MHS Theatre Presents ‘War of the Worlds’

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MIDDLETON–In a year in which district students have less access to clubs and activities, Middleton High School (MHS) Theatre has been working to center student self-expression during uncertain times. Like so many educators and artists, MHS Theatre Director Katrina Williams Brunner, Performing Arts Center Director Zane Enloe and frequent MHS Theatre guest director Tim Gittings of American Players Theatre find themselves in the position of learning flexibility.

“Our goal,” says Brunner, in her third year as MHS Theatre Director, “is to stay creative and collaborative along the way.”

The 2020-21 MHS Theatre theme “Out of Chaos” references Steven Sondheim, the lyricist and composer who has explored a rich diversity of material in his complex productions. Sondheim himself experienced some very difficult events in his childhood, later reflecting that, “Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos.”

The season’s first show is a perfect introduction to the theme of creativity and chaos. The famous 1938 radio play “War of the Worlds” was a collaboration, brought together as a quick brainstorm and intended to be a fun Halloween special. Orson Welles created a new show based on literary classics and had the idea of transforming H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel into a play that seemed to take place as live news. He did not expect that the idea of a Martian invasion would be taken seriously by the broadcast radio audience, and that widespread public panic would result.

Like Welles, MHS Theatre students have brought the “War of the Worlds” into the context of 2020. Although the dialogue and references have changed, familiar radio play strategies make the online production format interesting and link it back to the Welles’ production. Cast and crew have worked together to create a production appropriate for the moment and for the season.

“War of the Worlds” was submitted to the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival on October 30 and will be available as a video release beginning Nov. 13. To access the play, audience members can go to the MHS Theatre web site at middletontheatre.org and find a link to the performance on MHS Theatre’s YouTube channel. There is also a link to the original 1938 radio broadcast so that listeners can enjoy the historical frame of reference and compare the two endeavors.

“War of the Worlds” is the first MHS Theatre production to be released for the 2020-21 season. It is additionally significant as MHS’s entry for the annual One Act Play competition in the Wisconsin State Theatre Festival. The festival itself is experiencing its own creative transformation, as it will be held virtually for the first time since it was established in 1930. Happily, 48 different schools will be participating in 2020, the majority entering plays created virtually.

MHS Theatre currently plans five virtual productions during its 2020-21 season, including science fiction cult film inspired “Teenagers From Outer Space” (Dec. 4), Shakespeare production “Mis-Shapen Chaos of Well-Seeming Forms” (Dec. 11), “20/20 Visions,” showcasing original student work reflecting on this difficult year (Dec. 17), and classic musical Rodgers & Hammerstein's “Cinderella” (March 18-21, 2021). Community members are invited and encouraged to support local students by virtually attending any and all of these productions. Details will be available at middletontheatre.org, and on Middleton Theatre’s Facebook page.

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