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This week we continue posting a unit of lessons on audio drama for use in schools. They will eventually be gathered into a book but for now they are available freely here at www.weirdworldstudios.com . We hope you enjoy them and welcome any feedback you wish to provide.
We also offer a great line of audio drama scripts for sale (designed as a dinner party event but eminently suitable for use in classrooms). Our showcase contains a wide variety of FREE hand picked classic audio drama from the golden age of radio and the resources section of our site provides links to great resources on sound effects.

Enjoy!

Appreciating Radio Drama

Previously

In our last lesson we looked at the history of radio (and in particular radio drama) from its inception through the war years and up to its purported death at the hands of television toward the end of the 1950s.  We looked at its amazing social impact and the manner in which it disrupted other media of the time.  We also looked at the commercialization and control of radio and the way it supported and curbed artistic expression.

This lesson takes approximately x hours to complete.  Add time according to the varying  length of the programs you have selected for listening and review.

There are no pre-requisites for completing this lesson.

This booklet contains everything you need to complete this lesson.  If you would like to play sections of audio drama as example material then you will need an audio player capable of playing .mp3 files and you will need to download the audio files listed from our website.

At the end of this lesson you will be able to…

  • list from experience the unique features of radio drama
  • critically analyse and assess the elements of radio drama (acting, music, sound effects, narration, script, direction, etc.)
  • construct a well argued review and summary of the play with a unique thesis supported by examples and evidence.

  • Appreciating Audio Drama
    • Analyzing a Play
      • 1st Listen (an overall appreciation)
      • 2nd Listen (Listening for details)
      • 3rd Listen (Analyzing the mechanics)
        • Consider the story
        • Consider the mechanics of the story-telling.
        • Evaluate the script
        • Consider the editing
        • Evaluate the sound design
        • Think about the music or sound-track
        • Consider the voice acting
      • 4th Listen (A final listen)
    • Constructing a Draft Review of the Play
      • Create an original thesis based on your analysis (1 paragraph)
      • Briefly describe the plot (1 paragraph)
      • Provide an analysis of the play (several paragraphs)
      • Complete your review with a conclusion (1 paragraph)
    • Revising your Review

Dialog
Speech delivered by an actor within a play, specifically speech delivered in-character.
Director
An individual who is who supervises and is responsible for the integration of all the elements of a radio play (sound, music, voice acting, narration, editing, etc.).
Editing
An individual who is responsible for the collection, preparation, and arrangement of the recording of a radio play; one who cuts and splices the recording into its final form.
Fade
The process of gradually reducing the volume of a sound in a recording (fade out) or gradually increasing the volume of a sound in a recording (fade in).
Lead Actors
The actors who represent the main characters in a radio play.
Mp3 files
A digital file format used for storing sound (music, audio etc.) in relatively small file sizes.
Narration
A recital of facts (often setting the scene or bridging between scenes), usually delivered by someone other than a character, that provides information to the audience.
Plot
The plan, scheme, or main story of a literary work or drama.
Review
A critical article or report aimed at helping potential audience-goers evaluate the worth of a production.
Script
The written text of a radio play.
Sound Effect
Any sound, other than music or speech, artificially reproduced to create an effect in a dramatic presentation, as the sound of wind or a door opening.
Theme
The unifying or dominant idea or ideas within a creative work.
Thesis
A statement put forward for consideration, especially one to be discussed and proved or to be maintained against objections:
Voice Acting
Voice acting is the art of providing voices for characters in audio drama.

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A surprising number of people today have never heard a radio play.  To truly understand the magic of Audio Drama it is essential to, at the very least, have listened to some.  But even then, a superficial listening tells us very little.  This lesson provides us with a framework for going below the surface to really appreciate how this art-form works.  It lays a foundation in appreciation that will let us then participate in the hands on construction of our own live radio theater.

