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The radio play revival

Radio play (noun): a staged drama (often serialized) that uses voices, sound effects, and music to convey a story to its audience through audio only

Do any Googling into "radio plays," and you'll find a treasure trove of scripts and archived broadcasts from yesteryear (and most that are often free!). Once television came along, and people had to do less imagining and could be shown what things look like, radio plays became a thing of the past.

Well, mostly.

In theatre, we picked up the mantle and gave it a bit of a twist: Scripts would be performed, on stage, with actors in front of microphones (often with a set that resembled an old-fashioned radio station, and in costumes of the time period) with a sound effects person off to the side, using any manner of odd props to create the aural requirement. Even the darkest of radio plays -- Hitchcock, Poe, etc -- were often tongue-in-cheek, and were a highly-entertaining and affordable way for a community theatre company to do a show.

With the advent of virtual theatre, YouTube, the podcast, and less fortuitously, the COVID-19 pandemic, radio plays have found yet another resurgence and yet one more spin on the formula. In fact, because of the many different formats a "radio play" can now take, the term itself can be a little confusing to auditioning actors and audiences alike; will we see actors virtually, reading a script on their cameras? Will it be just sound? Something in between -- a still or repeating visual image while their vocal tracks play alongside?

Whatever approach a company takes, what is clear is that there is so much to enjoy in this art form. Chief among them is that most radio plays do not require lines to be memorized, which is always a big time-suck for actors. They also allow the actors to have a lot more fun by taking on multiple roles in one production, often donning different voices that can be exaggerated to fit the genre. From a financial standpoint, there are many scripts that are free to use, as well as a plethora of work that can be adapted, should a writer choose, into a radio play. (Jakespeare Virtual Theatre Company has done a number of radio plays, some of which are available on our YouTube channel, and we will soon be embarking on a nine-episode series based on the original Arsene Lupin stories.)

After the past 18 months, it might be nice to get out and see a live show on stage again, but for those of us who crave a simpler time, you can find just as much -- if not more -- entertainment (and safety) from the comfort of your living room with a radio play streaming from your local virtual theatre company.

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