“Yes Virginie, there is a Santa Claus:” A radio program from the 1940s before your eyes | mountain life
“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is a common phrase during the holiday season. But the story behind it is more than meets the eye.
This sentence comes from an editorial written in 1897 when 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun ask questions about the existence of Santa Claus.
The girl previously asked her father, but he advised her to write in the diary because, if she saw him in the Sun, it must be true. Journalist Francis Pharcellus Church, who was dealing with his wife’s death, responded and his heartfelt response has stuck with America ever since.
This story of this exchange was turned into radio shows, short films, books and musicals in the years that followed. Flagstaff’s Theatrikos Theater Company is now tackling the holiday classic.
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This play Theatrikos, directed by Amelia Swann, is based on the 1940s radio show. The period is indicated through costume and set design. The show also uses traditional sound techniques common at the time, including a live pianist and noisemakers, who create live sound effects as the show progresses.
Radio shows, even when performed on stage, emphasize sound effects and audiorial viewing by the audience. Since this play is a radio show, Swann said the actors can take on different roles they might not otherwise have, negating gender roles and allowing them to have fun with the voice acting.
“At the same time, it’s been interesting to find the line between a real radio show and having an audience,” Swann said. “You also want to give something to the live audience. There is always this element of relationships between the actors in the scenes. So even though someone might play five or six characters, in this scene they really embody that character and have relationships with the scene partners. There are some prop and costume changes. It’s visually appealing just as it’s auditory.
Michael Rulon, a veteran Theatrikos actor who plays multiple roles on the show, said the sound effects had the same effect the last time they did a radio show onstage – the 2017 production of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
“The sound effects – the people doing the sound effects live – was one of the biggest draws for the audience. I could see people staring at them enthralled and seeing how they were doing these sound effects using only things that were available in the 1940s.
Katie McKeithan, who also plays multiple roles on the show, wasn’t sure what to expect when she was cast in a radio show.
“When I was told it was a live radio show, I wasn’t completely convinced,” McKeithan said. “But I have to see, even the rehearsals and watching it, it’s very visually stimulating. I feel like it’s really engaging. There are times when I look sideways… and it’s really beautiful.
While the production of their radio show is set in the 1940s, this story has been circulating since 1897 when the letter was written. Swann said it’s a show that reminds audiences of the importance of keeping hope alive.
“This show really embodies a sense of hope and innocence,” Swann said. “It’s such a big part of the holidays and it speaks to the hope of the holidays because it was written by a pretty cynical and jaded guy. Something in Virginia’s letter touched him and he wrote this sincere answer and the rest is history. There’s this idea of hope and keeping that hope and childlike innocence. And I think that’s really important right now. I think people are probably looking for that This amplifies the sentiment behind this time of year.