Bob Tinsley: Adventures in Audio Drama – 3

Chapter 3
by Bob Tinsley

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Is audio drama too hard to listen to?

Define hard. Does that mean that listening to audio drama requires too much attention, too much engagement of the imagination?

I don’t think so. As Fred Greenhalgh from Radio Drama Revival  said in his response to an earlier post, “People DO like audio drama when they get the chance to hear it . . .” I think it requires more attention than music (for most people, musicians and music majors excepted), but certainly no more than is required for audiobooks.

Audiobooks still engage the attention, the imagination. If I’m listening to MacLeod Andrews read Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM I can’t say that I don’t see the action in my head. But it doesn’t have the richness, the texture, the immediacy of an audio play. The play doesn’t require more of my attention, just different parts of it. If anything I believe an audiobook requires a greater degree of attention commitment than an audio play does. That may be different for other people, but I don’t think so. I have a pretty simple mind. Just ask my wife.

Is audio drama harder to find than audiobooks and music? Not these days. Anyone with a computer or a smart phone and an internet connection can download a podcatcher (iTunes, Podkicker, DoggCatcher, etc.). Open it and search for audio drama or radio drama or dramatization and you’ll be presented with a list of sites. Pick a couple you like and look at their keywords to use in further searches. You can download all the previous plays they have plus get the new ones downloaded automatically. For free! Audio drama at your fingertips.

And then there’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Audible. I searched for “dramatization” this morning and came up with 852 hits. Admittedly some of them are duplicates, but still, 852 hits? A lot of the better known podcasters have their work for sale on Audible: Atlanta Radio Theater Company , Icebox Radio Theater , We’re Alive, and others. You could download all their plays for free if you had the bandwidth and the time, or you could buy them in one easily downloadable package. I bought a collection of horror plays put out by Fangoria that runs 4 hours and 12 minutes for $9.07 (tax included, I guess).

Is the technology available to most people? About half the adults in the United States now carry with them almost constantly the most sophisticated audio player seen to date: a smart phone. As the computer and Netflix have changed the way we consume movies and TV shows, so the smart phone and music player apps have changed the way we consume music. Anything that can play music can play audiobooks. And anything that can play audiobooks can play audio drama.

The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that Joe Onthestreet CAN find audio plays and CAN listen to them where ever he happens to be at whatever time he feels the urge.

The question now becomes: What’s keeping him from doing it?

In two words, perception and ignorance: the perception that audio drama is inferior entertainment and ignorance about where to find it. Changing those views requires some semantic gymnastics and some high-profile exposure.

Stay tuned, boys and girls, there’s more to come!

Bob Tinsley: Adventures in Audio Drama – 2

Chapter 2
by Bob Tinsley

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“Audio drama is just radio drama, old, poorly recorded and badly acted.”

This is just a matter of perception. Modern audio drama can be as slick and professional as a television show.

Check out “Seeing Ear Theater”. From 1997 to 2001 they put out some amazing audio dramas written by people like Neil Gaiman, J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5), Harlan Ellison and others. The actors were big names as well. You can find all their shows here (http://tinyurl.com/lfkepzn) for free download. Check out “Black Canoes”, or, if you are a Gaiman fan, the two-part “Snow Glass Apples”. That one is guaranteed to make you look at Snow White from a different perspective.

Another wonderful place is ZBS.org. One of their new series is the “Dixon and Sparks Mysteries”. The first episode is free here (http://tinyurl.com/kdaqlew). One of their other series, “Ruby: Galactic Gumshoe”, has been running since the late 1960s. Many of their shows have been recorded in 3D binaural sound. Listening with headphones really immerses you in the story. People walk behind you!

Then there is the Wireless Theatre Company in Britain (www.wirelesstheatrecompany.co.uk), Radio Drama Revival (www.radiodramarevival.com), Darker Projects (www.darkerproject.com) and many others. You can actually find shows produced from my own original scripts, for instance, “Heroes” (http://tinyurl.com/l3nxd66). I published the script for that show on Amazon and Nook. Just search for Robert W. Tinsley, if you’re interested.

All these stories, these audio dramas, transport the listener to a different place. The world created in the listener’s mind is boundless, unconscribed by the limits of budget, space or technology. It is a world of limitless possibility.

Don’t books or TV or movies do that just as well or better? No, in those formats you are constrained within the author’s/director’s world. He describes the characters leaving you with his vision of them. He describes a beach or a forest the way he sees them.

Norman Corwin, a famous radio writer/producer said: “Features and dimensions of a place, of a room, of a landscape, are not, in a good radio script, described in so many words. They are perceived by characters and brought out by speech, sound, by allusion. Obliquely.”

In audio you “see” the character based on his voice, his manner of speaking. He becomes “your” character. You hear the sound of waves, the cry of sea birds; you are on “your” beach. The whole experience is more intimate.

Why is this; why this intimacy? Sound; sound is more imagination-centric than sight. Sound stimulates the imagination. How often has a song taken you back to a particular time in your life? Elicited an emotion? That’s called “anamnesis”, an often involuntary recall of memory caused by the evocative power of sound.

Audio drama is a complex experience requiring more listener participation than video.

As far as wide acceptance of audio drama goes, the question then becomes, “Does audio drama require too much participation for the Average Joe to deal with?”

I’ll look into that next.