Rosendale Theatre recreates Norman Corwin’s We Hold These Truths onstage

Norman Corwin at his Wellworth Avenue apartment in Los Angeles, 1973

Norman Corwin, who died in 2011 at the age of 101, was one of the most influential creative forces of the Golden Age of Radio. Starting out as a newspaperman, he made the transition to radio journalism in the early 1930s, hosting poetry programs and writing scripts for dramas that addressed contemporary social issues. He rose to fame during World War II by producing a series of documentaries that included An American in England (a collaboration with Edward R. Murrow), On a Note of Triumph and Fourteen August.

After the war, Corwin traveled the world creating broadcasts for the United Nations, until McCarthyism drove him out of the radio medium and into writing for the screen and stage. His 1956 film adaptation of Lust for Life, Irving Stone’s 1934 novel about Vincent Van Gogh, garnered him an Oscar nomination; and Ray Bradbury is said to have credited Corwin with the publication in 1950 of a collection of his short stories as The Martian Chronicles, now regarded as a classic of the science fiction genre.

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But the project that truly made Corwin’s career was We Hold These Truths, a radio play that he wrote, produced and directed, commissioned by the US Office of Education to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. It was scheduled to air on December 15, 1941, followed by an address to the nation by president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Galvanized by the attack on Pearl Harbor that had coincidentally occurred one week earlier, some 63 million listeners tuned in: almost half of the US population at the time, and the largest audience in history for a dramatic performance. The show won Corwin his first Peabody Award.

The Rosendale Theatre’s resident acting company, which has already wowed audiences with its spirited “live radio” performances of It’s a Wonderful Life and Vintage Hitchcock, will bring We Hold These Truths back to life at 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 19. The cast includes Sophia Skiles, Molly Parker Myers, Claudia Brown, Carol Fox Prescott and Joanna Rotte, with vocals by Machan Taylor and the brilliant sound effects work of percussion goddess Fre Atlast. Ann Citron directs. Best of all, admission is free.

The Rosendale Theatre is located at 408 Main Street (Route 213) in Rosendale. It’s handicapped-accessible and has ample free parking in the rear. For more info, call (845) 658-8989 or visit www.rosendaletheatre.org.

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