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Directing a Radio Play: What to Expect

In 2019, I had the pleasure of directing a radio play as part of a Greater Geelong Creative Inc. grants program; I’d done voice work before and I did work experience at a radio station, so I was very keen for the opportunity to try something new and I learnt a lot about directing and acting from the experience. Here are some things I learnt that could definitely help anyone looking into making a radio play or podcast.


Rehearsal


Although you can have your script in hand during the recording, rehearsal is just as important as ever. Your rehearsals will focus more on consistent pronunciation of the words and names as well as work on any accents.


I had an artificial intelligence in my play, performed by the talented Wendy Robinson and we spent a lot of time working on (SPOILER ALERT) a corrupted form of her computer voice. Sure, you could do this in post production, but I was aiming more for the radio plays of the past, where if it could be done by voice it would be.


If your actors aren’t experienced in voice-acting, you’ll also need to teach them how to use a microphone and how to adapt their pronunciation to avoid the infamous air pop. The more rehearsal you have the quicker your recording session will go; the fewer stuff-ups, the fewer re-records you have to do.


Acting


This was the biggest thing that was different for me even though I was directing. Let me explain:


Personally, I’m a very physical actor, I like movement on stage and from my actors. And all of a sudden, that wasn’t a luxury I had. To create a dynamic “moving” piece, with only voice! You’re crazy.


But it can be done. I spent a lot of time reassuring the actors they were allowed to speak with their hands to help them get into the emotional headspace. That smiling would genuinely make their lines sound happier.


You need to focus purely on emotion in a radio play, and you don’t always have the luxury of subtlety either. You may have to push emotions further than you ever would on stage to ensure you continue to hold the audience's attention.


You also need to be really careful of volume and pacing. There's only so much your tech guy can turn up the volume if someone is soft spoken, and anything too loud creates problems with feedback. It's something your actors need to be aware of.


Pacing is important too. Anything that's too fast can’t be understood by the listener and too lengthy a pause is the sound equivalent of freezing on stage.


You need to talk your actors through how to work in a different format, especially if they have never worked in voice acting before.


Technology


Thankfully, the technology stuff was outsourced for me as part of the grant - because honestly, technology hates me!


If I had to direct one again, I would still outsource and thats something you will have to consider with a radio play. How are you going to record? Do your actors have their own at-home set up, or will you rent a studio for the day?


How will you put it all together? Can you do it yourself and, if so, do you have the time, because it’s an incredibly time consuming job.


Do you want music and sound effects? If so, do you know where to get them without royalties, or do you have the budget to pay?


These are only a few of the things you have to consider when working in this medium. You may not have the option of hiring someone to do second or third drafts because you weren’t happy the first time. If that doesn’t suit you then you have to look for other ways to do it.



I know there’s a lot here and it is quite different to directing for stage.


The main thing you need to remember is to be there for your cast and crew when they have questions and to be supportive during the process. You might be nervous about how the final product will sound and, trust me, waiting is a killer - but don’t take it out on your actors or tech guy. It’s a strange medium to work in, considering they practically died out as an art form in the 50’s.


Do your best - that’s all anyone can ask of you.


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