Live Radio Play Ushers in MC’s Holiday Season / Gracie Lee

Performances of “It’s a Wonderful Life” ushered in the holiday season before students and faculty left campus for Thanksgiving break. The radio play, directed by Dr. Phyllis Seawright and members of the Play Directing class, ran Nov. 19-21 in Jean W. Pittman Hall. 

Joe Landry’s script, based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s self-published story, The Greatest Gift, presented a fresh take on the 1946 holiday favorite starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. It featured charming retro aspects of a traditional broadcast, complete with commercial breaks and stand-up microphones.

A play is not complete without actors, however, and the script required many students to play multiple roles. Jake Parker jumped into his role as Freddie Filmore, while also performing Nick, the bar owner; Joseph, the angel; and a bridge keeper. The cast was led by Emma Ellard playing Mary Hatch, Todd McInnis playing George Bailey, and Emily Grace Boutwell portraying Violet Bick.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is none of these cast members’ first rodeo. Ellard, a freshman English Writing major from Madison, Mississippi, got her debut in middle school and high school productions. “[They] were some of the most fun and enlightening and memorable experiences that I ever had,” she said. “I love being on stage and I love telling stories and I wanted to come back and do it again in college, and I’m so glad that I get to do it with these people.” In addition to these thespian accomplishments, Ellard also won best actress at the Mississippi High School Drama Festival in 2019. 

McInnis, a junior, also got his start in middle school and church productions, before playing the bishop in his high school’s rendition of “Les Miserables.” The political science major from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, also appeared in MC’s Fall Scenes in 2019.

Boutwell, a junior International Studies student from Brookhaven, owes her passion for theatre to her first performance at 16, in Brookhaven Little Theatre. “My first role was as an Indian in Peter Pan, and from then on I was hooked,” she reminisced. She is currently finishing up her minor in theatre at MC, along with four other students. She was candid in her struggle to balance the busy practice schedule with her schoolwork. The cast met three times a week for rehearsals, with a fourth day scheduled for costume fittings, as needed. 

The process of developing their characters also came with its share of challenges. The plot’s flashbacks and “what if” experiences, specifically, were details McInnis found difficult to keep track of during rehearsals. “He [George] goes through such a range of life events and experiences and emotions,” he said.  “Remembering oh, this is the influence for this scene. He’s sad now–why is he sad? Just trying to encompass that insane emotion.” 

The classic story is also full of humor and sentiment. “‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is such a charming little comfort movie,” Ellard said. It’s this nostalgia that brings such a strong emotional connection to its viewers. Spiritual themes shine through in George Bailey’s journey and search for fulfillment and happiness in life. He ultimately learns that a person’s influence on the lives he touches is far more important than the success of a business or childhood dream. Clarence, the angel, tells George: “You really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”

  “The message is so poignant and so important especially in today’s day and age, where it’s just so easy to get caught up in the flow and go of things,” McInnis said. “The message that everyone is important, no matter your circumstances or situation, is such an important reminder, and it’s easy to forget.” 

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