Audio drama for education

Among real (physically present) experiences fewer and fewer children and youth meet in either entertainment or educational milieux is the live theatrical stage. While cultural doubts that widespread literacy could survive film, radio, television, and internet connectivity have been put to bed by the reality that each, turn, has increased interest in popular reading, attending plays has for many communities, become a non-experience.

Aside from the skills of actors and directors, set designers, and architects who have designed theater spaces to both contain and enhance unrelated stagings within them, the literary component of theater is unique in its genre qualifiers: the script requires dramatic interpretation by its actors and audience is an essential component to final production. That production gives the audience access to facts, feelings, and ideas carried to them from physical expression (typically physical gesture as well as human voice). In the case of audio drama, human gesture must be indicated through tone, pacing, and breathing on the actors’ parts.

L.A. Theatre Works, an audiobook publisher working to bridge the gap between audience experience with other literary genres and theater, has operated as a nonprofit for nearly half a century, recording about half a dozen productions annually (as well as offering live staged work). Some of its catalog of titles may ring familiar to those who know there’s a movie version (e. g., Steel Magnolias), others are works produced on many other stages (e. g., those by Neil Simon, as well as classics going back eons), and another group includes solo performance works (e. g., Roger Guenveur Smith’s A Huey P. Newton Story). The audio recordings are made during performances before live audiences and many include question and answer sessions between LATW and that audience.

One ongoing series LATW stages and records, through funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a grant provided with the intention of using theater arts to promote public understanding of science and technology. Among the more than 30 plays included in this recorded series to date are such well known ones as Orson Welles’ adaptation of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. There are familiar titles of nonfiction reconceived as stage dramas, such as science writer Dava Sobel’s And the Sun Stood Still. And there are works created afresh for the stage through rigorous adaptation and dramatization of documentary archives, such as Peter Goodchild’s The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial. In this series, the work of offering access to staged theater carries content thoroughly suited to curricula requiring and celebrating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The doubling of educational intent is purposeful for LATW. In addition to content, their student enrichment efforts extend to partnerships with digital publishers to supply mobile apps, as well as free distribution of recordings to thousands of American classrooms. Such efforts bring the theatrical experience back to its classic roots of informing and interpreting knowledge through expressed language.

For more about LATW, start here: