About The Radio Script

Michael Winn & Guitar Case

Writing Radio - Michael Winn

A radioplay script is formatted for artists and technicians to see their cues in the flow of a performance. It is analogous to a musical score rather than a stage, film or video script. Actors new to radio may expect to see a familiar format but radioplays are intuitively organized to facilitate timing.

This brief explanation begins a discussion and will be continued as we intend to nurture radio artistry to preserve techniques that evolved over two decades.


In live radio production, from the downbeat onward, actors, musicians, sound effects staff and technicians perform in a way that is like musicians, following a script rather than a score and though they needn't memorize their parts, rehearsals are necessary for the timing and flow of dramatic action. There are no unnecessary words in a radio play. These are potential distractions.

Things happen quickly in audio theater as an actor's or technician's eye tracks down the page. Sound effects and music fill transitions or create them. Ample space must be left in the script for performers and technicians to mark their cues. Actors may ad lib their timing in rehearsal.

Sound and music cues may be italicized or underscored. Italics are used for unvoiced directions:

        SOUND: Don Quijano dragging old metal armor.

Unspoken proper names that are not in italics are shown in CAPITAL letters:

        DON QUIXOTE: Hortensia!



When a show is recorded without a live audience, sound and music are usually laid in after recording dialogue. In this case, sound cues are in the score to inform actors about things the listener will hear in the background, which they must imagine: crowd noises, falling bodies, screeching tires or dinosaurs, knives thrusting through flesh, dishes breaking against a head, gunshots, the approach of a bus, train, plane or ambulance, etc.

In a live performance, the sound effects team, musicians, technicians and actors follow the same script. The dialogue provides cues for effects and music and vice versa, and both cue fades, swells, segues or dissolves. In rehearsal, the recording engineer marks his script and a cue sheet with time code that the director can use to make adjustments in the tempo to precisely fit the production to its time slot in real time--a practice that was perfected in the early days of both radio and television network programming so that live shows that were not pre-recorded could fit local program schedules.

There are now several websites where you can download old radioplay scripts. I recommend those used by John Houseman and Orson Welles for Mercury Theater of The Air and Campbell Radio Theater. The Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) Foundation maintains a library of original scripts in their building on 3rd Street in Los Angeles. The Pilot Episode of a radioplay series based on Don Quixote is a radio script for pre-recording.


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Why We Selected Cervantes' Don Quixote (Next Page)


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Copyright for much of the material on these pages belongs to Michael Winn and San Diego Radio TheaterĀ® or others.
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