John Longenbaugh

 

Dispatches from the podcast revolution

Audio Drama PDX, Part Two: Loose-knit, raw and independent, a fledgling industry is perched eagerly where radio was in the 1920s

People get into podcasting for some very stupid reasons. On reflection, mine might have been one of the stupidest.

Four years ago I was meeting with my friend Ron, a co-producer on the film BRASS: Lair of the Red Widow that we were hoping to shoot. Developed as a potential TV pitch, it featured a family of Victorian science geniuses involved in a war with a criminal mastermind in an alternative history London.

The problem was, making a film takes a lot of money, even when your proposed film is only fifteen minutes long. (In this case, the eventual budget was about $13,000.) Another problem was the time between writing and final production, as I’d become deeply attached to my clan of 19th century good-doers. Three months in, they’d begun to knock on my mental door at odd times to propose other adventures I should write for them.

“We could always do it as a podcast,” Ron said.

At that time podcasts were still a somewhat exotic-sounding proposition, though Ron’s girlfriend had been running a successful one (about polyamory, if you must know) for some time. She admitted it was a lot of work, but it generated a pleasant little income via downloads and merchandise, so we were inclined to think it could be done—and for a lot less expense and hassle than making a film.

“Much easier!” I agreed. Wrongly, as it turns out. There’s a big difference, expense and production-wise, between your typical podcast and a full-fledged audio drama.

Portland podcast pioneer Eric L. Busby plays on SF themes.

We are in the midst of a full-throated podcast revolution. Twenty-four percent of Americans listen to at least one podcast a month, while 44 percent of the country have at least listened to one, up 4 percent since last year. (That’s 143 million people.) In an age of increasing social fragmentation, podcasts are perfect for commuters with long drives, as well as those in the gig economy who have sporadic downtime. Available whenever and via smart phones wherever, podcasts give us extra content to spackle into lives already plastered by other on-demand media.

Continues…

Watching Readings

Playreadings and staged readings are endemic in theater. But do audiences really enjoy watching them?

Fertile Ground is springing up about us again, and Portland’s theatrical venues are filled with performances—dance, original drama, comedy, even a couple of premiere musicals, all there to delight audiences.

And then there are the playreadings.

The festival is heavy with new works, and that means that there’s a large dose of play readings and staged readings. The differentiation between the two forms is that you don’t expect more from a reading than some actors, chairs and music stands, while a staged reading can vary from a couple of simple props or costume pieces to some fairly elaborate blocking and tech—which can be indistinguishable from a workshop, which are also featured at Fertile Ground. (This is what happens when artists try to label their own work.)

Both playreadings and staged readings are generally seen as part of the natural trajectory of a script leaving the page and climbing the ladder to a regional theater premiere.

Continues…

Audio drama PDX: Curated nostalgia

In the first of two parts – and before a Tolkien birthday bash on Saturday – a look at the old-time radio roots of a modern media movement

For most of my life I’ve been chronologically out of step. I was born in 1965, and my favorite clothes were out of fashion by 1930, my favorite authors were all dead by 1945, and one of my favorite artistic mediums, audio drama, culturally peaked in about 1950 and was until recently virtually extinct.

As a kid in the isolation of small-town Alaska, I would stay up late to hear, via the hit-and-miss bouncing signals of AM, re-broadcasts of the radio dramas from the 1930s and 40s, shows like The Shadow and Inner Sanctum. For a while anyway in the ’70s there was also the five-a-night broadcast of the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, a project helmed by grizzled radio veterans that featured fun performances though generally mediocre scripts.

Promotional photograph from November 1930 for the CBS Radio series “The Detective Story Hour,” the program that introduced The Shadow to radio audiences. The character was initially played by James La Curto. Wikimedia Commons

Regardless of the general hokiness of many of the shows, new and old, for reasons that were clearly thought peculiar to my friends and family I was hooked. How did they do so much with nothing more than a script, a few actors, and some carefully placed sound effects? (The answer, of course, is that the listener’s imagination does the work. As radio pioneer and general funny guy Stan Freberg once said, “the monitor of our head is limitless.”)

Continues…