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The news from freeFall: Mars attacks!

Bill DeYoung

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As if 2020 hasn’t handed us enough, Martians will land in the bay area tonight.

Exactly where the alien invaders will set down is a closely-guarded secret, but residents who happened to be parked in the lot behind freeFall Theatre – with tickets – can rest assured they’ll have all the news, as it happens, fast and furious.

If this sounds familiar, it’s roughly the story arc of the infamous 1938 Mercury Theatre radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ story The War of the Worlds. Martians land, America hears (phony) news coverage in real time over the radio, panic ensues. Writer and actor Orson Welles got famous with that one.

Eric Davis, freeFall’s artistic director, collaborated with musical director Michael Raabe on the fresh adaptation of War of the Worlds that debuts tonight outside the freeFall main buildings. Patrons will be in their vehicles, parked in front of the outdoor stage, with audio available via a special FM frequency or a (provided) phone app.

Again, tickets are necessary. Get them here.

This “drive-in” approach is not only practical – it’s a smart way to socially-distance performers, audience and crew – it’s got a kind of whimsical, old-fashioned 1950s science fiction allure.

Raabe took a few minutes out of rehearsal Thursday to join freeFall’s director of community relations Matthew McGee to talk War of the Worlds on The Catalyst Sessions.

It’s not clear whether it’s going down in the past, present or future.

“It’s a very campy version of Orson Welles,” Raabe said. “We’re in this out-of-time kind of retro variety hour, where we’re doing stuff from any decade. In Sci-Fi you can play with genres … we’re doing this retro variety hour, and then we get this interruption of calamity in the world interrupting us.

“We try to uplift the world with cheesy medleys and fun music while stuff’s going on.”

Indeed, the production utilizes a steamer trunk full of whiz-bang lights, special effects and video.

“Eric,” McGee pointed out, “really embraces technology and multi-media presentations.”

It’s this combo pack of multi-media, live stagecraft and Raabe’s genre-busting musicality, McGee explained, that makes this show something different. And maybe just a little hard to describe.

“If you know War of the Worlds, you’ll be able to follow along because it sticks with a lot of the stuff that’s in that. But imagine if War of the Worlds was happening while people were trying to do a radio show – and people keep cutting in with information about the alien invasion.”

It’s a musical drama/comedy, the sort of off-kilter combo freeFall excels at. It’s also the company’s first production since Covid knocked them (along with everybody else) off the stage last March.

It’s not an ideal situation, of course. But as you’ll hear on this edition of The Catalyst Sessions, everyone involved is not only excited about how cool War of the Worlds (running through Nov. 22) turned out, they’re thrilled to be working – and collaborating – again. Back, as it were, in the business of show.

Tonight on The Catalyst Sessions: One last interview. It’s episode #140, and Paul Wilborn talk with yours truly about the remarkable seven-month run of our little St. Pete chat show.

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