Radio Drama: Staging the Production

The actors do not have to memorize their lines, but there are a number of production details to consider when it’s time to stage a Radio Drama. The following text and accompanying photos will help anyone new to this style of theatrical presentation.

01
of 07

The Playing Area

IMG_4800.JPG
A live broadcast of "The Comedy of Errors" by Lean & Hungry Theater. Liz Scott

 In a simple recorded Radio Drama production, the actors can gather around one computer or one microphone and hold their scripts and create sound effects. In a more comprehensive production, music stands can be set up behind the actors’ microphones to hold binders that contain the scripts. Chairs for non-performing actors are arranged in the background so that actors have a place to go when they are not performing.

02
of 07

The Sound Effects Table

Radio-SE-Table.jpg
A Radio Drama Sound Effects Table. R.M. Flynn

Cast members in a Radio Drama do more than use their voices to play their roles. They also help to make the sound effects that enhance the dramatic experience of the play.

On a nearby table, a variety of sound-producing objects are laid out for use on a cue within the script:  a bell, hammer, ratchet wrench, whistles, marbles in a tin can, tambourine, bike horn, flip-flops, a block of wood covered with sandpaper, a xylophone, and a kazoo. In the production of The Comedy of Errors (produced by Lean & Hungry Theater and pictured in the photos that accompany this article) that I attended, several actors opened and closed pairs of scissors to produce an effect that sounded like an old-fashioned newsroom with typewriters pounding out stories. 

03
of 07

Music

IMG_4936.jpg
Lean & Hungry Theater's piano player in performance. Liz Scott

Live or recorded music can underscore dialogue or communicate the mood of a particular section of the script. Musicians may be placed on stage adjacent to or in the middle of the actors.

04
of 07

Scripts

IMG_4892.jpg
"The Comedy of Errors" actors and their scripts. Liz Scott

The scripts are marked to highlight the actor’s lines and to indicate which character he or she is playing. In Radio Theatre, one actor can provide the voices of several different characters by changing their voices—pitch, dialect, tempo, and volume.

The Generic Radio Workshop Vintage Radio Script Library is an amazing online resource for complete scripts or as formatting examples. This site contains scripts from shows from as far back as the 1920s.

05
of 07

The Actors

IMG_4965.jpg
Radio Drama actors incorporate movement even though their listeners cannot see them. Liz Scott

During a live performance, audiences will see actors drinking water, turning script pages, and gesturing to one another. In Radio Drama, what is seen does not ultimately matter; only voices and sounds do. Even so, some actors find that mime—throwing a ball, slapping hands, lifting a heavy object, shielding their eyes, shaking hands with another actor—helps them communicate their characters.

View this video of a Radio Drama on Prairie Home Companion to watch the actors and the man who makes the Sound Effects in action.

06
of 07

Costume Props

IMG_4899.JPG
Radio Drama actors using costume props. Liz Scott

Radio Drama actors also use costume props to help them remember which character they are playing.  These costume props are simple and easy to put on and take off quickly—like a shawl, a cowboy hat, a fedora, a necktie, a plaid cap, a bandana, a fascinator, or a kerchief.

So, an actor playing a cowboy and a granny, for example, would change back and forth between wearing a cowboy hat and a shawl. Costume props seem to help the actors keep track of which characters they are playing—especially when they play several characters in a row—or hold a conversation between two characters that they are playing (which is extremely amusing to witness).

07
of 07

Involving a Live Audience

IMG_4960.jpg
Cueing the audience to participate. Liz Scott

If a radio drama is to be broadcast or recorded and a live audience is present, it’s great to involve them in making sounds. Create cue cards that contain sound cues like:

Gasp

Mumble

Oooh

Loud cheer

Rehearse the audience before the broadcast and assign one performer to hold up the appropriate cue card at the appropriate point in the script.

"Radio Drama: A Classroom Comeback"

For some ideas and additional information, see this article.