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Monday, March 31, 2014

A Play for Radio

From the Ether Dept.: I was recently asked to provide some kind of template for those wishing to write a radio play, such as are produced by the group Hudson Air, of which I'm a member. Here's what I came up with, showing page setup and offering some philosophical direction. It's meant to be instructive and silly.

                                                                                     


VOICES (IN ORDER OF THEIR OCCURRENCE):

ESME: A traveler
WILLY: Her cold-blooded father
TITUS MOODY: A radio star
FRED ALLEN: Vaudeville legend
NICK: An electrician
ALICE: A passing fancy


MUSIC:     MAHLER’S SYMPHONY NO. 9, OPENING MOVEMENT. DOWN FOR:

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to “A Play for Radio.” During the next few

           minutes, we’re going to mess with your mind by way of
           your ears.

MUSIC:     UP, THEN OUT.

SOUND:     PASTORAL SOUNDSCAPE: BIRDS, BEASTS, WATER, WIND.

           FOOTSTEPS APPROACH AND STOP.

ESME:     (V.O.) I’m not comfortable here. That’s why I’m speaking

           directly to you, the listener, over the background of 
           all those damn sounds. They remind me of something . . .

MUSIC:     BRIEF, TRANSITIONAL “DISSOLVE” LINK, INTO:

SOUND:     CRACKLING OF A LARGE CAMPFIRE.


WILLY:     Get more wood! Anything you find on the ground! There’s

           plenty of it. There’s even a log right here –

SOUND:     CREAKING AS AN OBJECT IS PULLED FROM FROZEN GROUND.


ESME:     (AS A CHILD:) Daddy! It’s a squirrel!

WILLY:     A dead squirrel burns as good as any piece of wood.

           Smells better, too.

ESME:      Daddy!

MUSIC:     BRIEF DISSOLVE.

SOUND:     PASTORAL SOUNDSCAPE, AS BEFORE.


ESME:     (V.O.) I’ve never liked the forest.

SOUND:     FOOTSTEPS CONTINUE.

ESME:     (V.O.) I’m getting out of here. I need a latte. I need –

          (ALOUD) Who are you?

MOODY:     Howdy, ma’am. Moody’s the name, Titus Moody, and 

           I’m afraid I got myself lost.

ESME:      Lost in this forest?

MOODY:     Lost in the world of entertainment. Used to have a 

           pretty good radio career, till that box with moving 
           pictures took over. Used to sit in my house down there 
           on Allen’s Alley, and every week Fred would arrive 
           and say –

ALLEN:     Well, let’s see what Titus Moody is up to.

SOUND:     KNOCKING ON DOOR. DOOR OPENS.

MOODY:     Howdy, Bub.

ALLEN:     Hel-lo, Mr. Moody. And how is that wife of yours doing 

           today? I hear she had a bit of cold.

MOODY:     Called the doctor. Gave her sulphur and molasses.

           Gol-durn quack put in too much sulphur, though.

ALLEN:     And how do you know the doctor put in too much sulphur?

MOODY:     When my wife sets in the dark, she glows.

SOUND:     AUDIENCE LAUGHTER. FADE INTO PASTORAL SOUNDSCAPE.

MOODY:     Now nobody in these parts listens to the radio any more.

           They don’t what kind of magic awaits.

ESME:      There’s magic?

MOODY:     Certainly is. Where’d you say you druther be?

ESME:      I sure would like to be enjoying a latte at 

           Uncommon Grounds.

MOODY:     And how would you like to get there?

ESME:      I think there’s bus service.

MOODY:     That’s not what I mean. We could take you there with 

           music, but that’s what ever-body does. We could fade 
           the sounds together, but that’s hardly magic. Tell 
           you what. Let’s ride in the Magic Maxwell.

SOUND:     AN OLD CAR STARTING AND ENGINE REVVING, INTO A SERIES OF

           SPROINGS AND A CUCKOO CLOCK, CHAINS RATTLING, 
           MACHINE-GUN FIRE, DOGS BARKING, A SPEEDED-UP VERSION OF 
           THE MOST FAMOUS PART OF THE “LIGHT CAVALRY OVERTURE,” A 
           SLIDE-WHISTLE GLISSANDO, A POPGUN POP, AND A CAR 
           BACKFIRING.

MOODY:    (Beat.) Here we are.

