There is plenty of audio plays — not all of them drama.

By Corey A. Burkes

My first experience with audio theater was from Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories for Young People when I was somewhere between five and ten years old. Yep, ‘album’. As in big, round, grooved wax. Might as well be talking about the horse and buggy to some of you young kids.

By then, I was already trying to find my storytelling technique after being blown away by Star Wars (1977). If I wasn’t at the movie theater, I was studying Alfred Hitchcock’s album. It wasn’t just the stories told—it was how they stories were told. To this day—if you click the link above—you’ll still get the creeps from a master storyteller using sound effects and dialogue delivery.

Poking around the internet, you might be aware of the term ‘audio drama’—used to describe a story told through podcast or any audio only device.

Radio Drama (or ‘Old Time Radio’ dramas) was the term for the same kind of stories when radio was big. Soap operas started here. Hard-nose detective stories like Dick Tracey and horror stories—in the sole medium available if you weren’t at the movie theaters and long before television was invented—played out to listener’s ears every day of the week. Still having trouble visioning those days? Just think if there was no internet, no Netflix and all you could listen to is a podcast.

How would a podcast work without the internet, you’re asking? Shut up and stop being so damn persnickety. You know what I mean. Let’s move on.

Popular podcasts today come in usually one or two flavors —true crime and talk radio-ish programs. All else is niche-shows (like the Toy Flavor Radio: Soundtracks Show) and plenty of others for your specific kind of interests.

Audio dramas have always been produced in the background—even before the internet became what it is today—and mostly a personal enjoyment to those who know where to find them. The multitude in the early internet days were rehashes of the same old detective stories in an attempt to stay in an old time period.

They were cute. Then again, they did nothing to move the needle of audio dramas to modern listeners.

Today, if you were to google ‘Modern Audio Dramas’, you’ll get a healthy list of productions putting out great stuff.

First on the list is usually The Jake Muller Adventures, followed by Modern Audio Dramas. Each either selling you a story (as in ‘to buy’) or telling you a story through ads incorporated.

Either way, storytelling is making a serious comeback from that accursed reality-TV-unscripted era. In the end, it’s in our DNA that we want a well told structured story, in addition to, random lifestyles of random people saying anything randomly (my daughter watches a YouTube show about a ‘bored girl walking through the mall’. Makes no sense. 389k views, so I can’t hate).

Audio Theater vs Audio Drama vs Audio Book

When doing anything ‘audio’, the reach is to do so ‘visually’. Your goal is to make your listeners ‘see’ what they hear. Period.

How you achieve that goal can come in many ways. To break it all down simply, let’s use the quintessential works of Jack and Jill as our example.

We all know the story: Jack and his companion, Jill, went up a mountainous path to obtain water from an unknown source. Jack apparently trips, falls and breaks either his tooth (a crown) or some ornamental head gear. Jill, no fool, followed to safety.

Immediately, I know you all saw the elements of this story in your head.

When it’s time to make this into a movie, a script is written and it looks like this:

As you can see, a regular script doesn’t narrate or spell out anything because it’s planned to be visual on the screen.

After the movie, since the book has been out (like, for eons), the next step in evolution is an audio book, which pretty much takes the movie and—with a narrator—say, Morgan Freeman—reads the book to you:

I bet you hear Morgan Freeman in your head now that I said it.

Audio books are a plenty—especially through Literally books read from the page to your ears. There are some audio book productions that include some extras, like more cast members, sound effects and music.

Truth be told, at the rate some of these guys have to pay for the ‘star’ narrator, they just have enough money to read the book and that’s good enough.

Audio dramas take the audio book and break it up into a cinematic experience — from usually a pre-written novelized story or previously published book. The term ‘drama’ is so spread out, it tries to include fantasy and science fiction. Which is why I prefer to call all these with sound effects, a full cast and soundtracks ‘audio theater’. Truly audio plays.

Even audio theater comes in two different presentations. You got the stories with a full cast, but narrated differently to help visually move the story along:

A lot of audio theater delivers their stories in this fashion. One of my favorites, Victoria’s Lift, has stories that flow in this style.

Finally, the style we work with here at Podcast Performances is a mix of both narrated storytelling of general audio dramas—and that of the Alfred Hitchcock audio stories—where there isn’t a separate narrator, but the characters narrate and push the story along:

Regardless of how corny this particular script was, you still saw the action. Bolstered by sound effects and usually a great soundtrack, it’s designed for the pictures to play out in your head—which if done right, will make you feel all sorts of joy and excitement as endorphins rush.

March 2020, we’ll be delivering our first of many audio theater projects—CommonSense: Act 1 – Engaged. Featuring a full cast, soundtrack and immersive storytelling that will bring you back for more. A three-part series releasing monthly on Spotify, Apple Podcast and everywhere you listen to podcasts.

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