From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Audio theatre is a dramatic performance written and performed specifically for audio presentation. It had its greatest popularity on radio, before television was introduced, during the period known as the Golden Age of Radio, and as a result has often been called "Radio Theatre" or "radio drama" although as a form, it is independent of its medium.
Audio theatre has deep roots, building on very old traditions of storytelling and stage presentation. In the 1880s, theatre performances were heard over the telephone. By the 1890s, sales of phonograph recordings were booming. For hot products, recording companies turned to well-known performers from Variety, Vaudeville, Chautauqua, Minstrel Shows, etc. Musical acts were obvious first choices, but the non-musical “sketch” acts weren’t far behind. Words were added to describe scenes, and set up sight-, now sound-gags. Sound effects and music were adapted from stage technique, and audio theatre was born – years before sound was first broadcast over the radio. Called (and thought of) as “Radio Theatre,” it became the hottest mass-entertainment art form of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, now called the Golden Age of Radio.
In 1962, CBS suspended its last regular weekly series of network radio drama (until the advent of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater), but today this Old-Time Radio (OTR) is popular again on recordings. In other countries, radio networks such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC's Radio 7 continue to commission and broadcast radio plays. In the US, new productions are gaining popularity via XM Radio's "Sonic Theater" and on a growing number of community radio stations.
New technical developments in audio, including “hi-fi” and stereo, have opened huge new possibilities. Creators like Stan Freberg, Cheech and Chong, Dick "Chickenman" Orkin, and The Firesign Theatre made two major contributions to the development of the form:
- They began to use the newly available tools of multitrack recording, overdubbing, and mixdown for convenience, efficiency, and precision control far beyond what is possible “live.”
- They accepted from the outset that this new material was intended to be heard primarily from recordings. Therefore, the listener had the opportunity to listen to part or all of the piece more than once. Significantly, the producer need not take pains to make certain the listener has followed every aspect and nuance before moving on: it’s OK if the listener has something new to discover in repeated listenings.
The Midwest Radio Theatre Workshop, now the National Audio Theatre Festival has trained and inspired hundreds of new young talents since 1980. By 2001, sales of audiobooks, OTR programs, and the popularity of talk radio made it clear that there is a very large audience for spoken-word entertainment.
Audio theatre today
As the 21st Century begins, audio theatre appears to be growing and changing. Computer technology has made the audio engineering and production aspects easier and less expensive.
One result of this is the growth of fan-based audio dramas. An audio version of fanfic, these are original productions based on existing characters from literature, television, or movies. These are often, but not always, created without permission from creators or copyright holders of the works on which they are based. Such productions are often made available via podcasting.
Another result of new technology is the ability for experienced producers to do more with the medium than ever before. Advancements in microphones, mic techniques, and recorded media, allow subtlety in performance which could not be attempted during the "golden age of radio", and advancements in computer-based audio production software allow for easier editing and post-production than previously available, allowing for a wider variety of sound design options.
Audio theatre also is gaining recognition in schools and universities around the world as an effective educational method. Several companies offer "lesson plan" versions of audio theatre for use in teaching history, social science, or ethics. Some universities with broadcasting programs have also begun to look to audio theatre as a method of training radio acting skills.
A drama CD is form of audio theatre where a collection of audio files presented in one or more CDs consisting of voice actors who act out a set storyline by reading from a script and/or improvising. Much like the radio drama, a play is acted out simply with the use of sound and no visual stimula to progress the story. Drama CDs are usually based on other series consisting mostly of TV shows and novels.
Drama CDs have effectively become well-known among Japanese anime and manga fans since many manga that become anime are later able to produce drama CDs using the seiyū, or voice actors, that voiced the characters from the anime (see Radio drama in Japan). However, this is not always the case as there are examples of the drama CDs having an entirely different cast from the anime as in Ouran High School Host Club, D.N.Angel and Lucky Star. Additionally, drama CDs can be based on visual novels that have partial or full voice acting associated with the video game.
Four basic production methods are in use, singly or in combination, today:
Live Performance: where actors, sound effects performers, engineers and musicians gather and perform the script in real time, either in a sound studio or in a theatre with an audience.
Multitrack Studio: where voices are recorded separately, edited, and assembled in a multitrack environment in a sound studio or using computer-software. Music and other sounds are added on separate tracks, and all these elements are mixed and edited together to achieve the final result.
Location Production: where a single microphone is used as a movie camera, and the actors perform many of their own sound effects (footsteps, doors, telephones, etc.) as they read the lines. Scenes are “shot” in various locations outside the studio, capturing the characteristic acoustic responses and background ambience of different places.
Computer-based Production: This is a version of multitrack production. Computer technology has allowed performances to be recorded and edited entirely within the computer. This ranges from productions recorded with professional equipment (microphones, mic-pres or boards, and pro sound cards) to productions with performances recorded with computer microphones, or over the phone, and assembled in the computer.
Mostly, these days, the works are distributed as recordings, which allow the production to be enjoyed at a time and place of the listener’s choosing. The Internet is creating new channels of distribution, and there is also a resurgence of broadcast audio theatre. Podcast audio theatre especially has been extremely popular, as the episodic nature of audio theatre conforms well to the podcast model.
Starting on the telephone and the wax cylinder, but achieving its biggest audience over radio broadcast, Audio Theatre returns to popularity on its original media: recordings and transmission wires.
- Echo Fiction Free streaming and downloadable MP3s of new and classic audio theatre
- Dramapod.com Audio Theatre Directory
- Genesis and Renaissance: A Brief History of Audio Theatre
- National Audio Theatre Festivals
- The Sonic Society A Modern Audio Theatre Showcase
- Radio Drama Educational Techniques
- Modern audio drama for download