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Aliens invade the Tampa Bay area with special production of 'World of the Worlds'

freeFall Theatre Company in St. Petersburg is putting on a live drive-in radio experience through the end of November.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aliens are invading Tampa Bay! But you’ll be just fine in your car. 

freeFall Theatre Company in St. Petersburg is now putting on a "live drive-in radio experience" of "War of the Worlds." The production is based on Orson Welles' famous radio broadcast in 1938.

The show sold out during opening night on Oct. 23. It’s the companies first performance since shutting down back on March 13 due to the pandemic, and it's also the world premiere of the show.

“Many people know 'War of the Worlds' and there’s so many versions of that. This is more of a funny version. I always tell people it’s more like Tim Burton's 'Mars Attacks' and not 'Independence Day,'” says freeFall marketing director Matthew McGee. “It’s kind of silly and fun and very local in a lot of ways.”

You and your family (pets included) can pull up to the 1st Avenue North side of the theatre and tune in to the immersive experience. There are three ways to listen: tuning in to the radio station from freeFall, using the Audio Fetch app or borrowing one of the theatre’s portable radios. 

A covered stage means the show can go on during a little rain (or aliens invading).

The radio broadcast will beam in the live band, the voices of the four singers on stage and the short videos. Together it creates an immersive experience that will make you feel like aliens are really invading Tampa Bay!

“There’s this great moment where the way the sound works and the way the lighting works it feels like they’re right on top of your car it’s a really fun thing,” McGee says.

“War of the Worlds” is being performed at a social distance. The band’s audio is being live-streamed in from another room and the actors are separated on stage by plexiglass when they can’t spread out. Even with that separation, McGee says you won’t miss out on the live-theatre experience.

“It still feels intimate. Even though you’re in your car and you’re far enough away. There is this interesting part of the experience – I did not expect to feel so connected to [the actors]. They’re coming right into my car through the radio!” McGee says.

freeFall's artistic director, Eric Davis, and resident musical director, Michael Raabe, created "War of the Worlds" when the company’s original plans were sidelined by the coronavirus. They scrapped a world premiere musical production of Oz, the story of the life of "Wizard of Oz" author L. Frank Baum.

“It’s kind of an amazing feat. In only a couple of months, they came up with this, wrote it, shot all the multimedia, rehearsed the performers and here we are!”

That includes hiring actors from across Florida and across the country who are out of work because of the pandemic for appearances. 10 Tampa Bay’s Josh Sidorowicz also got in on the fun, taping his TV anchor cameo for the show in the 10 Tampa Bay studio.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
10 Tampa Bay anchor Josh Sidorowicz records his cameo for freeFall Theatre Company's production of "War of the Worlds"

Not only is this a good way to work out how live-theatre can be done safely during the pandemic, McGee says he sees the remote parts of the production process becoming more common.

"When you bring actors in from all over the country or other parts of Florida, you house them for the entire rehearsal process," he said. [Now] you can rehearse over Zoom and then have everybody come in and be in the space the week before we start That’s savings for a company. We may use this for a while.”

Credit: freeFall Theatre Company

“War of the Worlds” is now showing at freeFall Theatre Company in St. Petersburg. The box office isn’t staffed during the pandemic, so you’ll need to buy your tickets online

You can bring snacks with you or check out the contactless concessions. freeFall is also selling food provided by one of the company’s longtime caterers, that was hit hard during the pandemic. You can order some when you order your tickets.

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