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Three Questions: an interview with … Lance Roger Axt, Founder of Play it by Ear Productions January 12, 2007

Posted by William Spear in >> Radio Drama, >> Three Questions: an interview with ....
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(By Spear at 1,397) Three Questions welcomes Lance Roger Axt, Founder of Play it by Ear Productions, to the column.

Play it by Ear Productions is an audio theatre production company devoted to the development and distribution of original plays of all genres for radio, the internet, and compact disc; the company was founded in 2002 by actor/playwright/producer Lance Roger Axt in New York City, New York. Since July 1, 2003, Play it by Ear Productions has been based on the Central Coast of California.

In 2003, Axt produced the first plays of the anthology series We Have Ignition: “The Field”, written by Elizabeth Benjamin, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Chaz”, written and directed by Robert Grady, and Lynn Rosen’s “The Love Song Of…” We Have Ignition is a new works program in which original one-act plays for audio are commissioned from emerging and mid-career playwrights who are more accustomed to writing plays for the stage. In writing for audio, these writers are given the unique opportunity to flex their skills in a different artistic medium, while finding greater exposure to their work.

Okay, Lance, flex your interviewing skills around these questions.

LIT: How is radio drama similar to, and different from, stage, film or television?

LANCE: Well, first of all, I call it audio drama.

LIT: Why differentiate between the two?

LANCE: Radio drama suggests the past, audio drama suggests the future. Radio theatre means you are hearing a play over the radio at a certain time of day. Because of the advances in technology, that reality has become past tense. We are an on-demand society. And in the context of that society, the technology that feeds it, that’s where audio drama exists. You hear it on your time through compact discs, MP3 Downloads, podcasts, mobisodes, who knows where it’s going to go next. I’m convinced that it’s not going to go to commercial radio, or even public radio. Most public radio stations have become bright, shiny beacons for liberal or conservative talk and news, or alternative radio. There’s little room for what we do in that medium based on the way that it has been structured, or maybe re-structured. The number of stations that offer audio theatre showcases is small, and narrowing by the day.

So I call it audio theatre. There you go.

LIT: You’ve convinced us. Compare and contrast audio drama with stage, film and television.

LANCE: I’ve always seen audio drama as the “grey area” between film and stage, but it’s closer to film than stage. Dirk Maggs, who directed the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pieces for the BBC, not to mention Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, An American Werewolf in London, various Agatha Christie adaptations, said that “Radio is much closer to film as a medium than television. It is much more a visual medium than television. Because it is as big as your imagination. The only thing that comes close to radio is film because the screen is that big and you sit there and it dwarfs you.”

I’ll tell you, until I started doing these interviews, I didn’t realize how tough it is to “talk” about audio drama. Because audio drama isn’t something you talk about, it’s something that you do.

Anyway, how is it different: simply put, with live theatre, television, film, video games, whatever, the images are already there. They are forced upon you. They remind you of the fact with these forms of entertainment you are the audience, you are a participant outside of the action. With audio drama, you are deciding how the characters look, what their environment looks like; you get to dream big, bigger than any movie screen. You’re not outside of what is going on, but rather you are an integral part of it.

LIT: What should radio, sorry, audio dramatists and production companies do to reach new listeners? To integrate new audiences into this form of entertainment?

LANCE: Take advantage of these new outlets! The “We Have Ignition” plays premiered online through the Spoken Network last year, and I am looking into podcasting them next year. It’s through these outlets that we’re going to find the next generation of listeners, especially those who don’t know that this kind of theatre still exists. I’m not saying anything new here, just another member of the choir shouting out.

LIT: Shout out your favorite piece of radio drama and why does it get your nod?

LANCE: I’m going to break protocol on this question because there are quite a few titles/production companies that I like, and trying to pick a favorite among them is near-impossible. First off, the audio pieces from Tom Lopez/ZBS. The first thing I ever heard from him was Dreams of Rio, and I was absolutely awestruck. He’s done a lot of great Jack Flanders dramas; obviously Fourth Tower of Inverness and Moon Over Morocco are great pieces, not to mention the place to start, but I’ve always been partial to Rio. Tom recently put out a series of short-short pieces as part of his 90 Second Chillin’ Cell Phone Theater series, some of which are hysterical.

