Have Pitch, Will Podcast: New Radio Drama for the Pandemic-Age

Orson Welles, 1938. Shown in rehearsal, standing, center background: director Orson Welles; seated, right: composer Bernard Herrmann NB: directing his Mercury Theatre of the Air troupe, such as created panic on the CBS radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, October 30, 1938

Article by Kitty Drexel

The pandemic has sparked a greater interest in radio drama.

In May, the New York Times shared a great article by Alexis Soloski that named multiple Broadway podcast radio shows called “For Your Ears Only: Broadway’s New Stage Is a Mic.” It references the Great Depression (as we head into another recession), quotes recording actors like James Monroe Iglehart, and then details their podcast projects.

Kelli O’Hara, Annaleigh Ashford, Iglehart, and others answer pertinent questions such as “How do you develop a character using just your voice?” Their answers are excellent advice to actors making podcast theatre during the pandemic. It’s a good read.

In it, Lesli Margherita said, “I have to rehearse in front of a mirror first. I have to act with my face, with my entire body, because otherwise, nothing will come through. It’s a bit lonely.”

She is right.

An actor must imbue their recording with all of the emotion, energy, and staging that the listener can’t see. Stage actors are unaccustomed to this; they rely too heavily on their bodies to convey meaning. Their recordings lack phrasing, color, and depth.

A performance that would be just fine on stage is lackluster in a recording. A podcast/radio listener can’t see your face, can’t see your gestures as you speak into the microphone.  A new-to-the-performer medium requires different training, different rehearsal practices. It requires different energy and skills that not every performer working on podcast/radio dramas right now currently have. Developing them takes time.

Orson was a dick.

For these reasons, I won’t be critiquing the most recent additions to the podcast/radio drama field from local companies. Their work is too new and our local actors are still getting acclimated. It’s enough that they are creating.

Let’s judge them not on their first episodes but wait until the end of the pandemic and look back on how much they’ve learned over the course of the project instead. They are in the learning and practicing stages now and deserve the opportunity to explore without critics barking their opinions.

Anyhoo, here is a list compiled from press releases and marketing emails sent to the NETG email. It is not exhaustive. More will be added to this site as they are sent.

The Boston Podcast Project presented by SpeakEasy Stage CompanySeries 1: The Usual Unusual by MJ Halberstadt. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian.
The Usual Unusual is a scrappy and quaint bookstore where Boston’s LGBTQ+ community has gathered to shop, organize, and flirt since the 70’s. When the store’s charismatic founder Penn announces his retirement, neurotic staff-member Charlie persuades him to pass leadership on, rather than close the store. The staff’s efforts to unite a fractured community under one banner – or simply coordinate a weekly reading night — stoke generational disputes about identity, community, and trauma, and lead to fraught and hilarious results.”

The Legion Tapes: Radio broadcasts from an alien apocalypse by Erin Lerch and Josh Glenn-Kayden. The website for The Legion Tapes is sophisticated. There is a timeline, character tree, history, and color-coded map. This project has potential for a longevity that lasts beyond COVID-19.
The Legion Tapes are selections from an archive chronicling the world after the end. The alien Legion takes over worlds and absorbs the sentients of those worlds. They’ve assimilated eleven species so far, and humanity is next on their list. But even after the nations of the world fall, and even after being reduced to communicating solely by radio, humanity’s fighting back.”

Ask the Void by Theatre of the Electric MouthAsk the Void is currently more electric than it is mouth. If this series is anything like those of ThEM’s colleagues, that will change as the series progresses. Fans of Welcome to Nightvale will enjoy this program.
“Ask the Void imagines a world where those seeking advice in life and love call into The Void and bask in the guidance of that cantankerous abyss. Who better to trust on the important stuff than the endless, cascading nothingness that threatens daily to engulf us all!”
Beware: blind or near-sighted individuals may find ThEM’s website difficult to navigate. The hard of hearing may experience difficulty listening to the podcast as the balance between the first episode’s vocals and other sound design elements favors incidental sounds rather than human voices.

Just in case local actors are making the switch and don’t know, radio drama has existed for years at the New England community and fringe theatre levels.

Boston Podcast Players Seasons 1 – 2 are available now.
Current: Season 3, Episode 1: “The Great Isolation Check-In, Part 1.”  MJ Halberstadt talking with Caity-Shea Violette. Manuel Lopez talking with Charmaine Santiago Galdón.
“The Boston Podcast Players was started in 2016 by Greg Lam and Mara Elissa Palma, two Boston area playwrights who met while participating in the Company One PlayLab Unit.”

Tales from the Dragon Eye Galaxy presented by Sterling Arts and Design; Sound engineering by Gauntlet Creative.
“Inspired by old radio shows, such as “Buck Rogers”, “The Shadow”, and episodes of Stan Freberg comedy and dozens of different sci fi movies and TV shows I grew up with including “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”, I created, wrote, directed and produced an 8 episode sci fi radio series. The featured cast includes talent from all over Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”

The Yellow Wallpaper and other offerings presented by the Post-Meridian Radio Players 
About PMRP from its website: “Founded in 2005 and based in the Boston area, The Post-Meridian Radio Players are a group of actors, writers, FoleyFX artists, composers, sound designers and other interested people dedicated to the preservation of radio drama, and the development of audio theater, as unique art forms. They offer live performances and studio productions of both classic tales from the Golden Age of Radio and original works by new and experienced writers, with a special emphasis on science-fiction, fantasy, and horror.”

Broadway podcasts/radio plays mentioned in the New York Times article by Alexis Soloski:
Little Did I Know by The Audio Drama Initiative.
“Featuring twenty-two original songs backed by a full band and sung by a stellar team of vocalists, Little Did I Know is the story of a group of friends – recent college graduates – who bring a broken-down summer theater back to life in 1976. The summer will be different from anything they expected, and what they experience will resonate throughout their lives. At turns funny, romantic, stirring, and poignant, this is an unforgettable coming-of-age story.”

Bleeding Love: A New Musical Podcast.  Book by Jason Schafer, Music by Arthur Lafrentz Bacon, Lyrics by Harris Doran.
“In a world where it’s too dangerous to go outside, a starry-eyed teen cellist risks leaving her apartment to win the love of the rebel punk next door. A twisted musical with a good, pure heart.”

Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors: The Complete Radio Play. Written by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen, directed by Gordon Greenberg.
“Along the treacherous Borgo Pass In the mountains of Transylvania, a meek English real estate agent is on a harrowing journey to meet a new and mysterious client…who also just happens to be the most terrifying and ferocious monster the world has ever known. COUNT DRACULA!!”

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