ESME:      How did you do that?

MOODY:     That’s radio.

SOUND:     COFFEEHOUSE AMBIANCE, UNDER THE FOLLOWING:

NICK:      Who’s next?

ESME:      Oh! Can I get a decaf latte with whipped cream?

NICK:     (CALLS TO ASSOCIATE:) One Bennington! What about you,

           old-timer?

MOODY:     Shoot me the pot and I’ll pour me a shot.

NICK:      You got it, daddy. (CLOSE) Who’s the cutie?

MOODY:     Mebbe she’d like to tell you herself.

NICK:      Hey, Bennington. I think I’m in love.

ESME:      Are you talking to me?

NICK:      You don’t see my peepers pointed elsewhere, do you?

ESME:      Golly! And yet, how can I act surprised when nobody can

           see me? As a seasoned actress, I have a well-tuned 
           repertory of facial expressions and gestures, not to 
           mention the art of stealing my way upstage as a means 
           of registering both my keen interest in being so pursued
           and the general sense of alienation that characterizes 
           the life of a young and attractive woman. All of which, 
           I fear, is useless here!

MOODY:     Back in my day, we had writers who knew what to give

           you. Sure, you were given such things to say as, “Why, 
           Lamont, what are we doing in this dark old warehouse at 
           this time of night?” But you also had the greater 
           freedom to play out a scene in the mind of the 
           listener, which is far more imaginative when it’s not 
           being constricted by what’s coming through the eyes. 
           This young man is named Nick, and only yesterday the 
           girl he loved did a terrible thing with one of those 
           carry-around telephones, that – what d’ye call it?

ESME:      Smartphone?

MOODY:     Dumb name. She did that thing with her thumbs . . .

SOUND:     CROSSFADE AMBIANCE INTO A MORE QUIET SETTING.

ALICE:    (SLOWLY, WHILE TEXTING.) . . . and you have to realize 

           that Doug has always been nicer to me, even before he 
           was your roommate –

SOUND:     WHISTLING SOUND THAT ACCOMPANIES MANY A TEXT MESSAGE.

NICK:    “ . . . and that’s why him and me both are moving out

           while you’re at work today.” Dammit! Even if I could 
           tolerate the treachery of my friends, I won’t tolerate
           grammatical errors!

MOODY:     Well, sir, our friend Nick here did something you can 

           do on radio without special effects, even without 
           straining plausibility too much if the writer’s really 
           good. He pressed a secret Smartphone key combination –

SOUND:     BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP OF DIFFERENT KEYSTROKE TONES.

MOODY:     – and hit “OK” --

SOUND:     APPROPRIATE BEEP, FOLLOWED BY ELECTRICAL BUZZING 

           OVERLAID WITH SIZZLING AND A BRIEF, HORRIBLE SCREAM.

MOODY:     – and electrocuted the treacherous bitch.

ESME:      I can’t go out with someone like that!

WILLY:    (DISTANT, WITH ECHO.) You can. You must. It’s the only

           way you’ll ever get over the trauma of what I did to 
           that frozen squirrel!

ESME:      I guess he’s right.

SOUND:     COFFEEHOUSE AMBIANCE RETURNS.

NICK:      Of course he’s right!

ESME:      You heard that?

NICK:      It’s only the asides that I can’t hear.

MUSIC:     ROMANTIC STRINGS UNDER.

MOODY:     And I have a gift for you both that will guarantee

           happiness. It’s a gift for you, Esme, with love.

NICK:      No squalor?

MOODY:     Don’t be so literate. It’s your very own Smartphone key

           combination that you can use to fry Nick if he gets on 
           your nerves. Because the only thing that guarantees
           that people will get along with one another these days 
           is the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction. 
           Good night.

MUSIC:     UP.


SOUND:     AUDIENCE APPLAUSE.

ANNOUNCER: That was “A Play for Radio,” starring Barbara

           Stanwyck as Esme, Sam Jaffe as Willy, Parker Fennelly 
           as Titus Moody, Jack Benny as Nick, Agnes Moorehead as
           Alice, and a special appearance by Fred Allen as
           himself. We invite you to join us next week at this 
           time for “Just Give Me Enough Money to Finish Editing 
           It,” starring Orson Welles. This is Ben Grauer speaking.

MUSIC:    THE REMAINDER OF MAHLER’S NINTH.


End.

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