Radio Dramas- An Old Medium of Entertainment, With a New Twist
Written by Abby Wray on November 19, 2019
Kansas Wesleyan University’s very own media professor, Paul Green was apart of a radio drama ran by KWU alumni Tim Burns. The cast performed a trio of Golden Age of Radio radio dramas just before Halloween this year. Radio dramas were common and widespread in the 1930s, and over time have fallen out of the mainstream. There are a group of people trying to create a new age of entertainment with this old form. Tim Burns is one of those people. We caught up with him recently to hear about his thoughts on the performance, radio dramas in general, and how important theatre is today.
What was it like being apart of a live radio drama?
It was absolutely thrilling! I have been part of several throughout the last couple years in some capacity, whether it be acting, directing or producing each time I get even more excited for the next time.
Did you choose the piece? If so how did you choose it?
I did indeed. Really the process is fairly simple. I usually go to genericradio.com and start reading though a bunch that I see if they peak my interest. I’ll make note of the ones I think would be fun to do and I just do my best to narrow it down to my favorites. If the performance is near a holiday then I try to pick at least one episode that deals with that holiday. For instance, the last show I did was near Thanksgiving. I chose three different episodes from different shows, one of which happened to be a thanksgiving one. This time around, I planned for the show to happen near Halloween. In all honesty it was so I could use the more creepy or scary shows as those are my favorite ones.
Can you give a synopsis of the drama and what character(s) you played?
The radio drama as a whole actually consisted of three different episodes from different shows. Suspense, Lights Out and Inner Sanctum. In between each episode were humorous mock commercials. In this case they acted as a bit of comic relief as all the episodes were quite dark. I’ll do my best to sum up each episode for you below. As far as a favorite character goes, this time around I was directing the show so I didn’t really get a chance to act that much beyond being the Announcer before the show and between episodes. Although if I had to pick a favorite characters in the whole show that I would have enjoyed getting a chance to play….I’d say Mister Aimes, Aunt Harriet, Raymond or the Doctor.
Suspense: That Thing in the Window
A man begins seeing the figure of a dead man in the window of the apartment across from his. He pleads with those around him to help but no one sees it but him.
Lights Out: Little Old Lady
A couple of college women are on their way to spend their vacation with an old family relative. After getting lost, a strange encounter with a mysterious old man, a spot of car trouble and a bit of walking they finally make it the house of dear old Aunt Harriet who invites them in. Things just get stranger and creepier from there.
Inner Sanctum: The Voice on the Wire
A recently widowed woman beings hearing the final composition of her late husband who died in a fire along with their dog. To add on to her already growing paranoia she begins to get phone calls from a mysterious voice telling her she has only a few hours left to live.
Would you encourage young people to be apart of acting opportunities and radio dramas? If so, why?
I would absolutely encourage young folks to be apart of this type of show and acting in general. I think everyone should be part of at least one show during their lifetime. It’s such an exhilarating experience to be up on stage in front of people. In my own experience theatre is what really opened me up as a person. Not only socially but mentally. Acting opens you up to a world of characters and possibilities that you can’t experience anywhere else. When you’re up on the stage you get to be someone completely different from who you are, and look at things from a different perspective. Especially if you get a chance to play a villain. Radio Dramas are a part of that. And they can in many ways are a more accessible art form to folks who might have some stage fright or may be worried about memorization. Doesn’t matter what you look like or your age, all you have to worry about is getting your lines out there and delivering them in an interesting way that will grab the listener. Along with that I feel everyone should take an improv class or workshop as well. Improv not only helps you develop faster thinking skills but it is probably the most freeing form of theatre I have ever experienced. You do things without thinking on stage that you might not do anywhere else. You can even BE anything on stage. I’ve played various inanimate objects on stage, in front of an audience.
Will you be doing more of these performances?
As long as I have breath in me, I will do my best to continue to do more shows like this.
How is a radio drama different than other kinds of performance?
Radio drama or Theatre of the Mind is a very special form of theatre. Unlike say a musical or regular play you might see at the local community theatre or surrounding schools, radio dramas do not require those acting to memorize their lines. One of the biggest hurdles I heard non theatre folk say they don’t think they could do if they were ever in a show is “memorize all those lines.” And it doesn’t matter what you look like either. I’ve been in quite a few shows in my life thus far and in all the shows I’ve been in it’s rare that I ever play a leading man sort of role. Not that I necessarily want one, as supporting characters are often more fun, but because of the Hollywood and the movie industry as a whole there seems to a leading man type. I’m sure we can all picture him. Young, handsome, thin, muscular, perfect teeth….etc. The descriptors could go on forever. I don’t fit that bill in anyway, shape or form. But with radio dramas, IT DOESN’T MATTER! Doesn’t matter what I look like or how old I am. As long as I can deliver my lines and make them vocally interesting, I’ve done my job.
Is there anything else we should know?
Probably the most important thing you should know is that radio drama is still out there. There may only be a handful of folks like me that are trying our best to pull it out of obscurity but it is still happening. Theatre of the mind has found a second home and has begun to make a bit of a comeback in the age of podcasts. Shows like, Welcome to Nightvale, Tannis, The Thrilling adventure Hour and so many more are bringing this kind of theatre back to life. Also, should someone ask you to describe what “radio drama” is and what’s so special about it. The following is your answer. I like to look at it this way. On one end of the spectrum you have books. They allow you to fully use your imagination but only as fast as you can process what you’ve read. It doesn’t happen in real time. On the other end you have movies and television, a medium in which everything is presented to you based on someone else’s vision. You, the watcher experience it as fast as its happening. But you don’t get to use your imagination at all. Radio dramas or theatre of the mind is the middle ground between these two. Not only do you as a listener get to experience it in real time but through the use of carefully crafted dialogue, the vocal delivery and most importantly, the use of sound effects and music you get a much more vivid image in your mind. One that can evoke stronger emotions than any book or movie in my opinion. That’s why it’s special and just overall a really cool medium.
KWU student media will keep you updated on any further radio or drama opportunities!