Radio Drama–A Transitional Art Form?

Radio Drama–A Transitional Art Form?

After I posted on Saturday my friend Joseph Caro over on Facebook asked me:

“Could you discuss why radio plays aren’t just an anomaly or transitional form? I have an impression that they are unique to human history, they seemed to occupy a short time-span when we had the time ability to transmit audio but not video.”

Let’s think about this question by first considering this short visual history of drama:

Drama is born in Greece as part of the religious festival honoring the god Dionysos.

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By Shakespeare’s day (1564-1616) the theater has become secular entertainment (though not divorced from a broadly classical-medieval understanding of human beings and their place in the cosmos).

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Technology in the late 19th c. helps create drama through the moving image projected onto a screen.

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Technology in the 20th c. brings drama into the home via radio waves.

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Later technology in the 20th c. brings visual drama into the home via television.

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So is the radio play merely transitional, like the ancient Greek dithyramb? (Who remembers the dithyramb?)

I don’t think radio drama is going to go the way of the dithyramb, and that is because the intimacy and creative participation involved with radio/audio drama will always be attractive to us. Television and film are exciting but more passive media. The vocal quality of the radio/audio play–which makes it seem as though the characters are right in the room with us–creates a special brand of intimacy, and the fact that radio/audio comes without visual images compels our imaginations to take up the exciting task of supplying images on its own. That is a special blend that I don’t believe human beings are going to completely tire of, though I admit that the radio/play will probably forever remain less popular than film and television.

I follow Aristotle in considering what he called “tragedy” to be the highest of human art forms. And among contemporary forms of drama, I believe the live stage performance to be the most perfect expression of drama, with film, television, radio/audio drama, puppet shows, and pantomimes being declensions from this standard.

 

The images above are reproduced courtesy of, in descending order, Jorge Lascar, Alistair Young, Wikimedia Commons, Jamiecat, and Alan_D. All but the Wikimedia Commons image are reproduced under the following license.

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Comments

  1. I prefer the term audio play in this age of on-demand podcasts. Would love to be able to download a good one to enjoy while working out, commuting or cleaning the house!

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