It is impossible in this day and age to truly capture the novelty and excitement of gathering the family around the radio of an evening to listen to a new episode of a favourite radio drama.  Unlike television where all viewers see and hear the same thing, radio provided an experience unique to each listener.  No-one saw the characters in the same way, or the setting, or the scenes.  Radio drama’s uniqueness lay in the way it cooperated with the imagination of the listener to bring stories to life.  Unlike stage plays (which were very limited in the number of scenes and amount of physical space that could be used to tell a story), radio plays could go anywhere in time and space and present huge panoramic vistas to the audience (albeit inside their heads).  A judicious sound effect or two could evoke an entire universe in the minds of the audience.  The listener’s imagination provided a canvas on which stories could be told that exceeded the capacity of even today’s most ambitious special effects budgets.  It is little wonder that radio drama was, in its day, the most popular available form of entertainment.  In this lesson we are going to experience radio’s ability to engage our imaginations by listening to one or more Old Time Plays.  We will critically engage with the stories and their construction in order to review this medium in our modern context.  At the end of this lesson you will have listened to, studied in detail, and constructed a review of, at least one famous radio drama broadcast.

Here are some questions to get you started…

Have you ever listened to an audio drama?  What age groups do you think they were aimed at?  How serious or frivolous do you think they were?  How many genre’s do you think were represented by radio plays? Do you expect to enjoy listening?  Why? Why not?

A note to teachers

Depending on the time available to you, it might be worthwhile repeating this lesson to give students a chance to experience a variety of plays and genres.  A careful analysis of four  separate plays across a number of genres can greatly strengthen a student’s understanding and appreciation of the form.

Appreciating Audio Drama

A critical appreciation of Audio drama comes about through repeated listening to and reflecting upon the dramatic and mechanical effects employed to tell a story through drama constructed purely for the ear (script, acting, editing, sound, music, and story-telling techniques).  The following lesson helps you to construct a written review of an audio drama.

Choose one of the dramas in the box below.  This will be the focus of your listening and the piece on which you will base your review.

A selection of titles to choose from and listen to (available free from Weirdworldstudios)

Adventure

Western

Drama/Suspense

Horror/Thriller

Science Fiction

Crime/Detective

Comedy

Experimental

Reviewing a Play

Choose one of the available titles to listen to.

Record the title and the year it came out.

Can you uncover the writer’s name?  The director’s?  Do some online research and see what you can find out.

What are the names of the lead actors?

What genre does the story represent?

1st listen (An overall appreciation)

Now listen to the story for the first time (just for fun) and without interruption.

Did you enjoy it?

Did it make sense?

Did it have an overall message or theme?

What did you like most?

What did you like least?

How strongly did it activate your imagination?

Which moments stand out to you?

How does this kind of drama differ from books, plays, television, and movies?

What similarities exist between audio drama and other media?

What is unique about audio drama?

2nd listen (Listening for details)

This time listen to the drama and take detailed notes. Use the pause and rewind button frequently.

Make  a note every time something stands out to you, whether it’s good or bad.  This could be a sound effect, some background music, a piece of voice acting, the delivery of a particular line, a plot twist etc.  Think about how this detail helps or hinders the story being told.

Note any patterns that appear; repeated phrases, sounds, transitions etc.  Look out for themes
etc.

Consider the characters.  Do they seem real or stereotyped?  Are they portrayed as weak, strong, passive, active etc?  Do they reflect unconscious biases regarding race or gender?

What about narration?  Too much, too little?  Did you lose track of what was happening at any point in the story?

3rd listen (Analyzing the mechanics)

Listen once more, but this time pay attention to how the audio drama is presented and constructed. Again, use the pause and rewind button frequently.

Consider the story-telling

How did the writer and director choose to portray/explain the events in the story?  Whose point of view is being expressed primarily?  Did the story drag or was it overly truncated?  Does the story contain a “signature’ moment; something that clearly identifies the story as coming from that director or writer?  How does it compare with other works by the same individuals?  How does the story overcome the lack of visual representation and communicate the action?

