- The Live Performance
The production involved the construction of a
soundproof isolation booth for Welles.
The 200+ extras would not have fit
into a regular radio studio. (More)
The first broadcast of
The Fall of the City from inside the
Seventh Regiment Armory, April 11, 1937
"We had a CBS experimental theater of the air called the Columbia Workshop, which pioneered all kinds of special sound effects and other dramatic techniques. In 1937 it put on a poetic drama by Archibald MacLeish called The Fall of the City, featuring a 22-year-old actor with an unforgettably expressive voice. The play was a sensation, which helped point the way to what radio could achieve. It also made the actor, Orson Welles, an overnight star."
The play takes the form of a radio broadcast from a plaza in an unnamed city. An Announcer reports as a crowd awaits the reappearance of a "recently dead" woman who has risen from her crypt on the previous three nights. On her appearance, the woman prophesizes that "the city of masterless men will take a master". As the panicking crowd consider the meaning of the prophecy, a Messenger arrives warning of the impending arrival of a conqueror. The Messenger describes the life of those who have been conquered as one of terror – "Their words are their murderers – Judged before judgment", even as many of them actively invite the oppressor in.
A pacifist Orator then addresses the crowd, urging a non-violent acceptance of the conqueror's arrival, arguing that reason and appeasement and eventual scorn will ultimately prevail against the conqueror.
The momentary calming of the crowd achieved by the Orator is interrupted by the arrival of a Second Messenger, who reports that the newly-conquered peoples have embraced the conqueror. The Priests of the city then exhort the people to turn to religion – "Turn to your gods" – and almost instigate the sacrifice of one of the citizens, before a General of the city interrupts them. The General calls for resistance but the people have already given up hope and renounced their freedom echoing the prophecy "Masterless men must take a master!" as the armour-clad Conqueror enters the city. As the people cower and cover their faces, the Conqueror ascends the podium and opens his visor, with only the Radio Announcer seeing that the visor and armour are empty, observes "People invent their oppressors." But by then. the people are now acclaiming their new master. The Announcer concludes: "The city has fallen..."