We forget this at our peril, but at the heart of theatre is storytelling. And for a story to thrive it needs two things – voices to tell it, and ears to listen. Listening – active, engaging listening – is becoming all too rare, as bland, uninspiring noise from the television becomes increasingly ubiquitous.
Where many theatre companies are busily juggling vans, sets, costumes, bookings, get-ins, box-office problems and ice-cream sales before they even get to the cast and the rehearsal process, a few are looking increasingly at audio drama as a noble – and wonderful – alternative for people who want to experience theatrical magic.
It makes sense; far fewer material things to worry about means more time to spend crafting the story, and getting the right people to ensure that the delivery matches the quality of the story.
The company I got involved with a few years ago, Bunbury Banter, believe passionately in the power of audio drama to transport, to engage and to excite. They create relatively short plays – most with a quirky, dark, humorous or horrific theme – and follow every aspect of their creation through to final recording.
We have a rigorous quality-checking system in place when it comes to the writing of plays. A large in-house team of writers and readers are sent an ‘inspiration document’ based on a theme – Film Noir, or Alternative Histories for example. There then follows a collective writing and re-writing process, whittling and honing each piece like a master jeweller. The final few that are good enough to make the cut are then extensively workshopped with professional actors, and finally, when everyone’s happy with the scripts, they go into production. Professional sound recordists and composers add the final touches.
The nature of the medium gives writers, directors and actors incredible freedom to invent, to speculate and to push boundaries. No location is too far, too expensive or too impossible to recreate; the only limits are those of our imaginations – creators and listeners. The monster’s always scarier before you’ve actually seen it, isn’t it?
Technological advances have democratised our view of what entertainment is on offer – hard disk drives and catch-up services has given us the freedom to watch and listen to our favourite programmes when we want to, rather than when they are scheduled. The next challenge for the Bunbury Banter Theatre Company will be to make accessing these marvellous dramatic jewels easy, cost-effective and desirable. We are already working on a project to bring this kind of theatre into public places, as well as using digital radio outlets and downloading possibilities to get the plays to as many pairs of ears as we can.
From children listening to their bedtime stories, to people immobile in a hospital bed, we all love to listen, but we rarely give ourselves the luxury. Ghost stories round the campfire may be coming back…