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Performing Audio Drama

In our last lesson we looked at reading and understanding radio drama scripts. We learned about three act structure, character arcs, and the key plot and character points to be found in a script. We also learned to recognize and follow directions in a script and take part in a live script reading.

This lesson takes approximately x hours to complete.

It is important that students completing this lesson have completed lesson four before attempting it. This will ensure that students are familiar with the content of the radio play they are going to be asked to perform.

You will need sufficient copies of a radio script for each student to take part in the performance.

In the lead up to the performance you will need a variety of craft and art supplies, bits of junk, etc. for the sound effects crew to use to build sounds. You will also need the sound effects ideas sheets. As well as this you will need a computer with audio editing software and the Bach Well Tempered Clavier .mp3 files (available from our website) to provide the raw material fro the music crew.

For casting you will need the casting sheets from the back of the script (if you are using one of ours) or you will need to create some monologues to read, and the cards with the character names on them (from the last lesson).

For the cue rehearsal and performance itself you will require a stage, three or four uni-directional microphones with stands (preferably mini-booms rather than straight stands) for the actors and one or two over the sound effects table. You will also likely want one by the door (at knob height) to capture door noises. A portable CD player (that can play .mp3 files) may be all that is required for the music.

If you wish to make a recording you will probably require a mixer (one for each mic and the left and right from the CD player) and a recording device of some kind.

Lastly, you will also require an audience for the performance.

We recommend any of our Host Your Own Old Time Radio Show scripts. In particular, An Ephemeral Deal, would be very suitable. Beyond that, this booklet contains everything you need to complete this lesson.

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

·        Prepare your voice for participation in a voice acting performance

·        Gather and construct sound effects

·        Source and prepare musical cues

·        Present a live performance of a radio drama

Performing Audio Drama

  • Three tools and volume
  • Introduction to Speech – Using your voice for performance
    • Acting
    • The Voice
    • Exercises to get better control over your voice
      • Warm up your voice
      • Test your voice
    • Creating Voices
    • Distinguishing Characters
  • Introduction to Sound Effects
    • Self-identifying sounds
    • Sounds needing identification
    • Selectivity in Sound Effects
    • Sounds as backgrounds
    • Stylisation through Sound Effects
    • Epressionistic use of Sound Effects
    • Wording of Sound Effect directions
    • Sound Effect Experiments
  • Introduction to Music
    • Wording musical directions
    • Directions on the mechanical function of music
    • Directions on relative volume of music
    • Directions on Mood and content of music
    • Hevner’s Adjective Cycle for describing musical mood
    • Changes in mood or theme
    • Music as description
    • Music as punctuation
    • Music as action
    • Music as commentary
    • A Music Experiment
  • Rehearsal and Performance


the art, profession, or activity of those who perform in stage plays, motion pictures, etc.

Ambiguous sounds

Sounds which are not readily identifiable, require explanation, or cause confusion when heard.


the adjustments and movements of speech organs involved in pronouncing a particular sound, taken as a whole.

Background music

music intended specifically to accompany and heighten the mood of a story


a transitional, modulatory passage connecting sections of a composition


A theme inserted to harken back to the main musical theme of the show (enhancing both the sense of unity of the program and quickly identifying it – often used in act breaks and before and after the insertion of commercials.


anything serving to illustrate a point, prompt a realization, or exemplify


the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.


the partition separating the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity in mammals.


a technique of distorting objects and events in order to represent them as they are perceived by a character

Greek Chorus

a group of performers in the plays of classical Greece, who comment with a collective voice on the dramatic action.

Mood music

music intended to evoke a specific atmosphere or feeling


the use of symbols or sounds to indicate aspects of the intonation and meaning not otherwise conveyed in the text of the story


the prolongation of sound by reflection; reverberation.


to make a transition from one thing to another smoothly and without interruption

Self-identifying sounds

Sounds which create a picture in the listener’s mind without requiring explanation or causing confusion.

