to leave town, travel the world and go to school, and now he’s ready to say goodbye to life. But not if his guardian angel, Clarence, has anything to say about it. The heaven-sent creature intervenes and shows George how the lives of the people in his life would be different if he’d never been born.
“He (George) did a lot of good but didn’t notice it because it wasn’t how he pictured it,” Hailes says. “This year hasn’t turned out how any of us thought it would. Through George’s life and Clarence and noticing his life can be wonderful and focusing on the things and people he does have is important for people to see right now.”
The 2 1/2-hour production, featuring 21 Colorado Springs actors, is set to look like the inside of a 1940s radio studio. Actors will dress in costumes and huddle around microphones as they voice more than 60 roles in the show. Most of them will double up on parts. Live sound effects and an accompanist will flesh out the performance.
Rehearsing in a pandemic was a challenge for Hailes. Variances for churches allowed actors to be on stage at certain times, though they also met in homes and on Zoom. Because there’s little movement on stage, Hailes encouraged her actors to develop a distinguishable voice for each of their roles.
“If someone listened with their eyes closed, would they be able to tell who the characters were?” she says. “How will people know you are a different character in that moment?”
George is a dream role for Levi Roberts, who counts this as his fifth show with Village Arts. He first watched the movie as a 12-year-old and connected with the character’s pent-up energy of wanting to do something with his life.
“Life throws you curveballs,” Roberts says. “You end up in a position you didn’t expect. But what you have to offer is still important, necessary and meaningful.”
The production also will donate part of its proceeds to Alive to Thrive, a Christian organization that helps train adults to address issues that can lead to teen suicide. It’s a tender subject for Roberts, who lost a friend to suicide in March.
“Whenever I’m getting tired in rehearsal, I’m at the point where I’m doing it for him, to honor his own wonderful life and how he touched lives.”
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