BUCKFIELD — “We know now that in the early years of the 20th century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own,” Bud Santos reads in a voice made for radio from the dimly lit meeting room at the Zadoc Long Free Library.
“We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns, they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water,” Santos continues, pausing for dramatic effect and adding appropriate inflection on certain words.
Monday night marked the first meeting of the Zadoc Long Free Library’s new Reader’s Theater group, where Santos read from Orson Welles’ famous radio program, “War of the Worlds.” The broadcast originally aired as a Halloween joke on Oct. 30, 1938, and caused mass panic with many listeners, who thought Earth was under attack by aliens.
It prompted the Federal Communications Commission to create rules barring radio from broadcasting hoaxes and set up the potential for future performances for generations to come.
Community member Deb Berman and Buckfield High School junior Devin Finnegan showed up to Monday’s meeting, joining Santos and his wife – librarian Bonnie Santos. The library director wasn’t discouraged by the few in attendance and said others planned on joining the group in the future.
“Sometimes it’s good to start off small and grow,” she said. “When you have 25 people and they’re all talking at once, it’s overwhelming.”
The idea behind starting a Reader’s Theater is to have fun without the pressure of memorizing lines. This simple form of theater allows people to read from scripts, plays, radio broadcasts and other works without much acting or utilizing costumes, props or a set.
“The script will be right there,” Bud Santos said. “Even if we do public performances, the script will be in our hands. This is reader’s theater.”
He was a theater major in college and the couple founded the drama club at what was then known as Central Maine Technical College (now Central Maine Community College) in Auburn. There they and their students put on a number of reader’s theater programs and Bonnie Santos helped a professor at Lewiston’s Bates College do a reader’s theater performance based on Malaysian and Indonesian folktales.
“You could see some people [in the audience] just close their eyes and listen because they were seeing it, you know … the voices were reaching them,” she said.
The librarian said the group could consider using some of the stories and further explained these folk tales are filled with trickster animals that teach lessons and often make humans look stupid. A favorite is the mouse deer, which is a real animal that is neither a mouse nor a deer, but looks like them and is the size of a cat.
“The mouse deer’s song is – it’s just one line – ‘I’m quick and smart as I can be, try and try, but you can’t catch me,’” she read.
“So it’s the same premise as the gingerbread man, basically, but with different characters,” Finnegan commented. The Sumner resident is playing a gangster in the high school’s upcoming performance of “Night of January 16,” and his interest in theater brought him to the new group.
The Santos also did a version of “War of the Worlds” when Bonnie taught at the technical college.
“We only had three students and 21 voices. That was a little alarming, but it was very convincing,” she said, adding there was also a sound person for the performance.
It is a script the group can explore reading and/or performing, Bud Santos said.
“You hear that introduction and it’s like, ‘OK, what’s next?’” he said. “But that’s the way radio shows work. They’re [a] very story telling, oral tradition, using sounds and letting your imagination take over.”
He added if the group simply wants to read from plays or other scripts, that’s OK, too. He encouraged members to visit genericradio.com and check out some old radio broadcasts they could tap into. He noted there’s even one for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories, which features the Belgium detective.
“I am a fan but who would want to do that accent?” Berman asked. “It’s a tough one.”
It’s ultimately up to the group to decide what direction the Reader’s Theatre takes, the couple agreed. Bonnie Santos suggested broadcasting performances on the local TV station to reach shut-ins, possibly creating a CD to share and/or taking the show on the road to nursing homes, day cares and the like.
A second meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 12, at the library, 5 Turner St. in Buckfield. Everyone is welcome, regardless of residency. For more information, email or call Bonnie Santos at firstname.lastname@example.org? or 336-2171.