Sound Effects

any sound, other than music or speech, artificially reproduced to create an effect in a dramatic presentation, as the sound of a storm or a creaking door.


the dramatic preparation of the locale or period in which the action of a story takes place


a sharp auditory stimulus or incitement used for emphasis


to design in or cause to conform to a particular style, as of representation or treatment in art

Voice box

the larynx

The material synthesised to form the content of this lesson is drawn from three great sources;

Tony Palermo’s Ruyasonic website at

The Audio Theatre Guide, by Robert L.

Handbook of Radio Writing, by Erik Barnouw.

Each of these is an invaluable resource.

Beyong this booklet there is no assigned reading for this lesson.

Performance is an excellent way to learn the art of writing audio drama. Surprised? Once you’ve actually delivered lines in performance you begin to get a feel for the challenges those lines present to actors, as well as their impact and effect. This can only have a positive impact on your writing.

The live performance of a radio play is an exciting thing to take part in. Traditional stage plays have always enjoyed the immediate feedback of the audience. Radio plays often included a live audience to give the actors that same energy. For the modern audience it can be quite entertaining (and amusing) to look behind the scenes “so to speak” at the way a radio drama is performed live. It is fascinating to see how sound effects and music are created, how actors create the voices they use, etc.

Here are some questions to get you started…

How would the live performance of a radio play differ from a stage production?

Have you ever seen someone creating sound effects on a sound stage? What sort of short-cuts are taken to create sounds (such as thunder or horses hooves) when required?

What can you learn from participating in a live performance that you wouldn’t necessarily get from a simple read-through?

Three Tools and Volume

The radio script is a trio for three singers: (1) sound effects, (2) music, (3) speech, in which for a few minutes one of the singers does his stuff alone, then suddenly hands the spotlight to one of the others, and once in a while two or three of them burst out together. When they do, only one must dominate.

Volume is radio’s spotlight and is used to highlight where the listener’s attention should be.

Speech – Using your voice for performance


For all that people say acting is difficult (and an academy award winning performance genuinely is), at its most basic level, acting is simply pretending. Anyone who has ever held a pretend tea party, played mothers and fathers, or tried to convince a teacher that the dog ate their homework, has been engaged in acting. It comes as naturally as breathing to small children, and though many of us get out of practice at it as we get older, it is still a fairly simple matter to get back in touch with this skill. All that is needed is the ability to imagine what it is like to be someone else and then pretend to be that person, reacting to situations etc. as you might imagine they would.

Like physical acting, voice acting involves the use of the entire body. To release their voices in ways that allow them to mimic a friendly talking cat or a mean sergeant major, actors adjust their posture, pose, and movements to help them create the illusion of the character they are pretending to be. Even though, the final product is “just a voice”, the physicality of the actor plays a significant part in finding and defining the character. The key requirements of acting are the ability to imagine yourself thoroughly into a role and a fearless lack of concern for looking silly while doing so.

The voice

There are three biological systems involved in the use of our voices.

1. Breath – How the muscles of your diaphragm work to support and carry your voice as they push the air out of your body.

2. Resonance – How the voice box turns breath into sound and how the sound is amplified in your chest, nasal passages, and throat.

3. Articulation – How the cheeks, pallet, lips, tongue and teeth shape sound into words.

Exercises to get better control over your voice

Warm up your voice…

Relax your jaw and move it up and down as if it were being pulled by strings like a marionette.

Say “blue” without emphasizing the “oo” sound. Repeat 20 times.

Say “licorice” slowly at first and then as rapidly as possible. Repeat 20 times.

Say “lee” as rapidly as possible. Repeat 20 times.

Sing happy birthday using only the word “lee”.

Hum a note with your lips barely touching one another. Your lips should vibrate and tingle as a result. Repeat 20 times.

Say “p”. Repeat 20 times.

Say “f”. Repeat 20 times.

Test your voice

Say “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck from Woodside, Wisconsin, if chucking wood paid a workable minimum wage?”. Repeat 20 times.

If your voice sounds whiny, it is because the words are coming out through your nose. This will happen if you don’t open your mouth sufficiently when you speak. To remedy this put something between your teeth – a thumb, a pencil etc. – to ensure you keep your teeth apart enough to support your voice properly. Don’t do this while you are delivering lines of course. Instead do it before you begin the above exercises or just before you begin reading your lines. Periodically check that you are still opening your mouth sufficiently.

