STEM Read, local teens adapt ‘The War of the Worlds’

Genoa teen Katie Sosnowski performs her original song, “Acceleration” during Tuesday’s event. Sosnowski and her music have a major role in the radio play.
Genoa teen Katie Sosnowski performs her original song, “Acceleration” during the May 5 event. Sosnowski and her music have a major role in the radio play.

The Martians have landed in DeKalb – and they did not come in peace!

That’s the premise of STEM Read’s new adaptation of the classic 1938 radio play, “The War of the Worlds.” Throughout the winter and spring, STEM Read worked with Northern Public Radio and teens from DeKalb, Sycamore and Genoa to imagine, write and record the story of a Martian invasion in DeKalb County.

The new radio play will air at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 10, on WNIJ (89.5 FM), but contributors and guests were able to attend a May 5 premiere party at Northern Public Radio. Visitors gathered in NPR’s newly remodeled studio to hear the finished radio play, make tinfoil hats, see laser demonstrations and celebrate Orson Welles’ 100th birthday with cake and cookies.

“ ‘The War of the Worlds’ was one of our most ambitious projects so far,” says STEM Read Director Gillian King-Cargile.

Part of NIU’s P-20 Center, STEM Read creates live events and online resources to help readers of all ages explore the science behind popular fiction books. They highlight both new and classic books and create videos, interactive games, field trips, author visits, collaborative writing activities and educator lesson plans that are free online at stemread.niu.edu.

STEM Read kicked off the project in October by handing out more than 200 copies of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” to visitors during STEMfest 2014. Staff also created video interviews with experts on the role of H.G. Wells in science fiction, the science of heat rays, the impact of Welles’ 1938 broadcast on modern media, the true history of Mars exploration and the legacy of radio dramas.

From there, STEM Read hosted listening parties at the DeKalb Public Library and the Sycamore Public Library, where community members could hear the panic-inducing 1938 broadcast by Welles and the Mercury Theater. STEM Read then worked with teen groups including Sycamore High School’s Sci-Fi Club and teen advisory groups from the two public libraries to collaborate on writing a script for a new version of the radio play.

Visitors worked with SMARTspace@NIU coordinator Mary Baker to create tinfoil hats to protect their brains from Martian transmissions.
Visitors worked with SMARTspace@NIU coordinator Mary Baker to create
tinfoil hats to protect their brains from Martian transmissions.

“It was great to go to different locations and see what different groups of teens added to the radio play,” says Mary Baker, coordinator of SMARTspace@NIU, who helped plan the project. “Even though some of the teens never met, they played off of each other’s ideas and really created something spectacular!”

Baker worked with the teens to brainstorm ideas for Martian Math Mania, an online game that uses an alien invasion as the basis for fun and challenging story problems. The game is available on STEM Read and SMARTspace websites.

Once the script was finished, STEM Read worked with the teens and community members as well as NIU faculty, staff and students to record voice-overs, sound effects and mock-commercials in the style of a modern-day NPR broadcast. Northern Public Radio experts provided advice and encouragement throughout the process.

“Over 100 high school students, community members and NIU employees contributed their time, voices and talents to this production,” King-Cargile says. “The result is 30 minutes of fun, freaky radio. The Martians destroy a lot of local landmarks!”

Listeners can hear the broadcast on 89.5 FM or stream it from northernpublicradio.org by clicking Listen Live. After May 10, the broadcast will be available on stemread.niu.edu.

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