Consider the mechanics of the story-telling

Did the microphone follow the actors, or did the actors seem to move into and out of the range of the mic?  How effectively were characters “kept alive” in scenes when they didn’t have much dialog?  How are transitions between scenes accomplished; using music, fades, etc.?  How effective is this?  How are volume and silence used to create emphasis?

Evaluate the script

Do you consider the script well written?  Was the plot inventive and unpredictable or boring, formulaic, and weak?  Did the language used by the characters seem realistic and believable?  Did they behave in believable ways and make realistic choices?  Were the characters well defined and individual or grey and generic?  Were the characters necessary?

Consider the editing

Was the drama choppy or did it flow smoothly from scene to scene?  Did the narrative, dialog, sound, and/or music set the scenes appropriately or were the scenes confused and difficult to figure out?  Did the various elements of the presentation cooperate or compete in presenting the story?

Evaluate the sound design

Did the sound design support the story?  Were the sounds clearly identified or confusing?  Did they overwhelm the story or were they subtle?  Did they set and deepen the scene or were they distracting?

Think about the music or sound track

Did any music enhance the mood of the scenes?  Was it over/under used?  Was it irritating, suspenseful, sad etc.?.  Did the music convey its own message?

Consider the acting

Were the characters well portrayed?  Did the voices sufficiently distinguish the characters?  Did the voices give an accurate sense of the characters?  Were the lines well and clearly delivered?  Did any of the acting choices surprise, delight, bore, or horrify you? Why?

4th listen (A final listen)

It’s difficult to get a full understanding of a drama when you are constantly pausing it to take notes.  Give it one final listen (straight through without pausing it).  Pay attention to details you might have missed the first time around.  Think about how all the details are brought together to create the whole; the overall effect of the play.  Has your impression of the play changed since your first listen?  How and why?

Constructing a Draft Review of a Play

Create an original thesis based on your analysis (1 paragraph)

Any good piece of writing begins with a great introduction.  Having thoroughly studied the play, ask yourself what unique insights you have to share?  Invent a central idea to discuss and back up with your observations on the play.  Having a good thesis will take your review beyond simply summarizing the plot and on into the realm of genuine critique.  Analyzing and critiquing the plays of others is a great first step towards being able to create plays of your own.

Consider the following questions as you try to come up with a thesis statement of your own.

Does you relate to the play on a personal level?  How and why?

Does the play comment on a current event or issue?  How does the play relate to the “real” world?

Does the play have a message?  Does it attempt to persuade the audience to a point of view?  Does it try to generate a specific emotional response?  Does it achieve the goals it sets for itself?

Briefly describe the plot (1 paragraph)

Identify the main characters, the setting, and the central conflict in the story… but don’t give away too much.  You don’t want to spoil the play for those who haven’t heard it.

If you feel you can’t do the review justice without giving away something that might spoil the play, then make sure you give your readers fair warning first.

Be sure to mention the director and or writer’s name as well as the full title of the play.

When you mention characters in the plot summary, be sure to place the actors’ names directly afterwards in brackets.

Provide an analysis of the play (several paragraphs)

Discuss the interesting elements and characteristics of the drama that support your thesis.  This is the place to talk about the things you noticed about the storytelling, effects and techniques used, script, editing, sound-design, music, and voice-acting… just be sure that each point contributes evidence in support of your thesis.

As you write, be clear.  Make your text easy to understand and avoid using jargon or technical language.  In a review of this sort you can present both the facts and your opinions regarding those facts.

Provide plenty of descriptive examples in support of your points.  Describe the settings, the special effects, the way that lines were delivered etc.  You can also quote dialog in support of your
points.

Bring the play to life for your readers and give the writing some personality.  Let your own personality come through in your writing and the review will be much more readable.