To check if you are breathing properly, deliver a long line such as the one below (from Moby Dick)…

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

If you find yourself needing to take one or more breaths in the middle then you need to practice breathing using your diaphragm.

A simple exercise to help improve the number of lines you can deliver using a single breath is as follows…

Put your index finger up about 20 cm in front of your face and pretend it is a lit candle. Form a “W” with your lips and with one hand pressed over your diaphragm (it is located about three inches above your navel). Take a breath and blow a thin stream of air softly towards your finger. Do it in such a way that if it were a real candle, the flame would not be blown out. Could you feel the air? If so, good.

Now move the “candle” further and further away. Repeat 20 times.

Creating voices

Try delivering the same line in a variety of ways.

Deepen your voice and deliver the following line as if it were being spoken by a comic book hero (such as Superman)…

“Do you have a problem with this plan?”

Now deliver the line as if it were being spoken by Mickey Mouse (high and squeaky).

Now add some growl and gravel to your voice.

Now speak through your nose and deliver the same line as if it were being spoken by Mae West or W C Fields.

Now add a whine to your voice. Imagine a teenager saying “yu-uuk” in place of words like “you”, “problem” and “plan”.

Now, try not to move your tongue much (keep it behind your bottom teeth) to sound like a poorly educated gangster. You should find the words slur together a bit (like “haffa” for “have a” and “dis” for “this”).

Try delivering the line by adding a foreign accent.

Finally try speaking the line by adding a speech impediment (pronounce “s” as “th” and “r” as “w”).

There are lots of ways to create voices, but they all require conscious control of the breath, resonance, and articulation.

Distinguishing characters

It is important that the characters in a scene be distinguishable.  As such, it is usual for the voices to be differentiated in casting into one of five (or six and even seven, on occasion) identifiable types;

BassHeavy/Elderly male
ContraltoElderly female
BaritoneLeading man
Mezzo-sopranoLeading woman

While such general patterns are helpful (and scenes are generally restricted to four or five contrasting characters at a time) it is not helpful to apply completely hard and fast rules on the subject (for example you can distinguish two otherwise similar voices quite easily with the addition of a foreign accent, or a speech quirk).  Sometimes it is important for two baritone voices to interact.  The intonation and expressive range of the actors can easily carry this… but it is still helpful to avoid putting two of the same type of voices into a group scene.  Sometimes, equally, it is of little importance whether the voices can be quickly distinguished (such as in an anonymous crowd scene).

Because of the importance of distinguishing voices in audio, the cast tends to be smaller than in other dramatic works.

Introduction to Sound Effects

Self-identifying sounds

Self-identifying sounds are those which create a picture in the listener’s mind without requiring explanation or causing confusion. These include horses hoofs, doors opening and closing, a fog horn, an angry crowd, telephone dial, the tinkle of glassware and silver, a locomotive whistle, or a howling wind.

Sounds needing identification

Many sounds are ambiguous. Crackling cellophane can be used both to indicate a fire, and a thundershower. What makes the difference? The listener’s imagination, prodded by the script writer!

Ambiguous sounds require “stage-setting” or guidance from the writer. This stage-setting should generally occur before the sound is introduced to prevent confusion. If the listener is thinking conveyor-belt before the sound is identified as a waterfall, then confusion will result.

Generally the identification of a sound is made through dialogue or narration, but occasionally through other sounds. It doesn’t need to be explicit; an implied identification is often all that is required.

In many cases, sounds become clear through context (through the plot itself), via perfectly natural references in dialogue and narration.

Sounds which always need identification include rain, a waterfall, a river, manufacturing noises, thunder, an automobile, and an aeroplane.

Selectivity in Sound Effects

Just like the mind, radio ignores sounds in which it is not immediately interested. By this selection, radio scripts control and direct the listener’s attention. It is important to only introduce sounds that serve a dramatic purpose. If this does not happen the story is rendered confusing. Listeners are forced to pay attention to the irrelevant and lose track of the important.

Sounds as backgrounds

Sounds can serve a purpose in setting the scene: establishing the presence of a babbling brook, or busy roadway.

In short scenes this is very effective. In longer scenes it is better to establish the background noises and then fade them under the dialogue, possibly fading them back into the foreground at the end of the scene.

