“My first paid acting gig was in a children’s theater production of Froggy Went a Courtin’, which was a playlette based on the old children’s song. We toured the grand state of Alabama traveling in mini-vans. We went all over the state, to preschools and elementary schools. Here were all these professional actors being paid to perform for kindergartners, or younger!” Kay Lynn Perry, manager of Regent University’s Box Office, described the funniest acting job of her career. However, acting and the Box Office is not all Perry does. This year she makes her Regent directorial debut with It’s A Wonderful Life: Live Radio Play.
From elementary school class plays to directing community theater in both Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Perry has pursued her life-long love of theater in many venues. This is her fifth year working at Regent, where she oversees all publicity and ticket sales for Regent University Theatre as well as communication with Regent’s dedicated patrons.
When asked why she wanted to direct at Regent she answered, “I’ve wanted to direct at Regent for a while because on a missional level I am compatible with Regent and the kinds of plays we like to do here. We are always looking for plays that are clean and [have] a redemption message. There might be a bad guy, but at the end things are redeemed. This particular year we wanted something for our December slot that we thought would appeal to our audiences, and It’s a Wonderful Life certainly fits that bill. It’s been sold out for weeks now! People have a strong emotional connection to the story.”
Because the upcoming show is a live radio adaptation, Perry’s directorial vision is key in creating a unique experience for the audience. The play will take place in the Studio Theater, which is set up in-the-round to mimic a radio studio. “As a radio play, we don’t show any of the locations – we’re creating an aural experience, trying to replicate what they would have done in the 1940’s. In the early days of radio, there was a lot of radio drama [with] sound effects and music that came together to help tell the story.” Perry has transformed the play into a “hybrid” version, where the actors still interact as they would in the movie.
She explained how she blended live theater with live radio, “If two actors are interacting with each other, you see the other actors come up and do the sound effects that go with the scene. It makes it a little more interesting to watch, and in the early days of radio they had live studio audiences. So, our conceit is that our audience is the live studio audience.”
Regent University Theatre’s patrons are important to Perry; when asked why she thought this particular play would resonate with them, she responded with a brief history of the story and what it means to her personally. The story was originally a book that could not find a publisher, then an unsuccessful film, until its popular resurgence as a T.V. movie in the 70’s. “Why did it become so popular? My thought is that it’s a story that tells us that prayers can be answered and the way we live our lives makes a difference… In the darkness of our world today, fewer and fewer people believe in God or have hope for the future. Yet here’s It’s a Wonderful Life telling you there is hope and there is a future. [Life is] not just this nihilistic experiment, then we die. There’s a reason to keep on living. I think people really respond and that message of hope resonates with people.”
Perry is hopeful this production will bring joy to people this Christmas season and would love to direct for Regent Theatre again in the future.
Renée Hogan is a department head for the Daily Runner.