Complete your review with a conclusion ( 1 paragraph)

Your conclusion should tie back to and restate your original thesis.  It should also attempt to objectively guide readers regarding whether they are likely to enjoy the play or not.  This is also the place to give your own personal rating of the play.

Revising your Review

Now that your first draft is complete, as with any piece of writing that is meant to be read by others, you will need to do some revision.  Give your review as many revisions as you need in order to feel like you produced your best work.  You may need to shift paragraphs around, trim some areas, expand others, and even rewrite sections.

Does your draft flow well and reflect the right structure?

Did your  review support your thesis?  Does your conclusion mesh with your original ideas?

Does your review contain enough details about the play?  You may need to add more description to properly convey what the play is about.

Is your review interesting?  Have you contributed something original through your review?  What will readers get from your review that they wouldn’t get by simply listening to the play?

Be sure to proof read your review for spelling, typos, and grammar issues.  Check your facts (names, dates, etc. before handing it in.

Are you satisfied that your review reflects your best effort?  Then, hand it in.

Why is it helpful to listen to a play more than once when reviewing it?

What elements of a play should be analyzed when constructing a review?

How does a summary of the plot of a play differ from an analysis of a play?

What is a thesis statement?  Why is a unique thesis statement helpful?

 

Use this worksheet to organise your observations.

Liked mostLiked leastOverall rating (1-4)
Story

 

 

 

Storytelling Mechanics/Techniques

 

 

 

Script

 

 

 

Editing

 

 

 

Sound Design

 

 

 

Music/Sound track

 

 

 

Voice Acting

 

 

 

 

What big themes were addressed in the program?

What message (obvious or disguised) did the program present?

How might the show’s message have been shaped by its sponsorship, network, censorship, and the unconscious moral standards of the day?

Did the show succeed in subverting any of these standards?  How?

What features of the show were acceptable at the time but would not be so acceptable today?

Does the program’s theme or message have any relevance for today’s world?

What can be learned from this program (if anything)?  Are there examples to follow or avoid? Are there propositions to be convinced of or refute? Is the subject matter safe, or discomforting?  Why? Why not?

After listening to your chosen radio drama, prepare a thesis statement (a statement regarding the program that you are prepared to defend with evidence).

Write a short paragraph summarizing the plot of your chosen program.

Choose 2 topics from the analysis list (story, storytelling techniques, script, editing, sound design, music and voice acting).  Write a paragraph of analysis on each of the two you have topics chosen with reference to your chosen program.

For assessment:

Prepare a complete review (using the model provided in the lesson) of one radio drama for assessment (1700 – 2000 words).

  • 1 paragraph  (250 words) introduction and thesis statement
  • 1 paragraph (250 words) summary of plot
  • 5 paragraphs (1000 words) analysis of program
  • 1 paragraph (250 words) conclusion.

Listening to audio drama is the best way to learn to appreciate it.  There is an awful lot going on beneath the surface of audio drama that the casual listener can easily miss.  In this lesson we have explored a method of analyzing audio drama that, hopefully, has helped you to peel back the layers and gain a far deeper understanding of the medium.

Deep understanding of audio-drama comes through conscious
and repeated listening and analysis.

This lesson presents a method of undertaking such analysis
through preparing a review.

Listen through the program 4 times.

  • 1st time (just for enjoyment)
  • 2nd time (listening for details)
  • 3rd time (analyzing the play in terms of storytelling, mechanics, script, editing, sound design, music, and voice acting)
  • 4th time (a final listen to spot anything missed)

Prepare a review

  • Write an introductory paragraph and thesis statement Provide a summary of the plot
  • Discuss your analysis and its relationship to your thesis Write a conclusion showing how it all fits together.

What is a thesis statement?

What elements of a play should you consider in your analysis?

What are the elements of an Audio Drama Review?

In our next lesson we will conduct a live read-through and analysis of a modern audio-drama script.

The content of this lesson is copyright © 2015 Weirdworldstudios.com

Lessons

Worked Example (Radio Adaptation of Rapunzel)