Bringing sound to 'It's a Wonderful Life'

Zee Cox researched historic Foley techniques to create many of the sound effects for the staged radio broadcast "It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play."

In the Front Porch Theatre’s production of "It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" playing this weekend, there are five actors. But director Max Baron Reid thinks of the sound effects at the sixth.

Created primarily by props coordinator Zee Cox, the sound effects, or “Foley” in theater and film jargon, constitute a large part of the production and are manipulated by the actors.

            Foley is the reproduction of sound effects such as blowing wind, creaking doors and footsteps in snow. Named after sound effects artist Jack Foley, the art form was created for live radio productions and early movies that included sound, known as “talkies,” in the 1920s. Now there is an entire industry devoted to integrating sound into film and video. With its multiple creative contraptions researched and built by Cox, the Front Porch Theatre production, set in 1946, gives a glimpse into the past.

            “I had a lot of fun researching how to make certain sounds,” Cox said. “The wind machine works like a charm, and the miniature door used for slamming was a good education in carpentry.” To create a different creaking door hinge sound, Cox punctured a tin can, threaded it with a looped string and provided the actor with a dowel coated with violin resin to twist in the loop. The resulting sound is amazingly reminiscent of a creaking door.

            When the character George Bailey throws a rock through the window of the old abandoned Granville house to impress his future wife Mary, the shattering of glass is critical for the scene. Cox made a crash box where a nail breaks a glass strip spanning two offset ledges. The shattering followed by the resonance of the glass dropping achieves the desired result.

            Artistic director Matt Lutz solved the problem of the slamming car door when he found an old metal cash register in a storage room of Town Hardware (which provided most of the set pieces, along with Tyson Furniture). The heavy sheets of steel were a great alternative to a real car door.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 22-23. Tickets are $20. For more or to order tickets, call 669-0930 or visit The Black Mountain Center for the Arts is located at 225 W. State St.