Stylization through Sound Effects

Sounds can be mistimed for comic effect. The opening and closing of a door, too fast to actually get through, or the rush of wind that presages the arrival of someone who was, a moment ago, on the other side of town, are examples of such unrealistic/stylized use of sounds or their timing.

Expressionistic use of Sound Effects

Sometimes a sound works symbolically, standing in for, or expressing, an idea. For example the ticking metronome became a standard aural shortcut for indicating that time was running out for the protagonists of a story.

Wording of Sound Effect Directions

Word your sound effect directions as simply as possible. In a live broadcast, the success of the effect can depend on how quickly the direction can be interpreted by the Sound Effects Engineer.


On the importance of sound effects Erik Barnouw (one of the great audio dramatists of the golden age) has said “All the color and movement and flavor of an action often seem caught in its very sound, so that the sound is an instant picture.

Even when this isn’t so, the mind is ever anxious to supply what’s missing; it only needs a steer from the writer.

Thus, properly handled sound effects, whether used for plot action or to suggest a locality by its characteristic activity, are of value in steeping the scene in a sense of reality.

Sometimes, conversely, they can create an imagined desirable unreality.

The mind may also be persuaded to accept them as having a symbolic, not realistic meaning.”

Sound-Effect Experiments

Listen to some sound effects

1. Play to yourself, or to a group, a rain effect. Now, knowing it is rain, try listening to it as something else. For instance, tell yourself it is a sewing machine. See if you cannot make the illusion compelling. Now try to persuade yourself it is a waterfall, a fire, an assembly line, or distant applause.

Find a sound effect that sounds like waves on a beach. Now try to persuade yourself it is a train going into a tunnel, or a car sloshing through mud in the rain.

Try playing a scene with the wrong sound and see if you can’t make the effect believable anyway, just through the right mental suggestions.

This experiment should strengthen your realization of the collaboration between the script and the properly guided listening imagination.

2. Spend a day jotting down sounds you come across, cataloguing them as self-identifying and non-self-identifying. This should help you develop an alertness for the use of sound in radio.

Introduction to Music

Music is an optional inclusion in radio drama but its ability to enhance a radio play should not be underestimated – drenching a scene almost instantly in its proper atmosphere or switching from one atmosphere to another.

It is useful to audio drama in the following specific tasks;

(1) As part of an opening effect, music can give a program the proper tonal send-off.

(2) As a bridge between scenes, music can hold or intensify a mood already built up, or effect a rapid change of mood.

(3) As a final curtain or series of curtains (often called bumpers), music can give a program the exactly right emotional resolution.

(4) As a background to narrations or scenes, music can heighten emotion, add descriptive touches, and sometimes provide a kind of commentary on what is said.

(5) Music can also be used to add punctuation (such as the dramatic chord when the body is discovered etc – often referred to as a sting).

In the first three tasks above, music occupies the spotlight alone.

As a background, music is usually restricted to use behind narration (setting the narration off from the dialog).

Behind dialog, music should be used sparingly (generally confined to love scenes, death scenes, and other passages in which the emotion is very definite, and calls for music of a slow and sustained type). It can also be used behind a series of short scenes to provide unity to the series.

Wording musical directions

Musical directions include their mechanical function, volume, mood, and content. The music itself can be used to describe, punctuate, reinforce the action in, or comment on, a scene.

Directions on the mechanical function of music

The type of music (in terms of its function within the play) should generally be made clear. Eg. OPENING THEME, BRIDGE, TRANSITION, CLOSING THEME, STING, BUMPER, etc.

Directions regarding the placement of the music should also be included. Eg. ESTABLISH AND FADE UNDER, BACKGROUND UNTIL, SWELLING INTO THE FOREGROUND etc.

Directions on relative volume of music

If the background music needs to be used over two scenes, swelling briefly between them, this needs to be noted. Eg. AND DOWN, UP BRIEFLY AND DOWN, FADE IN, FADE OUT, OUT.

Background music is always assumed to continue until a further directions (such as OUT) appears.

