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Understanding The Radio Play
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Understanding The Radio Play

Before we look at the plays themselves, we need to ask: what is a radio play and how do we approach it as a form? A radio play is a unique artistic medium, one perhaps unfamiliar to teachers and students. The plays in this series, because they have been adapted from stories, have even more specialized attributes than most.

Three General Principles

  1. The radio play is, first of all, a drama. Drama works through action, rather than narration, and the spoken, rather than the written, word. The audience does not read but watches and listens. They see actual people and hear their voices, with all the nuances of emotion that blocks of print cannot carry. Characters in plays must speak or gesture for us to know their thoughts. We cannot "read" their minds as we do in written stories. Thus students need to be attentive to such dramatic mechanisms as dialogue, monologue, the aside, even the chorus, to see how characters' thoughts are being conveyed-in conversation, in reading aloud, in muttering to themselves in private. Usually, of course, a play also functions through the unique features of the stage-props, curtain, the "three-sided box" with its fourth, "open" wall.
  2. In radio plays, however, we cannot see dramatic movements that convey emotions and ideas. So here the representation of gesture through sounds must compensate. The pounding of a fist, the rocking of a chair, singing, hard breathing-all give us our sense of a character's response to a situation. Knowing what to listen for is the key to the dramatic impact. Because the radio play depends entirely on sound, the "props" of drama as a form are adapted. Noises replace visual aids that would be placed on a stage, and so the radio dramatist must be ingenious with how props sound-bells, doors, machines, furniture, musical instruments, clothing, traffic-all of these build the dramatist's repertoire of communication. As we will point out below, the development of active listening skills is essential for radio play audiences. In particular students will need, in these plays, to pay attention to tone of voice, to pitch, and to loudness and softness. They will need to work on developing a vocabulary for the emotions, the physical and mental states, that speech can convey: anger, fear, tenderness, surprise, resolve, joy, weariness, relief, among others.
  3. These radio plays are literature. Thus as students listen, their knowledge of literary techniques serve them well. Matters such as character development, setting, the shifts in plot from introduction to climax and resolution, the use of metaphors and objects that carry symbolic meaning, often through the weight of repetition-all of these are the means through which the radio play makes its points. One of the best ways to use this series is to encourage students to think how the written medium must be transformed for drama in general and for the radio play in particular.

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radio play logo   Dr. Deborah Hooker, Director
Women's and Gender Studies
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
NC State University
    Send inquiries to dahooker@ncsu.edu

Copyright © 2013 Women's and Gender Studies - Department of Interdisciplinary Studies - NC State University