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.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Radio Acting by Alan Beck

When it comes to actually producing audio drama content, one of the big hurdles, especially in the US, is that of performance. Because people tend to only be aware of old time radio (OTR), they aren't aware of more modern performance standards. Both artistic and technological developments have substantially changed what modern audio drama sounds like, especially with regards to how the actors perform the script.

An OTR radio program often has a very broad performance style, with the actors performing into microphones that had a limited frequency and decibel response, attached to recording equipment that had difficulty capturing the dynamic range of a vocal performance. Such programs were broadcast in mono, often performed live, and despite the craftsmanship with which they were made, were not able to strive for subtler or more naturalistic or truthful performances. There are some exceptions. But if you want to hear a good audio drama performance, you have to look to the BBC radio output.

I recently read Radio Acting by Alan Beck. It's an extremely useful book, the only one I've come across that provides on-the-ground detail of how the BBC produces radio drama. Knowing how they operate is vital to becoming a good actor or director for audio. He also coalesces concepts and practices into specific, original terminology, which gives people like us a language with which to communicate about the things we are hearing. Particularly, he breaks down the actor's relationship to the microphone into five key positions. These positions (of proximity) are used to place an actor within a certain distance to the microphone, in order to achieve certain affects. Position 1, for example, is the closest, and is used for the most intimate audio drama dialog, usually an internal monolog, something that expresses the interior mental process of an individual. Position 2 is a little bit further away, for intimate conversations between two characters, and for general narration. Position 3 is used for general conversation between two or three characters. Positions 4 and 5 are used for background action, for entrances and exits, and for movement to and from more intimate positions.

Beck discusses other concepts that I found particularly useful, such as how to, as an actor, prepare for a role, and how, as a director, one can communicate with an actor to achieve the desired results. The artifice of audio drama is a difficult problem to overcome – with a limited amount of physical movement and interaction with fellow actors, a lot of traditional acting methods are frustrated when applied to the medium. But there are ways around this problem. I'll detail one of my acting class experiences in another post, that might be a useful example.

The book has a few minor drawbacks. It was published in 1997, and I think that digital technology has probably had an impact on the methods of production that he discusses. It also assumes a certain level of vocal and performance proficiency. I guess that's not really a drawback, but I'd recommend getting a bit of acting or vocal training before approaching this book. You'll need a basic level of general technique in order to use this book most effectively.

If you are interested in performing or directing modern audio drama, this book is absolutely essential. I was skeptical of it at first, but after reading it, I have become convinced. Beck provides a language for discussing the subject, specific examples, and even includes anecdotes and thoughts from prominent practitioners, both actors and directors. You can purchase the book HERE.

Also, Alan Beck has a web site that has some great information on it. I'll be reading and incorporating some of his work into the discussion in the next several months.


  1. I've been attending London acting college at and although it's great, I do wish they offered radio acting classes... I know it's a bit of a dying art, but I'd still love to learn about it!

  2. Thanks very much for sharing these links. Will definitely check this out.. Method Acting