Directions on mood and content of music

Identification of the music is also important, whether by naming the piece of music required or by describing it in terms of mood and content. Directions vary from one-word descriptions to precise analyses. A conventionalized vocabulary of “mood music” does exist and can be utilized to assist the writer (but its adoption is not mandatory). Eg. OMINOUS, CONTENTED, AGITATED, etc.

A famous and easy to adopt descriptive vocabulary for musical mood is “Hevner’s adjective cycle” (below).

Hevner’s Adjective Cycle for describing musical mood

Hevner’s Adjective Cycle for describing musical mood
Hevner’s Adjective Cycle for describing musical mood

Changes in mood or theme

When a bridge makes a change of theme or mood, the word SEGUE is often used to indicate this.

Music as description

When paired with narration music can contribute value to atmospheric descriptive passages.

Music as punctuation

In a narrative passage, music (in the form of a single pounding chord for example) can punctuate a series of statements or underline a dramatic moment.

Music as action

The picture-suggesting power of music can be used to make action vivid. The chimes accompanying the wave of a fairy’s wand are an example of this, giving a normally silent action an auditory signature.

Music as commentary

Music can also become a sort of Greek Chorus, commenting on and interpreting the action.
Music can at times say, even more effectively than a narrator could, “something dangerous approaches”, or “wasn’t that brilliant!” or “don’t take it too seriously”.

A Music Experiment

Play over, to yourself or to a group, a favorite piece of classical music. Play it several times, cataloguing it, as you listen, into mood segments of 10-45 seconds. For each segment, jot down in a few words the type of scene you can imagine the passage introducing or curtaining. Example: “Good for leading out of a scene in which something very sad has happened, but the people are very brave, almost with a feeling of serenity.” Then compare notes. This experiment should develop a feeling for the subtle mood-expressiveness of music.

What are the three biological systems involved in producing a vocal performance?

How do alterations in the way you produce your voice provide opportunities for the construction of different characters?

What is the difference between a self-identifying and a non-self-identifying sound effect?

What functions (beyond mere background noise) can sound effects be used to fulfil?

What purposes can music be put to in a production?

How is music used to create mood?

A fair amount of organization is required to pull off a live performance.

Firstly, you need to decide whether you want to have students work in groups to perform single scenes or whether you want to undertake a complete performance using all the students. Your decision will be based on the size of your class and the amount of time that is available to you.

This lesson plan assumes you are planning to perform a complete play. However, the instructions apply equally well if you are setting small groups specific scenes to work on.

1.      Before you begin, print off a master copy of the script. If you are working with the whole class it is better if you give yourself the director’s role (though that role can be handed to class members if you are using small groups and single scenes). As the director you will want to identify all the parts of the script that require direction.

The director stands in front of the actors and sound folks “throwing cues” with hand signals to indicate when things need to happen and how (such as “faster”, “stretch it out”, “louder”, “step back from the microphone” etc.). The director has a very important job and needs to know the play inside out. Make sure you are as well acquainted with the play as possible.

As such, read through the script as many times as you can and place a large “Q” in black ink (for better reproduction) beside any line of dialog, music or sound effect cues where the participants will need to look to the director for guidance on when to fade an effect, begin the delivery of a line etc. (for example, after a musical cue is “established” the sound effects folk need to know when to fade it down or out and the actors need to be cued when to start speaking). Place a “Q” beside any line in which an actor must pause for an important sound effect or music cue to finish before continuing their dialogue. Similarly, put a “Q” on any sound effects or music instruction that requires the sound effects folk to wait for some action to be concluded before the music starts or stops.

This marked-up copy of the script will be your master copy. Reproduce it for every participant in the performance. Place the director’s copy in plastic sleeves inside a three ringed binder (to minimize the sound of turning pages).

Create a second binder for the sound effects crew. In this use a highlighter (any color except YELLOW because yellow does not show up well in low light situations) to mark each music cue or other sound effect that must be continued beneath other sounds or dialog. Draw a vertical line down from this point until you reach the point where the sound fades or ends.

It can seem like a lot of work to mark up these two master scripts ahead of time, but it saves a great deal of time further on.

2.      Now it’s time to divide the class up into the sound effects crew and the actors. Ask for volunteers for the sfx crew first. This allows the shyest members of the cast to step forward and avoid the terrors of acting right away.

