Thursday, May 2, 2019

Theater of the Mind: How Audio Drama Made a Comeback

Listened to any good plays lately? With the resurgence of audio drama, both the classics and some brand-new favorites are just a click away.  ♦ 
Back in the 1960s the poet W. H. Auden declared that, because of television, “radio drama is probably a dying art,” which he felt was a real loss of an art form: “A dramatic medium in which almost all the effect depends upon the spoken word offers unique opportunities to poets,” Auden said, “and it will be a matter for regret if they are deprived of it.”

Luckily for us, entertainment has crossed into the digital age via phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and smart speakers, and this has allowed the former “radio drama” a new chance to continue through the beloved Amazon service Audible and podcast apps such as the Old Time Radio Player or TuneIn's Audio Drama Internet Radio. These apps and others have created space for innovation and creativity to prosper in this once-dying genre and have become a reader's—or in this case, listener's—best friend, racking in nearly a trillion dollar profit last year. I remember when Audible was the hot new thing, but I’ve been a fan of audiobooks, and especially audio drama, since my middle school years, when my local libraries added audiobooks on CD and MP3 electronic resources to their collections (I also learned why adults disliked waiting lists). Back then, Shakespeare was enemy number one as my professors loved to assign his works. Reading in a dialect older than my five times my predicted lifespan with fluctuating characters isn’t the easiest to understand—nor reading the text on the page and then trying to imagine what this voice sounds like, or how that scene played out in the midst of chaos, and so on—and I found that the audio format was my best defense.

My love of literature has propelled me since to become an avid reader, and I'm generally not too picky about the format I choose, utilizing literary outlets and formats accordingly. If I have downtime, I like a physical experience where I can hold my book, flip the pages, bend the corners and come back later. If I’m traveling long distances and don’t want to chance leaving my book somewhere, reading on my phone is the way to go. If I’m on the go and attention isn’t required, or I’m exercising or hiking, I choose audiobooks. But there are still times when I prefer the audio drama in particular, and where its best features are still as important to me as back in my Shakespeare days.

As an English major, I sometimes struggle to get through the sheer volume of readings in my classes just like any other student. And when classic drama is part of the syllabus—whether Fences, The Crucible, The Importance of Being Earnest, and on and on—audio drama is the format that brings the text to life for me, able to immerse the listener in the world of the play beyond trying to conjure a visual for oneself: there are skilled actors performing the parts, special effects to help you imagine action and setting, audio production (sometimes including music) to create mood, and a sense of liveliness. When trying to be all parts in my head, as I’m sure many can relate, it’s easy to lose the identities of the characters, or misunderstand the stage direction, or to disrupt the flow of the piece, and I must reread to make sure I don’t miss anything. Audio formats are helpful for staying on track, comprehending what’s in the words and maintaining the distinction between the characters. It brings a much closer experience to how the text was supposed to be encountered than merely reading the words on the page, particularly for those students who prefer auditory to visual learning, though a student can still incorporate the best of both: you can listen to the play first and then read the play, or you can listen to the audio play as you read it. Either way offers a much more immersive experience than reading alone, and believe me, your GPA will thank you.

Today more than ever, access to literature from hundreds of years ago up to the newest releases is at your fingertips, for anyone’s price range and any way you like to enjoy it. Classic works by Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many others can be listened to through Audible, of course, whose current trial offer is thirty days free including one audiobook and two Audible originals (after the trial, you get one audiobook and two Audible originals for $14.99 a month). But if you can’t afford this low rate, your local public library is the next best thing, where you can access streaming audio works for free through such apps as Hoopla and Overdrive.

  • About the Author
    Jaimoneé Madison is a senior Linguistics major at Miami University with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She recently had her first piece accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of MU's Mosaic magazine. What Jaimoneé loves most about writing is that there's always something to propel her writing or bring her deeper into this world; at any moment she's able to take something and create from it. She had the honor of meeting the one and only African American female award-winning children's writer Sharon Draper, who gave her what she considers one of the best pieces of advice she's ever received: Write true to yourself and to your cause.

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