This blog was originally posted on November 4, 2014.
It had long been my contention that playwriting is more practical than screenwriting because it leads more directly to a finished product. In other words, whereas an ambitious playwright could organize his or her friends and stage a piece on a weekend, the screenwriter was dependent on the whims of Hollywood producers to obtain the resources to get their films made. This assessment of practicality, though, seems to apply less and less to today’s world in which there are so many opportunities through the internet. If a screenwriter uses the production and distribution means available through the web—for example, if a writer creates scripts for short Youtube films—then screenwriting can be every bit as practical as playwriting.
Besides screenwriting, the internet has enhanced the practicality of another field—radio drama. The format, which dwindled in the U.S. with the rise of television, is now reemerging under the aegis of podcasting and audiobooks. Teachers of dramatic writing are wise to embrace audio theatre for the following reasons:
- It stands to become more and more important in our Internet Age.
- It provides easy production opportunities for emerging writers—requiring no sets, costumes, or even line memorization, as required by film and the stage.
- Digital recordings, the product of audio theatre endeavors, are easy to disseminate to a wide audience.
My university, Arkansas Tech, has been leading the way in audio theatre ventures for seven years now. Through an organization called the Arkansas Radio Theatre, we have created more than forty broadcasts which play on the local radio station, are made available to the visually impaired throughout the state, and are available on-line (click Public, then Radio Theatre). The Arkansas Radio Theatre is dedicated to new plays and adaptations of classic literature. An audio theatre company like the Arkansas Radio Theatre is easy to establish because free recording software is easily available. An interested instructor simply needs some microphones in order to record voices. Apart from that, an audio theatre company simply requires a means for broadcast—or some server space, which is readily available at most universities.
However, just because a production opportunity exists, that does not mean that student writers are prepared to take advantage of it. Because audio theatre is a unique form, writers must be trained with relevant coursework. In order to build the Radio Theatre into the curricular structures of my university, I am teaching (in Fall 2014) an upper-division topics course focusing on Radio Theatre Writing. Some of the assignments explore audio theatre as a genre: for example, listening to broadcasts from the Golden Age of Radio and comparing them to the audio drama available today. Students will eventually work toward hour-long original scripts. Hopefully, the insights learned in teaching this class will help others who attempt to engage in audio theatre projects. I will report on the progress of the course in later posts.