Elissa S. Guralnick
One of the first things any artistic medium needs to do to be legitimate is to define itself. What makes film, for example, a discrete form of art, and not just a recorded form of theater? Many people have poured lots of thought into that question, and since the dawn of cinema that question has been argued and debated in many different places.
I think it’s fair to say that audio drama is not quite as popular as cinema. Did radio ever have the level of debate and critical analysis that cinema did? I suspect probably not, but there are people out there who have written about such things. There are early media theorists who discussed radio. Broadcast media have had more discussion, but that’s not what we’re really concerned with here. An audio drama does not have to ever be broadcast over a radio wave. Indeed, more audio content than ever is transmitted directly to listeners over the internet. Tim Crook’s book includes discussion of media theory regarding radio drama. It’s a good book, I recommend it. It’s got a bit of everything.
The most important book for discussing audio drama is Sight Unseen by Elissa S. Guralnick. She’s a professor somewhere out west, I believe. Published in 1995, you can still find copies around, and I highly recommend it. It is a critical analysis of modern radio drama, including works by Pinter, Beckett, Stoppard, and others. It is also a very passionate argument for medium specificity. Guralnick makes the case that radio drama is not just a form of theater, but is a fully fledged art form of its own, with unique properties and characteristics that are specific to audio drama, the medium’s own super powers, as it were. The only difficulty is that many of the plays she talks about are difficult to find. Most are from the BBC, which airs things and then sticks them in the vault and sits on them forever and they never see the light of day again. Here’s a list of the plays you need to listen to or read the scripts of:
- Scenes from an Execution by Howard Barker
- Artist Descending a Staircase by Tom Stoppard
- The Radio Plays of Samuel Beckett
- Transfigured Night by Robert Ferguson
- Cries from Casement as His Bones are Brought to Dublin by David Rudkin
- Roratorio by John Cage
- Wings by Arthur Kopit
- A Slight Ache by Harold Pinter
- The Bagman by John Arden
- Pearl by John Arden
If you are interested in reading this book and want to get ahold of these plays, stay tuned. There might be some options for you in future posts. Also, if you have a copy of Cries from Casement, PLEASE let me know. It has been impossible to find anywhere, has never been commercially released, and probably never will be.