‘War of the Worlds’ play on (virtual) stage at David Douglas High

Discover how the David Douglas High School Theater Department is presenting a full play, that you can see at home, on January 30, and again, on February 6 …

A military officer (played by Lily Walker) and gunner (played by Haw-nah Cook) hope they’ll survive the “War of the Worlds”, in the DDHS Theater Department production – not in their school’s theater in the Hazelwood neighborhood – but instead, showing online, on January 30 and February 6.

By David F. Ashton
All images provided by the DDHS Theater Department

For years, we’ve enjoyed covering and sharing with readers the fantastic comedy, dramatic, and musical shows produced by the David Douglas High School (DDHS) Theater Department.

This winter’s theatrical presentation, “War of the Worlds”, premièring on January 30, is in that respect no different – it looks to be superbly entertaining. Read on to learn about this unique production.

When last year’s spring dramatic production of “Sense and Sensibility” was cancelled due to COVID-19 coronavirus orders, the school’s theater instructors and actors gained permission to present a live-streamed, one-night-only performance of their play. CLICK HERE to read about it.

This CBS news anchor (played by Arianna Gsell), interrupts a regularly-scheduled program with information about an apparent invasion.

Production goes ‘virtual’
Eager for students to perfect their theatrical skills, under the leadership of DDHS Theater Instructor Michael Givler, the program’s student actors and stage technicians hatched a plan to present an all-virtual theatrical presentation of “War of the Worlds”, online.

“We’ve re-imagined the original 1938 radio script as a live-action, mixed-media production,” Givler told East Portland News in a remote interview.

This infamous play, produced by Orson Wells’ The Mercury Theatre on the Air and based on the novel by H. G. Wells, terrified thousands of radio listeners across the nation, in its “breaking news” format convincing them that an actual alien invasion of Earth was taking place, Givler reminded.

Atop a building near the scene of the invasion, a “news reporter” (played by Amelia Parish) describes the unfolding invasion taking place below.

Play provides engaging diversion
“First, we chose ‘War of the Worlds’ as a project to tackle, because we wanted to ‘lean into’ escapism!” Givler explained. “The fantasy of an alien invasion takes people out of the houses in which they’ve been quarantined for a year – and, into another time and place. It’s a fast-paced show we thought could make riveting theater,” he enthused. “And, although the story is decades-old, the ‘fake news’ angle, and the feelings of hysteria many people seem to feel [at the time], we thought would ring true.”

From the stagecraft angle, the show features numerous monologs – in the form of newscasts and interviews. “This made it a practical choice, because all of our student actors could be recorded alone, remotely, from their homes,” Givler outlined.

In the play, news correspondent Carla Phillips (played by Brianna Borresen) interviews farmer Wilmuth (Konner Rudisill), whose property is the site of the alien invasion.

A daring plan created
With no access to the DDHS Horner Performing Arts Center, and its scenery workshop and stages locked down and inaccessible, Givle – the play’s director – along with Theater Manager and Technical Director Roxy Mojica worked with the students to hatch the audacious plan for remotely producing an entire show.

They cast 11 student actors; and 13 technicians worked on the show doing shoots, and creating props and set pieces.

“We created this show, doing everything remotely, all through Google Meet – including casting, rehearsing, and performing,” remarked Givler. “For each ‘shoot’, I delivered our virtual home studio kit that included lighting, sound, and video equipment – in addition to props, and a green screen – to each student’s home, one after another!”

Here, Professor Pierson (played by Denzel Menjivar) tries to explain why he believes that “explosions on Mars” had signaled an alien invasion.

Actors directed – virtually
Then, he and Mojica led the actors remotely through the process of setting up the studio and shooting their video. “We were looking at computer screens, trying to see how actors actually looked while being recorded; we learned a lot, and I’m really proud of the students throughout their ‘shoots’, some of which took as long as five hours,” Givler commented.

Instead of physical background sets, all the actors were videoed in front of a “green screen”, allowing Mojica to use digital editing software to replace that background with an appropriate set during the editing process. “Mojica created really engaging backgrounds the for kids and video sequences throughout,” Givler said. “And remember, in scenes where you see multiple actors, they were all videoed separately, and were [then] placed in a single scene with the software.”

These telephone operators (played by Lily Walker and Ariana Gsell) are trying to relay information from the front lines of the alien invasion.

They finished off the post-production of the show by adding sound effects and music underscoring, giving the production a polished, professional touch.

“As it’s coming together, I am proud that our idea of making a multimedia virtual production has proven to be a success, in that I really wanted to engage the audience with a high-quality visual and auditory experience that is exciting to watch,” concluded Givler.

Will this Air Force Commander (played by Trefor Fichtner), flying overhead, be able to stop the alien invasion? Watch and find out!

Buy tickets now for showings of ‘War of the Worlds’
Audiences can safely see the 70-minute production of “War of the Worlds” on January 30 or February 6 at home.

> CLICK HERE to see a preview on YouTube!

It’s being streamed on the Broadway On Demand web service; any digital device with a web browser is compatible.

Access to the show priced according to the number of people watching one screen:
One viewer: $12
Two viewers: $16
Group viewing: $24

Note: You are required to have an “account” before you can make a purchase.

  • CLICK HERE for “tickets” to the January 30 “War of the Worlds” showing;
  • CLICK HERE for the February 6 showing.

Plan now to enjoy this unique production of the DDHS Theater Department!

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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