Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reading Without Reading: Dramatic Audio from LATW

Some literature—novels, short stories, essays—you are meant to read, silently, to yourself. But some—spoken word poetry, play scripts, film scripts—have to be performed to be complete. You can read them, sure, but you're truly only getting a fraction of the picture.

LA Theatre Works is a loosely affiliated group of actors who perform audio-only productions of many of our finest theatrical works. The casts are often composed of well-known tv and movie actors like John Lithgow, Hilary Swank, Neal Patrick Harris and many many others. Most of their plays are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They run the gamut from recent Broadway dramas by the likes of John Guare and Wendy Wasserstein to classics like Arthur Miller’s a Death of Salesman. They do, however, have a number of productions by Shakespeare and Sophocles. Here’s a hint: If you’re struggling to read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or Julius Caesar for English class, try to listening to a professional production instead. It will do wonders to clear up the language. And it’s not cheating, I swear!

When I listen to a LA Theatre Works production, I often feel like I’ve entered an alternate time-line in which television was never invented and all of our famous actors were primarily recognized by their voices over the radio. It’s not a bad alternate universe, as they go. The productions feature subtle and moving voice work punctuated with minimal sound effects (mostly doors opening and closing to signify entrances and exits as well as dramatic sounds like gunshots or glass breaking).

By “radio,” of course, I mean radio in the contemporary sense of the word, which includes both broadcast (LA Theatre Works can be heard on a number of NPR stations nationwide) and from online sources like podcasts and on demand streaming. LA Theatre Works doesn’t have a true podcast, but you can order any of the hundreds of plays for download—most are $4.99—but even better, you can listen to their current broadcast play for free by streaming it directly from their home page. Each week features another production.

Even better, the LA Theatre Works website hosts their Relativity Series, which features plays that explore issues of science. The dozens of plays in the Relativity Series are free to stream at any time. I highly recommend The Explorers Club (an farce about a woman invading an all-male 19th century amateur science club), Dr. Cerberus (a memoir as play about a young man’s obsession with a late night horror movie host), and Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (an 1882 environmentalist drama with themes so prescient that they could have been torn from last week’s headlines).

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