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Radio: The Future of Theatre— For now.


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The theatre industry looks to the “Roarin’ Twenties” for solutions to these “Turbulent Twenties.”

You’re 10 years old; you’ve just come inside from playing with your friends all day, and you walk into the house as your parents hastily pack suitcases and tell you that the earth has been invaded by aliens. 

The world has not been invaded; it is 1938 and Orson Welles is on the radio reading War of The Worlds adapted as a radio play. Your scared parents are not crazy, as this happened across America during this infamous 1938 broadcast. The Earth is safe, and the power of the radio drama has been demonstrated.

Fast forward 82 years and it is the middle of COVID-19 pandemic. Almost every industry has been met with a unique hurdle, and most of the solutions tend to simultaneously be the most inconvenient. However, one industry that looks to have no final solution is live theatre. While it is true much of the entertainment industry has been crippled, none have been forced to a total cease except theatre. Many other industries are slowly adapting to their new normal of operation, however difficult, mostly or completely via the web.

Unfortunately, many theaters around the globe have either closed their doors forever, had to lay-off most of their employees, or (mostly in the UK with government subsidies) are putting their season on a hiatus.

While some theatre companies are trying to lean into using Zoom as an entire medium for drama, many critics and enthusiasts agree that it does not even touch the feeling of sitting in a room and sharing an ephemeral experience in a room full of others having their own reactions and interpretation of a performance before them. Many facilities continue to look for a solution to the new future (or hopefully temporary) of theatre. As companies look to the technology on the cutting edge for a solution, the BBC Radio 3 and 4 stations seem to be looking to the past for solutions— 100 years in the past to be exact.

While it has always been around and broadcast by BBC, the radio drama seems to be rising in popularity among fans of theatre, as it provides a new way to experience drama if written right which it often is being some of the only form of media entertainment for past generations.

It gives the listener a whole new perspective and exercise through the absence of visual cues. Since the playwright has a more direct connection to their audience, radio drama can often serve as a masterclass in the conflict of language, or lack thereof. 

This new medium of drama challenges the audience to listen not only to what characters say, but how they say it. As we have grown into an increasingly visual society, the new weight of importance placed on radio drama may teach us to be more thoughtful when communicating with others, and contemplating the power of what and how we say things.

While other industries are forging their way through an unexplored jungle of ideas and procedures, the theatre community is beginning to embrace and renovate a bygone era of entertainment being truly special in its ephemerality.

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