3.      Hold auditions for the roles in the play. Make sure everyone knows that if they do not end up with a speaking line, they will be helping with the Sound Effects. Let everyone watch this take place. At the back of the script you will find “Casting Sheets” – small sections of “in-character” dialogue to be delivered by actors for the purpose of the audition (and to give the actor some background on the character as well). Make sure that there are enough casting sheets available for anyone who wants to try-out to do so. Encourage your potential actors to practice reading aloud, trying out difference voices and accents etc. Allow students to choose whichever monologue they want to try. Perform the auditions quickly and grade them on emotion, diction, accents, enthusiasm, etc. Give the biggest roles to the best auditioners and fill in the rest with those who are good, then competent etc. If you can do so without destroying a participant’s self esteem, try to direct the very poor actors back into sfx. If however, you encounter someone with very little honest understanding of their own ability, someone who is determined they “must” act and cannot cope with the notion that, perhaps, acting isn’t for them, give them one of the very small parts. If you do not have enough actors for every role to be filled, double them up (just be careful not to leave anyone talking to themselves during the performance). When you have assigned the roles give out scripts to the actors and ask them to go through the script highlighting their lines (again using any color except YELLOW).

4.      While the actors are highlighting their scripts, gather the sound effects crew. Give each member of the crew a script. Have the crew divide into a music and sfx group. In the SFX group divide the effects and walla between the participants (using the master sfx lists at the back of the script). There are plenty of effects, so participants will ultimately be responsible for delivering more than one. In a small group this could be many more than one. Do the same with the music group. Then set each member the task of highlighting their own sfx/music cues in their script. Emphasize to participants that they should be highlighting only their own cues (so that they know when they will be called upon to take part) rather than all the cues.

5.      At this point you should have three distinct groups (actors, sfx crew, and music crew). Each will have a specific job to do preparing for the cue-rehearsal (see below). Get the actors to read their individual lines out loud several times, adding what emphasis they can find in the lines themselves. They should do this alone for about ten minutes.

While the actors are rehearsing their individual lines, give the sound effects crew the sound effects suggestions contained in the appendix to this lesson. Have them go through their individual sounds and begin figuring out how to create them. The sheet is a guide and starting point, but for some sounds they will need to get very creative. This process can be very noisy, so it may be a good idea to have a space prepared for this (along with a variety of noise making junk – gathered from the art and craft room or elsewhere – that the participants can raid and use).

Lastly, once the effect use is underway, have your music team assemble. Have them begin creating the bridges, bumpers, stings, and musical cues required by the story. Give them the public domain .mp3s from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and some sound editing software (such as audacity). Have them identify useful themes from 10-20 seconds in length along with short bridge and sting items of from 3 to 5 seconds.

6.      Return to your actors and have them read through the script together. Check that the sound effects crew are constructing their sounds okay and return to the music group to provide them with any instruction they need in the use of software to capture their cues. Clip these pieces and export the cues as .mp3 files. Prepare a disc (or use soundboard software) for use in the performance.

Before we come to the Cue Rehearsal there are some things that require some set up. Firstly the stage. You will require three or four uni-directional microphones with stands (preferably mini-booms rather than straight stands) for the actors and one or two over the sound effects table. You will also likely want one by the door (at knob height) to capture door noises. A portable CD player (that can play .mp3 files) may be all that is required for the music.

If you wish to make a recording you will probably require a mixer (one for each mic and the left and right from the CD player) and a recording device of some kind.

Traditionally, a live performance by a professional troupe would place the sound effects crew and music crew on the left with the actors arrayed before microphones on the right all in a straight line. Chairs would be provided behind the actors and sfx folk for when they are not on-mic. The director would be behind a podium at the front (usually with his/her back to the audience).

With a group of amateurs, it is more important that they can see each other so an arc is a better layout.

Stage arrangement for live performance.
Stage arrangement for live performance.

Be sure the director has a podium or table available to place the script on so that his/her hands are free for direction.

