Three Questions: an interview with … Steven H. Wilson of Prometheus Radio Theatre September 8, 2006Posted by William Spear in >> Radio Drama, >> Three Questions: an interview with ....
Lit Between the Ears takes pleasure in presenting Steven H. Wilson in its initial “Three Questions: an interview with … ” column. This space is an opportunity to hear from the individuals moving radio drama forward.
Steven is the director of Prometheus Radio Theatre in Baltimore, MD. His original Science Fiction series, The Arbiter Chronicles, is part of the Prometheus Radio Theatre Weekly Podcast and the basis for his first novel, TAKEN LIBERTY, available from Firebringer Press or as a free audio book from podiobooks.com.
Steve has also written for STARLOG and DC COMICS, and founded Farpoint, a long-running SF Media convention in Baltimore.
And now, the Three Questions:
LIT: How is radio drama similar to, and different from, stage, film or television?
STEVEN: Really, Film, Stage, Radio and TV represent four distinct storytelling media, with film and TV overlapping a lot, but not completely.
Stage demands a connection between performer and audience, with no chance to “make it up in post.” Most radio drama doesn’t have this. What stage and radio share, however, is a demand on the actor to stretch his abilities to convey mood and feeling to the audience. Subtle glances and close gestures can neither be seen by a live audience nor heard over speakers. An actor must enhance his performance beyond natural behavior in order to convey emotion, and must do so without seeming, well, too theatrical. The radio actor has an additional limitation over the stage actor: he can’t convey any of this using even big body language. He has his voice and only his voice to work with.
The playwright cannot make use of establishing shots or exteriors to any great degree. The writer for radio faces a similar challenge. He must convey all information in dialogue, narration or sound effects. And sound effects are far more crucial to the radio drama than to any of the three visually enabled formats. Sound effects in radio must carry the load of story telling, a responsibility they can’t share with visuals, as they do in the other media. The radio dramatist must paint pictures with words and sounds.
Radio can share with Film and TV the process of post production and editing. This gives the radio dramatist a chance to create a really finished, polished product. Of course, like a play, a radio drama can also be live, and have an audience.
I think what keeps radio drama alive is the same thing which keeps spoken storytelling alive — intimacy. When you’re in the audience for a play, you’re far from the stage, even in the front row. Television shows are watched in all kinds of environments, and rarely with the viewer giving the program his full attention. Movies in the theater are the most intimate of the visual media. You’re in the dark, the images tower before you, the sound overwhelms your ears. Barring idiots with cellphones, distraction is almost impossible.
Ironically, radio shares this intimacy by virtue of the fact that it does NOT dominate your attention. It pulls it in, slowly and quietly. Most teachers of young children will tell you that, if you want to get the kids’ attention, you should whisper. They’ll shut up and listen…if they’re ever going to listen at all. Radio drama is similar. You can’t listen to it out of one ear and watch out of one eye, letting pictures fill in the dialogue you missed, and words draw the pictures you don’t see. You have to pay attention to each word, each sound, or you miss the story. That forces a level of intimacy.
And radio drama has one quality none of the other media has: it makes the listener participate in story telling. You must form the images in your head. Radio engages your imagination. In an era of mind-numbing and low brow entertainments, we need that quality more than ever. We need radio drama.
LIT: What should our industry do to reach new listeners?
STEVEN: We need to take advantage of new technology and new distribution models. Podcasting has the potential to revolutionize entertainment, and copyright agreements like Creative Commons could free us from the stranglehold of the entertainment by mega-plex alone. The best thing we can do to let listeners know how good radio drama can be is to let them hear it — take any chance we have to put our work before an audience.
LIT: What is your favorite piece of radio drama and why?
STEVEN: I love the classics — Gunsmoke, Dimension-X, Lights Out, Escape, Lux Radio Theater — but two recent (ish) examples that I especially enjoyed were Brian Daly’s Star Wars, as heard on NPR, and Warner Audio’s Kingdom Come, release on cassette.
The first Star Wars radio serial expanded the known story and use the medium’s strengths to tell the story in a new and entertaining way.
Kingdom Come, being about comic book characters, told their story in a way it hadn’t been presented in quite a while, and never so faithfully to the original source. Using voice and sound alone, the team brought Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and the rest to life in our minds. Of course, we had the pictures there already to assist us, but that only imposed an additional challenge on the actors — they had to SOUND like our audio vision of the characters. They had to meet our expectations. They did it for me. Sound could, and did, do the job that Alex Ross had done so beautifully on paper when he painted the original Kingdom Come graphic novel.
Steve, thanks for sharing your insights and adding to the statement that “radio drama in the United States is not dead.”
Mr. Wilson’s contact details are as follows:
Steven H. Wilson
Director, Prometheus Radio Theatre
Author, “Taken Liberty, A Tale From The Arbiter Chronicles”
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