Mission Statement:

Audio drama is one of the most intimate and expressive dramatic mediums, rivaling theater and film in poetic, visual, and narrative qualities. Many people are unaware of this - a stigma lingers that "radio drama" is a scratchy, cartoonish thing of the past, as if people thought that cinema ended with silent movies, unaware of all the great films made since that time. In reality, audio and radio drama is the great frontier of modern theater - with subtle, intimate performances and powerful, gripping stories.

My aim is to promote a discussion of the art, sociology, theory, and future of this remarkable artistic form. The current state of audio drama is precarious, but through careful consideration of how content is presented, distributed, and interacted with, I believe that the radio and audio drama community can grow and prosper and reach an even wider audience.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Audio Drama Wiki update

I've been pretty busy over the past week or two with the Audio Drama Wiki, and I'm pleased to report that we now have over 200 entries. It's shaping up nicely, but of course we can always use more input and collaboration. There's a lot of ground to cover. Right now we're pretty focused on BBC radio drama, and nobody's covering OTR. Which is fine with me, OTR is not really my bag. But it does need to get in there.

Each entry for a radio play should, ideally, be able to provide the essential details to bring context and understanding to each play. Cast, crew, and author (the most important) can link to more information on the subject. Part of what this does is create a mental understanding of what the thing is. And that encourages people to access it. A movie, for example, has a lot of context packaged with it. If I want to watch a movie I can go to a store or look online, and see the cover art, read the blurb, look at the credits, etc, and make a decision on whether to purchase or view it or not. One of the things I hope the Audio wiki does is to help people make decisions to listen to radio drama. If I know that I like one John Fletcher play (Death and the Tango!), then I can click on his entry and look at all the other plays he's done, and seek out more of his work. Likewise, if I listen to a radio play that I don't particularly like, I can make decisions to avoid others like it. This is an aspect of interaction that is fundamentally lacking in audio drama. Particularly the BBC websites. They're terrible! And inconsistent. Finding useful information from the BBC about their own content is very difficult, and it's very strange because, although they clearly have a large, built-in audience for their radio content, they aren't doing much to service their audience with community-building opportunities or even basic information to make the content more accessible. It's not that difficult (or costly) to keep track of what gets broadcast and when. Why make the guy at radiolistings do it all? He's a fan! Fans should be enjoying the content, not doing the work that the BBC ought to have done a long time ago. In any case, the ADW itself can't be a BBC project, because the scope is ALL radio drama, not just the BBC.

Each entry also has a section (it's part of my txt template that I copy and paste into the html input) called “critical reception.” That's a typical subsection in most wikipedia entries, but I am thinking that maybe it's not going to work for the Audio Drama Wiki. It might be wishful thinking. There's just not enough critique of radio plays to make it work. Even the actual radio critics like Gillian Reynolds aren't terribly useful, and it's hard to get links to their past reviews. Fan-based reviews would be a possible way to incorporate critique into the entries, provided that they came from a source that was in some way “authoritative” like a blog specifically dedicated to reviewing radio plays, or something like that.

It would also be great to include the personal views of the writers and artists responsible for creating the radio plays, that could go in a separate subsection of each entry, something like “Comments from John Fletcher” about a particular play.

One thing that the ADW doesn't have at all is a rating component. Goodreads has this, along with a user- review component, and it's useful. Individuals on goodreads can rate, on a scale of 1-5 stars, how much they liked each book. It's something that would be really beneficial for audio drama, acting in a decentralized “curatorial” capacity. But the wiki format can't really accommodate that – both physically and socially. I think if there were a rating in the Wiki structure, people would confuse the article entry with the rating. We don't really want a lot of random opinions cluttering up what is supposed to be an impartial information source.

Where a rating system would work well is in a centralized clearinghouse for selling audio drama. Some place where, like CD Baby, or iTunes, one could go and, for a nominal fee, (it would have to be pretty cheap) purchase for download an audio play. The BBC could do this, it would ultimately be beneficial for them, because it would promote and monetize the massive catalog they (theoretically) have. I realize of course that they don't have that archive, but it really would take a stable, long-term institution like the BBC, that has a certain amount of bureaucratic and economic muscle, to make a central audio drama distribution platform possible. But iTunes ISN'T the answer. Neither is Audible. Audio drama needs a platform that is just a bit more specialized, in order to generate stronger community ties. Not that audio drama has no community. It has it. But those ties are weakened by those four big problems that I've already discussed elsewhere in the blog. That's not to say that audio drama shouldn't be sold on those other platforms. It should, the synergy would be beneficial, it would reach a wider audience, etc. But in the end, audio drama needs its own “home.” Because that feeling of “home” is what maintains a strong community.

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