Before engaging in the Cue Rehearsal, run the participants through the following rules;

1.      No touching the mic OR the stand.

2.      Don’t get too close to the mic. The proper distance is 25 to 45 cm (10-18 inches) away.

3.      Back off and tilt your head upwards (toward the ceiling) to scream.

4.      Step back from the mic to convey distance.

5.      Speak over or under the mic to avoid popping “p”s and sibilant “s”s.

6.      Don’t blow into or tap the mic.

7.      Assume every mic is always on. Never say something you don’t want heard. Don’t curse on stage (ever).

8.      To turn a page, physically turn away from the mike and turn the page to the side.

9.      Quiet on stage.

10.  Don’t cough, laugh, or talk once the rehearsal or performance has begun.

11.  Watch the director and wait for your cue (“Q”)

12.  Don’t let the audience get bored. Keep things moving.

13.  Jump in if there’s dead air.

Also run through the director’s hand signals with the performers.

1.      “Wait” – open hand.

2.      “5 – 4 – 3 —“ finger count down.

3.      “You’re on” pointing finger.

4.      “Faster” Rapid finger circling – like dialing an old phone sideways.

5.      “Stretch it out” – pulling taffy.

6.      “Wrap it up” – Finger draws circles.

7.      “Louder” – Pull ear.

8.      “Quieter” – Finger to lips.

9.      “Cut” Finger slits throat.

10.  “Come in” or “Back off” microphone – come here and goodbye waves.

With everyone prepared and primed, it is time for the Cue Rehearsal. A cue rehearsal is rather like a dress rehearsal. You expect things will go wrong and that there will be frequent slow downs and stops as cast and crew repeat sections of the script to get the cues right. This is how the cues are learned for the final performance. All the pages and lines are numbered to allow the director to easily direct performers to “page 3, line 17” for a re-do. The material only needs to be rehearsed enough for competence. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect at this stage, it only needs to be rehearsed to the point where it runs smoothly. For most classroom uses this means one practice run through to get the kinks out is all you can really afford to do.

Now comes the performance. Gather an audience (another class, some teachers, parents, whatever). To keep the energy high, ask the performers to play it “just a little too fast”. This will add a little energy to the performance. If something goes wrong, keep the show going.
In a live performance there is no opportunity to stop and redo something. If the Cue Rehearsal was at all effective then you will probably be surprised at how well it all comes together during performance.

For assessment:

Perform a radio play live before an audience. (Grade on the basis of effort and enthusiasm: Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory)

A live performance of a radio drama can be a great deal of fun. It also teaches us a great deal about the technical side of radio drama – the creation of sound, the use of music, as well as the contribution of live voice acting to the creation of the story experience. Further it helps us to see the collaborative nature of the medium – bringing people together in the service of a good story.

The three tools of Audio drama are speech, sound effects and music.

Audio’s spotlight is volume.

Acting is all about pretending. Voice acting is using your voice to pretend (but often involves the whole body).

Your voice is supported by your breath, articulation, and resonance.

Good articulation is achieved through practicing vocal exercises and opening your mouth.

By modifying your breathing, articulation and resonance you can create a variety of different voices.

It is important in audio drama that the voices in a play can be distinguished from one another easily.

Sound effects are divided into those that are easily identified without dialog and those which are ambiguous and require identification.

Sounds can be used to provide background noise, stylization, humor and punctuation to an audio drama.

Sound effect instructions should be short so they can quickly be read and acted on during a performance.

Directions regarding music should also be short and provide guidance regarding function, volume, and mood.

Music can function in the background to establish, mood or location, and can also function as an auditory curtain, signaling the completion and beginning of a scene.

Hevner’s adjective cycle provides a short vocabulary for describing and organizing music by mood.

A live production requires the creation of sound effects, the preparation of music, and the delivery of the lines in the play.

Each of these elements are prepared independently then brought together in the cue rehearsal where all the kinks are ironed out.

The play is then performed (often live in order to give it the energy that comes from having a live audience).

What are the three tools of audio drama?

How does volume function as a spotlight?

What are the three biological mechanisms that support speech?

What is the difference between a self-identifying and an ambiguous sound?

List three uses of music within a performance.

In our next lesson we will learn about writing an original audio drama from basic idea to final script.


