All radio broadcasters face the challenge of creating programs that are interesting and entertaining. In your work to fill the airwaves with interesting programs, you may be familiar with the production of radio dramas – or maybe you have come across a radio drama script but were unsure of how to use it. Farm Radio International sometimes offers drama scripts intended to be both educational and entertaining. Drama provides a framework to help listeners understand how attitudes and behaviours shape everyday events. Through drama, listeners connect with characters and their struggles – and become involved in finding solutions to the characters’ conflicts and challenges. This week’s Script of the Week is a two-part drama. It deals with maternal health and gender issues through the story of a fictional couple preparing for the birth of their first child.
If you choose to produce this short series, remember that there is much more to producing a radio drama than reading from a script. Here are some important things to consider when bringing radio dramas to life (adapted from the March 2003 Voices newsletter). If you have produced a drama at your organization and have other tips to offer, please share them by posting a comment to this article!
Find the right actors. You don’t need professional or experienced actors to produce a successful radio drama. Try to find willing volunteers through theatre groups in your area, or at local schools and community centres. Also, consider casting people you know who are natural speakers and would be willing to participate. When casting roles, it is important that you find voices that are clearly distinct from one another to provide texture in the production and to avoid confusion for the audience. Avoid casting based on what you see and pay attention to the actors’ ability to convey action and emotion through what you hear.
Practice, practice, practice. It is important for your actors and studio technicians to feel comfortable with their cues, and to develop appropriate timing and pacing for the drama. When you have chosen your actors, ask them to read through the script together, in advance, so that everyone will be comfortable with their lines. Discuss with them ways to adapt the script to suit their needs and change awkward wording. The cast should have additional rehearsals to develop natural conversational tones and timing. When you feel everyone is ready, assemble them together to rehearse in the recording studio. This will help you plan how equipment such as microphones will be shared, and how to limit unnecessary noise (such as ruffling of script pages).
Plan sound effects. Though radio drama scripts such as the one provided below usually contain cues for sound effects, you may wish to adapt these cues for your audience and local situation. While you can add a lot to a drama script by using sound effects to set the scene or suggest an action, you must plan carefully. You might be tempted to use so many effects that your audience will become confused. Keep effects simple, consistent and easily identifiable.
Use music. Use the instructions in these scripts to guide your choice of music. Music in radio dramas can be very useful as a simple transitional device. A clear, uncomplicated melody can be very effective. Perhaps you can find musicians in your community who are willing to participate in your production.
Prepare the studio. Whether you are recording the drama in advance or broadcasting live, you will need to set up your studio. If you have enough equipment, position each of your main characters at their own microphone. Minor characters can share a microphone. If you have just one microphone, instruct the actors to step back when they are not involved in a particular scene or when they do not speak for several lines. Actors should feel comfortable with their microphones and should practice projection as well. Usually, a regular conversational volume and tone will be appropriate, but you can also convey distance between characters by placing them away from the microphone. Work out ways to limit background noise on the recording. If possible, place scripts on stands to avoid the sound of paper shuffling. Practice with actors to limit heavy breathing, coughing or footsteps.
Put it all together. The easiest way to record a radio drama is in “real-time,” when everything is performed – including sound effects and music – without interruptions. This allows for a more natural feeling and momentum to come through on your final product. The energy and spontaneity of everyone being “kept on their toes” will contribute to the recording as well. If mistakes are made during the drama – keep going (especially if you’re on air!) If you are recording, you can go back to the opening of the line and retake the dialogue after you have reached the end of the scene.
The final product. If you recorded the drama, and you have the necessary equipment, you can edit in retakes and edit out pauses and distracting noises. In all stages of production, you should pay close attention to what you hear rather than what you see. Try closing your eyes occasionally to focus on what works well and what should be changed.
Remember – a successful radio drama allows your audience to picture what they are listening to and imagine that they are right in the middle of the action. As you can see, you don’t need professional actors or special equipment to tell a good story. With good planning, teamwork and imagination, you will be able to bring your scripts to life.