See, here’s a producer who not only saw the potential of other outlets for audio theatre, but he created a series specifically for the mobisode market, which has been very successful. Also, none of these pieces last more than a few minutes (so they’re not all 90 seconds; who cares? They’re still fun), which shows us that you don’t have to have a mammoth four- or five-hour production; super-short pieces are acceptable!

So Tom Lopez/ZBS is up there; for the inspirational I look to Norman Corwin. His works aren’t sci-fi, they’re not horror; they’re plays that exemplify the human spirit. I say to everyone who wants to write audio drama, listen to Norman’s pieces first, especially We Hold These Truths and On a Note of Triumph. There’s a reason why the latter of those two pieces is considered the greatest audio drama EVER recorded.

When I look at what’s out there, it’s predominantly science-fiction, fantasy, horror, detective/noir kind of stuff, and that’s perfectly fine, this is a medium that works best with those genres. I’m working on some pieces that are superhero/adventure-based for Play it by Ear AudioComics. But I’m also working on some period dramas, or comedy-dramas for Play it by Ear Productions. I don’t see a lot of, or should I say “hear” a lot of, comedies, straightforward historical dramas, period pieces, soap operas, docudramas, biographical or autobiographical stories. It’s almost always science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and detective/noir stories. To anyone out there interested in this crazy art form, start with Norman’s work. Pay attention to the content over the production values. That’s what any good script has to start with: great content. Then explore writing audio dramas that fall outside of what everyone else is doing.

I’ve always preferred Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy over the NPR Star Wars plays; you can hear it in the actors’ delivery, the energy of the piece, that they’re taking what they’re doing seriously but not too seriously. I mean, Hitchhiker’s is the benchmark that I think so many producers try to aspire to. Then there’s the aforementioned Dirk Maggs. His stuff is hard to find, as the BBC is apparently good at “killing product.” But his “audio movies” as he calls ’em are worth tracking down.

In comedy, I love The Goon Show, anything and everything created by Stan Freberg, of course The Firesign Theatre; there’s an amazing producer who had to go to Ireland to produce audio dramas and comedies, and his pieces are likewise amazing because they are a perfect balance of everything that makes good audio, excellent writing, acting, direction, music, rhythm, and sound effects. His name is Roger Gregg, and his company is Crazy Dog Audio Theatre. If you haven’t heard his Crazy Dog pieces, you’re missing out.

LIT: We’ve already broken protocol by asking more than three questions so let us ask one more: What about the plays from Play it by Ear?

LANCE: They’re pretty damn good, too. The We Have Ignition series is scheduled to re-commence in 2007 with the recording of “Turn to Stone” by Steve Tesher, with direction by Sue Zizza, a comedy-drama offering a different take on the origins of the first shot fired in the American Civil War. And yes, Play it by Ear is in need of donations in order to make it happen!

LIT: Lance, thanks for stopping by and breaking protocols with us. Axt has also announced his intent to create a commercial division called Play it by Ear AudioComics, which would feature both licensed and original superhero and science-fiction properties. The first title will be announced in 2007. Play it by Ear Productions has been sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a not-for-profit arts company based in New York City. Play it by Ear is also a member company of the National Audio Theatre Festival, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting, producing, and educating in the art that is audio theatre in America and abroad.

For more info on Play it by Ear Productions, or for info on making a tax-deductible donation, check out their website or e-mail Mr. Axt through the company e-mail address: playitbyearproductions@yahoo.com .

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Comments»

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[…] Why does Lance Roger Axt, Founder of Play it by Ear Productions, see a difference between radio drama and audio theatre? (By Spear at 1,518) Click here to read how Lance distinguishes between radio drama and audio theatre in his ”Thre… […]

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