Appendix – Character Cards

TONY WELLS:Private DetectiveCLAIRE TEMPLETON:Crime Writer
FRED:The Magical SwordFAE THUG#1:A Rock Golem
FAE THUG#2:A Rock GolemMRS TEMPLETON:Mother of Claire
YOUNG CLAIRE:Claire as a young girl (11 years)QUEEN OF WINTER:Fairy Queen of Winter within the realm of light and twin sister to the King of Summer
KING OF SUMMER:Fairy King of Summer within the realm of light and twin brother to the Queen of Winter.EBERON:Fairy Prince — Son of Oberon (King of the Realm of Light)
FINBARRA:Fairy Prince — Son of Finyarra (King of the Realm of Darkness)THE MOON KING:Luna, clan chief of the fae family to which the Queen of Winter and the King of Summer belong.
SFX:SFX operator (1 required). Reads out sound effect directions.DIRECTOR:Provides direction and pacing. Reads out scene intros etc.



The following contains suggestions of items for making sound effects. Most of them can be used in lots of different ways to create different effects. They can also be combined to create more complex effects. Don’t be afraid to experiment and, if you can’t achieve the particular effect you’re looking for, you can always simply read out the sound cue instead.

•         An assortment of bells — a bicycle bell, a small dinner gong, a triangle and beater (for creating a jangling alarm)

•         A wooden whistle

•         A slide whistle

•         A party whistle (remove the paper extension) — for buzzers and the like

•         Baking paper (papers being rustled)

•         Aluminum foil

•         Two blocks of wood to bang together (door slams etc.)

•         Corrugated cardboard and a stick (run the stick over the corrugations to create a car engine sound)

•         A small sheet of corrugated metal and a stick to drag along it (machine gun sounds)

•         Half coconuts (horses galloping etc.)

•         A heavy pillow to bang down or punch (for body drops etc.)

•         A clip board (flick the clip for gun shots)

•         A metal tray with gravel (walking etc).

•         A sealed box full of broken china, metal, screws, etc. (for when something crashes, breaks, or falls over).

•         Assorted small bits of rock and masonry in a box (aftermath of explosions, rocks rolling etc.)

•         A mortar and pestle (grinding noises)

•         A sheet of ply-wood (for footsteps etc.)

•         Stiff plastic bags (for fire, marching feet etc.)

•         A sheet of stiff plastic to wobble (for thunder)

•         A frypan or skillet and a spatula (to rub against it for sword drawing noises)

•         A frypan and small beads (to drop on the pan for rain)

•         Plastic maracas (for rattlesnakes etc.)

•         Jug of water (pouring water etc.) and a straw (to blow through for bubbling noises)

•         Glasses, crockery, and cutlery (for simulating dinner party noises)

•         A squeaky door (nothing sounds so convincingly like a door as a real door)

•         A ratchet (New Year’s noise maker) or socket wrench and a piece of heavy chain (for drawbridges, handcuffs etc.)

•         A child’s toy cell phone (for electronic beeps)

•         A child’s toy electric car (for engine noises, screeches etc.)


Appendix – Using Audacity to clip pieces of music

Download and install Audacity from .

Start the program and a screen will appear with the following in the top left corner.

Audacity controls
Audacity controls

Click File -> Open and select the .mp3 music file you wish to open. If you are using the Bach files we supplied, try opening the first one “01 BWV 846.mp3”. You should now get a screen similar to the one below.

Opened file
Opened file

You can zoom in and out using the zoom tool.

Zoom Tool
Zoom Tool

You can select sections of music by clicking, holding down, and dragging the select tool.

Select Tool
Select Tool

Use the play and stop buttons to find the sections of music you wish to clip.

Play and Stop Buttons
Play and Stop Buttons

You can use the timing controls at the bottom left of the screen to fine tune your selection if you choose.

Selector Controls for greater precision
Selector Controls for greater precision

When you have the selection you wish to use click Edit -> Copy then File -> New, and Finally Edit -> Paste to load your selection in a new window/screen.

File and Edit menus
File and Edit menus

Your new screen will look something like this…

New Clip
New Clip

Lastly, click File -> Export and then save your selection under a new name (somewhere you can find it) in order to conclude.

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Worked Example (Radio Adaptation of Rapunzel)