The Echo of One Hand Clapping - Notes on Audio Publishing and Production, by Brian Price
For the past twenty or twenty-five years or more, non-profit arts organizations have been under the gun. Reeling from 10-20% budget cuts year after year after year after year, their boards are constantly battling among themselves about who to serve, how best to do it with what little is left, and who to ignore. The stories of tough times are similar for community radio, tiny theater companies, hometown arts councils and local museums.
And so it has been for the National Audio Theatre Festivals. Their budgets are half of what they were in the 1990s. Their staff is paid half as much or not at all. Still, NATF holds their annual Audio Theatre Workshop in West Plains, Missouri year after year and continues to introduce and train new converts to the wonders of live audio theater.
I’d come to the conclusion that they were nuts. In the last ten years all the signs of cheaper digital equipment and Internet distribution have pointed audio theater producers in the direction of podcasting and recording original productions (or parts of plays) remotely, e.g., one actor records their lines in Texas and another records in Australia and they email MP3s of their parts to the producer/editor in Canada. Small inspired groups working hard.
So, why bother with big live theater productions? Well, I got my answer when I was invited by NATF to be a guest director at last June’s Workshop. In a five-day week a two-hour live audio theater show was produced including 3 original plays that totaled 60-70 acting roles and who knows how many hundreds of sound effect cues.
In the play I directed, TransMarsTango by Elaine Lee, we had eleven actors on stage playing 25 separate roles. We had 5 live foley (sound effects) artists on stage with a three-piece band plus an actor/engineer running sampled sound effects from a laptop. There were like six guys out in the engineering truck recording all this. Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre and recent Audie Award winner, Robin Miles, were in the cast. We shot missiles, played the Conga and most likely broke the space/time continuum. It was BIG. It was in the tradition of BIG. It shouldn’t have even been attempted on stage. And it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
I think the National Audio Theatre Festivals has always seen its main mission as upholding the tradition of the BIG BIG RADIO SHOW. Back in the golden age the likes of Norman Corwin and Orson Welles had full orchestras and full time production staffs at their disposal. They did big productions about big themes. Even in the late 1980s producers like Yuri Rasovsky and David Ossman were receiving grants of a $100,000 to $150,000 to do big shows like the 50th Anniversary of War of the Worlds. Nobody could possibly even consider asking for that kind of money nowadays.
But the show and idea of BIG goes on. That’s a good thing. Bringing together a large group of people every now and then and producing something you couldn’t possibly produce on your own is expanding, liberating. It’s ridiculous. I still think they’re all crazy at NATF, but that’s ok, maybe I am, too.
I’d strongly urge all you podcasters to go and see and participate in a big unwieldy workshop—just to dream BIG BIG BIG. That ‘s what the imagination and audio theater are for.
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