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It’s a wonderful (virtual) life at American Stage

Bill DeYoung

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Patrick A. Jackson plays Clarence the Angel - plus nine other characters - in "It's a Wonderful Life - A Live Radio Play."

Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class, arrives this weekend to show George Bailey what life in Bedford Falls would be like if he’d never been born.

That, of course, is the basic plot of Frank Capra’s classic holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life, and American Stage is telling the time-honored tale, virtually, in the form of a unique adaptation by Joe Landry.

The production, which begins Friday (Dec. 18), stars Enoch King (A Raisin in the Sun, Skeleton Crew) as George “Good Old Building and Loan” Bailey, with Patrick A. Jackson as Clarence the crusader from above.

The cast also includes Davina Reid, Katrina Stevenson and Richard B. Watson. They all portray multiple characters in It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

In the 1946 film: Clarence (Henry Travers) and George (James Stewart). NBC

“In terms of the plot, it’s pretty much the same,” says Jackson, who’s also the Adult Education Associate and Corporate Training Manager at American Stage. “There are a few moments in the script that were created specifically for this piece. But the conceit is, whether we’re doing it physically or whether we’re doing it virtually, that you’re seeing these actors record this quote-unquote radio play as if it was being listened to on the radio.

“But you can fully see us. So there are still things that we’re going to do specifically tied to the fact that you can see us. We’ll still be doing some actual interaction with each other as if we were onstage together.”

But they won’t be. Jerid Fox and Rachel Harrison will direct remote livestreams from the individual actors, blending them together using the interactive Vimeo Studio platform (as seen in the recent American Stage virtual production Letters to Kamala).

Viewers will also be able to watch foley artist John Millsap creating the sound effects in real time. “He is a part of the show as well,” Jackson says.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Jackson arrived in Florida seven years ago to work as an acting apprentice with Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota; he then became an education outreach associate, coordinating the touring theater for young audiences program.

In 2017, he moved to St. Petersburg. “I was really surprised at the richness of the theater scene, between Sarasota and Tampa Bay,” Jackson explains. “When I was still living in Sarasota, I would come up to St. Petersburg to hang out with friends – so I was exposed to the theater scene here even before I moved up here.”

He was in the cast of A Raisin in the Sun, and in Jobsite Theatre’s memorable January, 2020 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as Lysander, one of Shakespeare’s “Lovers.”

Jackson in Jobsite’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Midsummer is my favorite Shakespeare play. This was the third production I was in, but the first time that I was not playing Puck. It was nice to be outside of that track and just experience the show, in a whole new space as a Lover. That’s a whole different track in that show.

“Because I’m not really a musical theater actor, I’m not often in shows with big casts. We really fostered a little community within ourselves. We were all in the dressing rooms – which are really small at Jobsite – having such a great time backstage.”

Jackson’s history with It’s a Wonderful Life was not quite as rich. “I knew of the movie and I’m pretty sure I watched it when I was little,” he says. “But in terms of my personal Christmas movie canon, it’s not something I watch every year. But I know the iconic moments, like ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,’ and before we started the rehearsal process I went on Amazon and watched it again.”

And the story’s rich moral lesson – that every individual is important to the whole – resonated with him.

“While it’s always a sensitive, emotionally vulnerable time of the year, this is extremely different because of the year that we’ve had,” Jackson observes.

“So it’s important for us to really highlight the connection that’s there in Bedford Falls, and the community that George is a part of – how it would be like if he wasn’t there. And how we impact one another. Even when it seems like we don’t, because we’re all disconnected right now.”

Tickets and all details are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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