The art of surprise
Brett Gundlock / National Post
Does it look like they’re joking? From left: Don McKellar, director Andrew Burashko and Nicholas Campbell restage Orson Welles’ 1938 aliens attack radio drama/elaborate hoax, War of the Worlds.
Mar 30, 2011 – 6:30 PM ET
With April Fool’s Day just around the corner, it’s as good a time as any to remember that we all need a startling jolt every now and then. With that in mind, Ben Kaplan looks at the history of hoaxes.
Pranks in the entertainment world have a long and storied history, but the biggest and best was probably Orson Welles’ aliens attack radio drama, War of the Worlds. “He was pissed off that people believed everything they heard on the radio and said, ‘If they’ll believe everything, I’m going to give them something unbelievable to believe,’ ” says Andrew Burashko, artistic director of Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble, currently resurrecting a theatrical account of Welles’ 1938 hoax heard around the world.
According to Burashko, Welles was the entertainment world’s original prank provocateur, a tradition that spans from Andy Kaufman to Joaquin Phoenix, who all follow a time-honoured method of keeping audiences on their toes.
Since we’re seeing so much of everyday people in the documentaries of Morgan Spurlock, memoirs by James Frey and reality-TV shows such as American Idol andThe Real Housewives franchise, it makes sense that the art world plays with reality — all the better if it can send a message like Welles did.“
Performance and reality are merging — you see this a lot in modern fiction — and that’s always been interesting, but I think it’s real fruitful right now,” adds McKellar, who is also at work on a new fall sitcom for CBC. “People today are hyper-aware of the conventions of media, and it’s fun to play with them where you can.”