Earning Our Wings | Signature Series, Theater | Orlando Shakespeare Theater Earning Our Wings | Signature Series, Theater | Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Earning Our Wings

An Interview with Director Suzanne O'Donnell

Suzanne O'Donnell, director of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, discusses her unique take on your favorite Christmas classic.


Head shot provided by Suzanne O’Donnell.

OST: How is your approach to directing a live radio play different from other projects?

SO:  The production is like a podcast or an audio book, that really the background and so much of the ‘action’ is created through the actor’s voices, and not so much through a traditional set. We move from place to place to place, the scenery doesn’t shift.

Sound plays a crucial role in shaping the environment, so we have a guy doing sound effects, known as Foley. He’s able to create the sounds of a car moving us from place to place, or the sound of the wind, or… It’s really sort of that evocative style of storytelling, where it requires the listener or the audience to kind of create the scenery in their mind.

OST: How does having been an actor in Orlando Shakes’ 2013 production of this show influence your directing choices now?

SO: I have the shape of the thing in my head, because I went through it and the other thing that I got from acting in it was how much audience’s loved it! They were so charmed by it and frankly I was a little worried at first, because I thought why wouldn’t people just go and rent the movie if they want to see It’s a Wonderful Life? But this allows people to hear and see the story in a different way. So I feel like it’s given me confidence in the project that I might not have had had I not gone through it.

People do bring their memories of the movie to it. So there are moments in the show where you can see people in the audience grabbing each other’s hands and I just feel like it allows them to experience this classic, that they have probably seen multiple times, in a totally new way. So as I’m directing it, it’s those moments where I realize, yes, this works, audiences will love this!

OST: What do you think will be the greatest similarity and the greatest difference between the two productions?

Photo by Tony Firriolo features Orlando Shakes’ 2013 production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play.

SO: The script stays the same, but it’s a unique skill set, it’s a unique set of talents. The difference will be that we have different actors interpreting the roles. We have new and different talents to tap into.

OST: Tell us a little bit about the immersive features of the show.

SO: So the idea is that a little bit before the show, we’ll do some atmosphere. Where we take the sense of the radio station and bring it into the lobby. So there’s some girls selling popcorn and some guys giving out telegrams. We want to create the feeling of the 1940s before you even step into the theater.

OST: Describe your directing style in one sentence.

SO: I’m looking for what is authentic and true and present, moment to moment.

OST: Describe the show in 3 words.

SO: Charming, sweet, and deep.

OST: What’s the biggest challenge to overcome in this show?

SO: The biggest challenge is that it’s a different style than what the actors are used to. Usually you get to rehearsal, and the set is taped out for you, and you create the movement based on what the character wants and feels. You sit in a chair if you’re tired, or you go and get a drink of water, and we don’t have that. So I feel like that’s the biggest challenge is finding the drama and fullness without movement.

OST: How does this show differ from the classic holiday film?

SO: Well, it’s live! Things are always different live. You can watch Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, but they’re flat. They’re on a screen. But when you see people living it moment to moment in front of you, you have their vibrations and their whole being in the room with you, and that has a different impact. It’s a different medium entirely.

OST: What can a person expect when they go to see It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play? What is the vision?

SO: The vision is you will hear this holiday classic in a new way, but that you’ll also get to enjoy and feel comforted by something that is familiar.

OST: Any fun behind the scenes facts to share with our patrons?

SO: Look for our fabulous intern company who are performing multiple roles and have some really difficult work in being the background noises. It’s a lot of rehearsal, it’s a lot of work, but it adds a lot to the show. They’re really stepping up to the plate on that. It’s really creating a specific feel for each scene and they’re doing a great job with that. Plus they sing. Plus they’re in the lobby. So you can watch for our hardworking young people. They really lift the production.

OST: Anything else you want audiences to know?

SO: Buy a ticket!

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, directed by Suzanne O’Donnell, runs at  Orlando Shakes from November 29 to December 30, 2017. Click here for tickets.

About Suzanne O’Donnell:

Last season at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Suzanne played Vivienne in Blackberry Winter. Her first season at OST was in 1993 playing Rosalind in As You Like It and Adriana in Comedy of Errors. Other OST credits include: Annette in God of Carnage, the Governess in Turn of the Screw, Mistress Ford, Hermione, Hermia, Lady Percy, Julia, Ophelia, Emilia, Beatrice, and Kate in Taming of the Shrew. Recent regional credits include Boston Marriage (1812 Productions), Comedy of ErrorsArcadia (Folger Theatre), Romeo and JulietDancing at Lughnasa (Arden Theatre) and Social Security, Dinner with Friends (Cape May Stage). She has extensive experience teaching acting to kids, teens and adults and is a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher.