How Arizona Came to Live Radio

I moved from Boston to Arizona in 1994 and was immediately enchanted by the state’s majestic vistas and diverse cultures. In many ways, it is still very much the wild west.  I soon met Mark DeMichele, who was later to become a close friend and frequent director of my work. He thought I’d enjoy Augustus Thomas’ 1899 melodrama Arizona and suggested I read it. At that time it was billed as “America’s Greatest Play.” I found the play fascinating but dated, and decided to write an updated version. My objective was to make it appealing to a contemporary audience while retaining its historical and cultural perspectives.

Thomas’ original play ran four acts with sixteen characters. Much of the stage business was probably entertaining at the time, but didn’t move the story or develop the characters much, so I cut the play to two acts and eliminated six minor characters, and renamed it Arizona Territory because that’s was Arizona was called before it became a state in 1912. These changes created tighter action and essential characters. I then set about enhancing the characters so they are more multi-dimensional, and therefore more interesting.

The play takes place in 1898 as Arizona residents are preparing to enter the Spanish-American War in Cuba (think Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill). It involves ranchers, cowboys, soldiers and Mexicans; both men and women, young and old, rich and poor; all coming together for a common purpose, yet not without deceit, betrayal and greed. Hey, it’s still melodramatic comedy.

Every year, Arizona Centennial Theatre Foundation and KTAR News 92.3FM present a live radio broadcast to celebrate Arizona’s statehood day. This year they chose Arizona Territory. I redrafted the script for radio adding music and sound effects and it was broadcast live on February 14, 2016, from the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts. It can still be heard on the internet at Give it a listen on your computer, tablet or smart phone. Buy the script from Indie Theater Now. Enjoy!

Richard Warren, playwright