Manifesto

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.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The BBC Audio Drama Awards Party

I'm a bit disappointed that the BBC didn't broadcast the first annual BBC Audio Drama Awards. Not that the ceremony would have been terribly exciting on its own, but a bunch of nerds who belong to a subculture can have a party about anything. And make it work. I once had a party to fix the busted backlight of my laptop, in the dark days before I switched to Mac. On New Years Eve, my friends and I threw a cider tasting party and evaluated 19 ciders from all over the world (including three of my own) and evaluated them on the 100-point wine scale. It's an excellent way not only to transmit enthusiasm about a subject to others, but also to build long-term emotional connections to things (like cider and radio drama) through social gatherings.

The party is important. It is the natural response to an awards ceremony, and can be modeled on the numerous Oscar parties that crop up every year. Having a group of people together in a place is inherently good. When people come together, something special happens. Durkheim called it collective effervescence, and pointed to this seemingly mystical energy as the building blocks of religion. While it's probably not a good idea to worship the BBC, we can at least build energy for audio drama by having parties.

Every party needs an excuse. Sometimes the excuse is “just because,” and sometimes it centers around a specific event or milestone. Broadcasting the awards ceremony gives people that needed excuse – it's fun and novel, and parallels the social behavior surrounding other awards ceremonies, allowing some of the momentousness to rub off on audio drama. It changes the tone a bit, too. Instead of radio being an embattled medium struggling to survive, it feels more like something remarkable and wonderful that is worthy of celebration. By any comparison to live theater, radio drama IS enormously successful. But it doesn't have the social cache. It is the Drama Elephant in the sitting room. This dynamic almost has the flavor of class tension.

Tomorrow I fly to Los Angeles for the annual Doctor Who Convention. It's an event I like to talk about, because it showcases a healthy audience – an audience that is proud, engaged, enthusiastic, and supportive of the culture it consumes. Building such an audience is not easy, but it is possible. Doctor Who has done it organically. For various social and technical reasons, it sprang up and has maintained a bubbling presence for a long time. It ebbs and flows, but with the success of the new series and the greater awareness of the programme in the United States, more people than ever flock to the convention. We have a greater excuse to throw a party. And the combination of positive memories, emotional connections with other fans, and the collective effervescence of people who share one's interests, reinforces and promotes the show. It is a beacon of warmth.

Broadcasting the awards ceremony itself isn't that important. It would be great fun, and a very useful thing to do. But in the end, it's really just an example of the opportunities to forge the social bonds that make audiences stronger and more engaged. As our world becomes more fractured in terms of media choices, and content delivery becomes aggressively hyper-specific and narrow, this collective effervescence could dissipate significantly in other realms. It is only a matter of time before the severity of this trend is truly apparent. It is only a matter of time before such severity leads to a backlash. And we have an opportunity for audio drama to be prepared, and ready, mindful of the possibilities it can explore with fan socialization.

The Drama Elephant must be acknowledged!

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