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Radio free frights

Willamette Radio Workshop gets ready for some Halloween broadcasts of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'

Orson Welles' radio career is inextricably linked with 'The War of the Worlds.' This 1938 production of the H.G. Wells sci-fi story caused widespread panic when its broadcast was thought to be actual news bulletins of an alien invasion.

But 'Worlds' was actually Welles' 29th show with the Mercury Theatre of the Air. He'd been doing radio dramas since 1936, and for a year he was the main character voice in 'The Shadow' radio serial.

He would go on to produce and act in more than 100 additional dramas before Hollywood beckoned in 1940.

Sam Mowry's Willamette Radio Workshop group successfully revived 'War of the Worlds' last year at Halloween, filling the CoHo Theatre in Northwest Portland for a midnight performance.

'We had 50 no-shows, and it was still full Ñ thank God they didn't come,' he says.

This year, Mowry's crew is tackling Bram Stoker's 'Dracula,' which Welles adapted in July 1938. They'll perform it live at the White Eagle Saloon, McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove and the Kennedy School in the days leading up to Halloween.

'Welles got the rights to it at the last minute Ñ he was going to launch the season with 'Treasure Island,'' Mowry says. 'He and John Houseman sat in an all-night cafe cutting up seven copies of the book and gluing pages together to make the script. They argued around the clock for 36 hours, eating and drinking the whole time, then dropped off the pages at the typing pool and left Welles' secretary to pay the bill.'

Mowry follows up with a prize-winning piece of trivia about English theater manager Bram Stoker, who wrote the story in 1897 and made vampire a household word. Vampires continue to enthrall 100 years later, immortalized in movies and television.

'Bram Stoker was (actor-impresario) Henry Irving's stage manager, and one of the first things he did was offer Irving the play of 'Dracula,'' Mowry says. 'Irving wouldn't touch it, and many people believed that it was because the character of Dracula was based on him.

'Think about it,' Mowry says. 'We accept the idea of vampires, but when the story was written, nobody knew what they were. Here's this great story: Basically, a real estate salesman goes to close a deal in Eastern Europe Ñ and instead this evil is loosed on the world!'

Welles' script runs 55 minutes and can be heard online at http://www.scifi.com/set/playhouse/dracula/ though it's not a high-quality recording. But the adaptation rushes along, with foley sound effects creating the atmosphere of doom.

Radio drama is a very mobile production, Mowry says.

'It's not like theater, where you have six weeks of rehearsal and a six-week run,' he says. 'Here we can do five shows with a cast of 12. It takes a half-hour to set up a one-hour show and a half-hour to break it down. The sound equipment is the biggest thing.'

And Halloween horror stories are perfect for radio drama, Mowry says. 'It's the power of suggestion. Everybody carries their own private hell with them.'

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