Announcer Brian Schuth, with trusty ‘sign girl’ Eliza Swann, kept the audience cheering, laughing, and even booing on command throughout Stage East’s It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. Photo by Robin Farrin.

With a swift rehearsal period of just one month, and only Saturday afternoons for the first three weeks, Stage East’s It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play was a chance for a group of 20 performers to participate, without a production’s usual staggering time commitment, in a crowd-pleasing holiday tale. Several of the cast were new to the stage, including Don Bailey, who played the villain of the piece—Henry F. Potter—as well as the angel, Joseph, and several other small roles, and helped with the sound effects.

Don Bailey (at right) rehearses for his role of Henry F. Potter opposite Anson Bergonzi (center), in this scene playing Uncle Billy. Audrey Bradbury as Mary Hatch (from left) and Johnny Lynch as George Bailey await their next scene. “Mr. Bailey,” says the real-life Bailey. “There is nothing quite so loathsome as a family business. Now, Peter, you know what I’m here for. I’m on a very tight schedule—a family to evict at three.” Photo by Lauren Koss.
‘Angel, second class’ Clarence, played by Carolee Bier (right) questions head angel Joseph, played by Don Bailey. Photo by Robin Farrin.

“What an adrenaline rush I got playing in front of a live audience!” said Bailey, who offstage works as captain of the Eastport/Lubec passenger ferry. “Being my first time in any major role I appreciated the support and help of my fellow experienced thespians.” Bailey busily swapped hats to help delineate his varied roles throughout the production, as well as dramatically changing his voice, his walk and his stance. “I really enjoyed the challenges of playing multiple characters in our adaptation of the radio reproduction broadcast.”

In this rehearsal for the bank run scene, Patricia Marie Babin (center) is offered a share of George and Mary Bailey’s honeymoon money. Photo by Lauren Koss.

Another new face to Stage East was Kim Vogel, who played the Bailey’s young children, Tommy and Zuzu, as well as Matilda at the Building and Loan and a testimonial-giver in one of the production’s spoof commercials. “Everyone made me feel part of the team from the start,” said Vogel, who moved Down East two years ago. “I was really impressed with the professionalism, dedication and energy of those far more experienced. I loved the entire concept of a radio broadcast, love the 40s (hair, clothes) … so this play screamed my name!”

The Bailey’s children Zuzu, Tommy, Janie and Pete (Kim Vogel, Rosalie Woodward, Amber Ross and Owen Leavitt) rehearse for their big scene. Sadly, Woodward was ill for performance night, but castmates covered her lines with aplomb. Photo by Lauren Koss.

Vogel, who teaches biology at Shead High School, quipped “The multiple characters I played enabled all my personalities to express themselves!” For her period-perfect ‘victory roll’ hairstyle she credits her friend and neighbor, Ann Small.

Audrey Bradbury (center) as Mary Hatch—the heroine of It’s a Wonderful Life—and castmates Marlene Russ (from left), Anson Bergonzi, John Leavitt and Lauren Koss queue up for their lines. Photo by Robin Farrin.

Audrey Bradbury, a sophomore theater major at the University of Maine at Farmington, noted that this was her 15th production since she began acting at age 13, but her first ‘staged reading’ style play. “It was really convenient to not have to memorize any lines— I don’t think I would have participated if I had had to as I’m currently learning Juliet’s lines in Romeo and Juliet and my brain only has so much room in it. Still, having a script in your hand that you’re prepared to rely on hinders you in a way. I would much rather be fully absorbed in the experience and be able to make more eye contact with the other characters on stage, as well as react more to what’s going on around me. But that’s the price we pay for convenience.”

Lauren Koss, with bandmates Beth Goodliff and Brian Schuth, helped keep early-arrivers entertained with period tunes. Photo by Robin Farrin.

Rosalie Woodward, who participated in rehearsals to portray Mary’s mother, Mrs. Hatch, Tommy and the woman in the ad, was prevented from performing by seasonal illness. She commented that nevertheless, the rehearsal process was exciting, and she loved the sound effects. “Because there was no memorization, the lack of stress was greatly reduced.” 

“I got my money! Old Man Potter’s taking over the bank. He’ll pay you fifty cents on every dollar!” John Leavitt, Brian Schuth and Don Bailey (standing, from left) build tension in the bank run scene. Photo by Lauren Koss.

First-time foley artist and longtime Stage East contributor Kathleen Dunbar worked alongside Caitlyn Stellrecht, another longtime Stage East performer, to create the auditory world of the play—from the splash of a young child falling through the ice to sirens, cuckoo clocks and footsteps racing through crunching snow. “My favorite sound effect was using the little tiny door to recreate the sound of a normal size door. There was something really satisfying about opening and closing it! Popping a cork was fun too. People love that sound. I think because it often precedes a celebration!”

During a rehearsal, sound effects wizards Kathleen Marie Dunbar and Caitlyn Stellrecht are hard at work creating the auditory world of the play. Photo by Lauren Koss.

Since childhood, Dunbar has served the theater group in myriad ways, including as stage manager, sound technician, actress, and helping with house management. She currently serves on the group’s Board of Directors, and is secretary. She was delighted with the choice of this show for the group. “It’s my Dad’s favorite Christmas movie so I saw it a lot as a kid. Every production is unique and special but this one had some extra holiday magic!”

John Leavitt (center) as Bert the cop and son Owen Leavitt (right) as Ernie the cab driver got to work together for the first time on stage in this show, each playing multiple roles. Photo by Robin Farrin.

Another Stage East veteran, Melissa Newcomb, attended the second-to-last rehearsal, giving feedback from the audience side for performers. “It was a pleasant change from the usual New Year’s Eve show,” she commented. “Lots of new faces on stage, and a great way to spend New Year’s Eve.”

Proudly gathering around the glittery WBFR sign, castmates shared a meal and memories of the production at a cast party held the Saturday after New Year’s. Photo by Lauren Koss.
Kim Vogel and Kathleen Dunbar are excited about their It’s a Wonderful Life souvenirs. Photo by Lauren Koss.

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