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.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Selected Shorts is not Audio Drama

Spring is starting to happen here in New York, which means that I've gone back to work scooping ice cream while frantically getting things ready for planting season. I'm prepping for a nice little orchard of cider apples, plus small rows of seven different wine grapes, so my schedule is rather hectic. I'll probably have one of the interviews up by this weekend, and another one the following week.

Work on the Audio Drama Wiki has slowed for a bit, until I can catch up on my hole-digging quota. But don't worry, we're still on schedule. My current goal is 3,000 entries by the end of the year. And yes, I just made that number up. But I still plan on reaching it.

Selected Shorts

I was talking to a friend recently about NPR and our mutual appreciation for it, and when talk came 'round to radio drama, he mentioned Selected Shorts. Which brought up a frustrating issue: NPR's relationship to audio drama.

Although NPR has been responsible for some major events in the history of american radio drama, the network itself has become increasingly ambivalent about the medium of fictional radio storytelling, while at the same time embracing and finely-honing the craft of non-fiction audio narrative. Programs such as This American Life, The Moth, RadioLab, and several others, all convey story through audio. But the stories they tell happen to be true.

NPR used to have an omnibus series called Earplay, which later became NPR Playhouse before fizzling. NPR also produced a (charmingly low-budget) version of The Lord of the Rings, as well as an epic adaptation of the Star Wars Trilogy. Each was enormously successful. But at the start of a new century, is there still audio drama on NPR?


There is a large audience for narrative, but the craving is not being fulfilled by radio drama.

Some observations:

  1. NPR is not monolithic. Much of the content is only distributed by NPR or by member stations. We tend to use “NPR” to refer to everything that airs on NPR, even though the schedule is a patchwork of sources.

  2. I have no idea if radio drama is happening on a local, member-station level. If it is, it's probably not very good. LA Theatre Works is one that is sometimes carried nationally, and for the most part, it's well-intentioned mediocrity. But that's worthy of a separate post.

  3. Non-fiction audio narrative does not fall into the category of “audio drama” as I have defined it. (The main requirement is “must be fictitious”) My definition is admittedly arbitrary. But I feel that there must be some distinction between documentary (such as a news broadcast), audio drama, and non-fiction audio narrative. If you compare them, they often invoke the same rules and principles, but with different outcomes or goals. I am not sure how to articulate why a radio play should be considered separate from an episode of This American Life. But instinctively I make the distinction.

  4. Garrison Keillor does not like or respect radio drama. He does not believe it is a viable medium, and only uses it in his show to create humor through mockery and ridicule of it.

  5. Selected Shorts is not “audio drama” because it consists of live readings of short stories. The material is neither original to, nor adapted for, an audio medium. It is not “radio-ized” or “audio-ized”, whichever term you prefer. And the performers are not performing for a radio audience. They are performing for the live bodies in front of them at the theatre. There's nothing wrong with that. But it's not radio drama.

  6. To summarize, NPR does not carry any radio drama program. But I don't see it being hostile to the format either. Just scared of it.

    And I would like to know why.

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