Brett Billings ’12 (Marion, Kan.) first became interested in the stage as a member of the Marion High School speech and forensics team. A talented speaker, he won medals in poetry and improvised duet acting at state forensics competitions.
This passion carried over to Lafayette, where he has performed in several College Theater productions and received a Maggin Family Creative and Performing Arts Fellowship (CaPA). He presented his fellowship work to date last month by directing the radio theater classic War of the Worlds.
Photos courtesy of Jack Fedak ’13
The student production used Orson Welles’ original 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air script adaption of the H.G. Wells sci-fi novel that evoked panic of an invasion from Mars among radio listeners from Maine to California. Under the direction of Billings, the Lafayette production conjured the essence of the original broadcast with a set simulating a Great Depression-era radio studio, period costumes, and a live student jazz combo.
CaPA fellows perform, exhibit, or otherwise present their work to the campus community as they mature in their chosen form of artistic expression. War of the Worlds acted as the prelude to Billings’ larger radio theater ambitions. His vision is to use his fellowship to establish an on-campus radio theater group modeled after Mercury Theatre. Envisioning a weekly radio show that broadcasts original student work, he wants to use radio theater to explore the art of storytelling and encourage drama, stories, poetry, and music.
“It is my strong belief that the artist is first and foremost a storyteller. The job of the artist is to tell the stories that fundamentally comprise the human spirit,” says Billings, who is majoring in English with a minor in environmental science.
Billings is inspired by the dynamics of radio theater because of the time constraints, the use of sound effects, and the magic of the spoken word, standing alone as the vehicle to tell a story.
“Listening to a radio performance leaves infinitely more to the imagination, hence the panic created by War of the Worlds when it first aired in 1938. We have to remember that in 2010 we are used to seeing images of space invasions, including Tom Cruise running from aliens, but in 1938 it was a scene that could only be created by the interplay of the script, performers, sound effects, and the listener’s own imagination. That is powerful,” says Billings.
Billings chose Lafayette because he was seeking a liberal arts environment that allowed flexibility and the chance to be involved in academic activities representing a variety of disciplines. As well as his involvement in theater, Billings is an officer for the rugby team, a lifeguard, a member of Pep Band, and a managing editor of the student newspaper, The Lafayette.
The Creative and Performing Arts Fellowship program provides up to $7,500 to admitted students at Lafayette. The funds are to be applied toward special projects, study abroad, or other endeavors that support the student’s creative development. Funds awarded are in addition to any financial aid students may receive from the College. Billings was one of the first five students to receive the inaugural fellowship in spring 2010.