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Formatting Audio Theatre Scripts for Fast Rehearsal

By Tony Palermo

It's a Wonderful Life script & SFX for radio - Details about how you can produce my radio adaptation of Frank Capra's classic film.


Here's and example of how I format radio scripts to allow for the typically short rehearsal times that radio productions have available. Over the last several years, I have refined a work method that allows me to produce a high quality 25 minute program in about 2 hours--from "Welcome to rehearsal" to "And that concludes our radio drama broadcast for this evening." This page includes notes on my method, an excerpt from one of my scripts and a brief description of how I use the format in my production style.


To work quickly, my scripts make extensive use of typographical effects to clearly convey to the actors, director, sound effect artists, and engineer exactly how I intend the program to sound. I use film script style "slugs" to indicate scene location and time of day. For dialogue I use parenthetical instructions about delivery [Example: (LAUGHING) or (DISTANT)], as well as underline text where emphasis should be placed, ellipses... for pauses and when lines will be cut off by some urgent... Not only that, but in old-time-radio style, I hand write the letter "Q" besides cues where the cast and crew need to wait for the director to cue them. This keeps actors from stepping on music or sound effects cues--a very common occurrence in cue ("dress") rehearsals. I use all these effects to make the script easily understood. That speeds rehearsal and gives cast and crew confidence it what they must deliver.

Traditional stage productions have days and weeks of rehearsal, they use "table reads" and let the actors interpret the text--with instructions from the director. In radio drama, there's usually no time to freely interpret the text, so I place my directorial "notes" right into the text. Some producers and actors may blanch at such heavy handed instruction, but I find it has plenty of merit. I also write for the ear--so that both the actor and the audience can easily understand the dialogue--something very necessary in the "blind" medium of radio drama.

Here's two pages from a recent episode in my circa-1955 style horror anthology series, Grim Scary Tales. I've tried my best to reproduce the typographical look of a properly formatted radio script using HTML. There's enough here to illustrate my point. There are notes following the script excerpt. These cover how I conduct rehearsals.


(pages 1-2 from my original radio drama)
Grim Scary Tales                                                         The Pirate's Curse                                                  1.
 
 

1. MUSIC:  [A-1]     GRIM INTRO. ESTABLISH. CONTINUE UNDER.  SELF-FADE.
 

2. HOST:             Good evening. Welcome to the weekly horror series,

                     “Grim... Scary Tales”.  That’s right, I said scary

                     tales....NOT the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm--

                     there’s no...“happily ever after” here! (EVIL

                     LAUGH) So turn up the radio, turn down

                     the lamp, and prepare for a little fright...at

                     Mid-night--a truly... "Grim ...Scary Tale.”

                     (PAUSE) Tonight, we venture back hundreds of years

                     for a story we call... “The Pirate’s Curse” (EVIL LAUGH)

3. MUSIC: [A-2]      OLD NEVILLE/SPANISH GALLEON - [BED]- UNDER.
 

4. NARRATOR:         My name is Thomas Neville. I am an old man--lying

                     here, on my death-bed. (COUGH) I’ve done much in my

                     life--many things I regret. I was a pirate. I

                     butchered men, sank many ships, but I can still

                     recall the one treasure... I lost... Doña Teresa de Olivar!

                     (PAUSE) Many years ago, in 1720, she was sailing from

                     Spain to the New World. Doña Teresa was ravishingly

                     beautiful--a spirited young woman of 21, with an old nanny

                     in tow....

4. MUSIC:            OLD NEVILLE/SPANISH GALLEON - UP - UNDER. SELF FADE.



Grim Scary Tales                                                         The Pirate's Curse                                                  2.
 

SCENE ONE - EXT. SPANISH GALLEON - DAY (1720)

1. SOUND:           FOOTSTEPS ON DECK. WIND. CREAKING. WALLA--SAILORS.

2. CATALINA:        Doña Teresa! Please get below! You’ll catch your

                    death up here, on the deck! Be a lady, m’lady!

3. DOÑA TERESA:     Catalina, please! It’s so dark and confining down

                    there. Let me feel the wind on my face--experience

                    life. Oh, how wonderful this New World is!

4. CATALINA:        Give me the Old World! There, we’re safe from sea

                    serpents, tempests, and the curse of these strange

                    lands. You are young and full of hope. I am old and

                    full of fear.

5. DOÑA TERESA:     You are a superstitious fool, Catalina! In Panama,

                    I will study the natives and show them the way of

                    God. Oh, Capitán Cruz! How much farther?

6. CAPITÁN CRUZ:    (DISTANT) This is the mid-Atlantic ocean, Senorita

                    de Olivar. We’re not even near Bermuda!

7. CATALINA:        Bermuda! Isn’t that where the sea monsters lurk?

8. DOÑA TERESA:     Catalina! Trust God. HE will protect us from evil.

9. CAPITÁN CRUZ:    Ladies, at sea, nothing is impossible and nothing

                    improbable. But it is from men that we must...

10. LOOKOUT:        (DISTANT) Capitán! Capitán! A ship is approaching...

                    fast! They’re flying the black flag!
 

    [NOTE: The script continues for 24 pages.]


How I use this format in my productions

This script format serves my production method well. I do live OTR style production. All music, dialogue and sound effects occur in real time--If recording, I'll come back for pickup recordings of muffed cues or mis-delivered lines. To keep the energy of the piece, I don't over-rehearse. In fact, I under-rehearse. My script format makes this possible. Here's how I typically produce/direct a show--I've done this hundreds of times.

First off, I don't do a typical stage-style table-read. Instead, I TELL the cast and crew the story, then have the actors rehearse solo--they recite their own lines aloud several times--to familiarize them with the mechanics of delivery for the lines. During this noisy talk fest, I come to each actor and give them advice about the character. The sound effects artists work in a similar fashion. I also go over each sound with them so they fully understand what I have in mind. After 15-20 minutes, the cast, sound effects artists and engineer all do a full "cue rehearsal." We proceed through the play with all elements in place. I'll give instruction AS we go. I'll stop and go over rough cues, especially where SFX and dialogue have tricky timing. After this single full rehearsal, we do the performance--for stage, recording, or live broadcast. This extremely fast production gets the most out of my cast and crew in the least time--perfect for the reduced budgets of radio drama. I also get a good lively performance. If I have more time, I usually DON'T do further rehearsals for fear that the energy will flag. After hundreds of workshop, recording and broadcast productions, I've refined this format and method to a point where it's fun and easy to produce radio dramas. I hope this helps others do the same.


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TONY PALERMO is an audio theatre producer, performer, and educator living in Los Angeles, California.
He performs professionally, conducts workshops, and produces programs for hire.
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