From Mercury to Mars

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With Jennifer Hyland Wang‘s terrific exploration of the gendered logics surrounding the reception of the “War of the Worlds” broadcast and its implications for communications regulations, our six month series on the radio work of Orson Welles — From Mercury to Mars — comes to a close.

I have many supporters to thank for helping to bring this project together, but none so much as the Sounding Out! team – Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman,Liana Silva-Ford and Aaron Trammell, as well as our co-conspirators Nick Rubenstein and Monteith McCollum who contributed so much to the#WOTW75 project. Also a big thanks to Andrew Bottomley, my counterpart at Antenna and recruited all the authors from that end.

welles11Chiefly, however, I want to thank all our writers for such smart and entertaining work. I think it’s fair to say that theMercury to Mars project brought more insight into Welles’ radio years than virtually any other body of collected writing. In August, Cornell professorTom McEnaney started out the series with a detailed study (here) of the role that Latin America played in Welles’ radio imagination and early film projects. Eleanor Pattersonof the University of Wisconsin Madison followed up with her take on WOTW as a kind of residual radio (here). In the early Autumn, Professor Debra Rae Cohen of the University of South Carolina took on Welles’ first play in the Mercury cycle – his version of “Dracula” – explaining how it commented on the medium (here). On Antenna, Cynthia B. Meyers from the College of Mount Saint Vincent provided keen insight (here) on her experiences teaching WOTW in the classroom. Soon afterward, Kathleen Battles of Oakland University brought us her fascinating take (here) on Orson Welles’ self-parodies on the Fred Allen show and elsewhere, and in the lead-up to our#WOTW75 event, NYU’s Shawn VanCour made a compelling case (here) for why the second act of WOTW was so much more remarkable than the first.

971153_10151467911611783_635005065_nOn the 75th anniversary of the “War of the Worlds” broadcast last October, we organized (or at least inspired) listening parties and collected hundreds ofreal-time tweets from participants in seven states and three countries all listening at the same time and using our hashtag #WOTW75. The exercise was coordinated with a three-hour SO!-produced broadcast fromWHRW at SUNY Binghamton, with comments on the show by a dozen prominent scholars and writers, including Kate Lacey of Sussex University,Alex Russo of Catholic University, Brian Hanrahan of Cornell, John Cheng of SUNY Binghamton, Damian Keane of SUNY Buffalo, Jason Loviglio of the University of Maryland, Paul Heyer of Wilfrid Laurier University and more. We couldn’t be more proud of the depth of the material and the breadth of the event, which stretched from the University of Mississippi to Northwestern University, from Bournemouth University in the U.K. to the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. Here is the navigator page we put up the night of the event, here is Aaron Trammell‘s remarkable audio documentary that aired early that night and here is Monteith McCollum‘s amazing WOTW “remix” that aired later.

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After the anniversary, our series continued to grow. Josh Shepperd of Catholic University reflected on what WOTW meant for the development of media studies (here) based on new archival research, andJacob Smith of Northwestern wrote a terrific article (here) about “Hell on Ice,” Welles’ great drama of sailors lost in frozen wastes. We also commissioned new writing (here) on Welles’ adaptations of Sherlock Holmes by A. Brad Schwartz, who co-wrote a PBS program on the WOTW scandal. We also heard from two of the most prominent media studies scholars out there: Michele Hilmes of Madison wrote about the persistence and evolution of radio drama overseas after Welles (here), while Murray Pomerance of Ryerson University wrote a rich and provocative study (here) of Welles’ voice itself.

Thanks to one and all. For my part, it’s simply been a joy to share my boundless fascination with Orson Welles’s radio work with so many friends, fans and colleagues. Signing out now, on behalf of Mercury to Mars, I remain your obedient servant, Neil Verma.

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