Strong Wind And Creaky Doors: Sound Effects That Are Made For Radio Plays

May 15, 2018

The sounds of wind, crackling fire and sword fights are among the sound effects produced for a new fictional radio play inspired by real news events.

Director Zack Myers, playwright Anna Victoria and artistic director John Watts joined Sundial to talk about “Inspired by WLRN News," a play that uses WLRN news stories as inspiration. The project celebrates storytelling and life in South Florida.

WLRN: John let me start with you. Tell me about the devices we just heard. How are you making these sounds come to life? 

Watts: Well the wind machine is actually a 1940s wind machine. It was actually done out of CBS in New York. And it's basically a big round wheel with slats on it and it rubs against the canvas and you just spin it as fast or as slow as ... it says in script.

You really can't have a sword fight onstage nor do you want to give actors real swords. So we use spatulas and the thinner the metal the better. So when you're hitting those spatulas back and forth they vibrate a little bit and they make the sound of a sword. Believe it or not.

Fire can be several different things; it can be a lighting gel or cellophane and you know the thing about sound effects... they're really a musical instrument and you need to kind of get that effect and be able to play it.

Watch a Facebook LIVE with the artistic director of "Inspired by WLRN News," John Watts, who showed Luis Hernandez how the various sound effect machines come to life.  

How did how did the idea come about to turn these news stories into theatrical radio?

Myers: Well John did a project like this last year, and this time around he approached me to be the head playwright. So I organized the playwrights, I got everyone together. I looked for people who I knew well [and] also people I knew I could work with. And immediately they jumped on the project.

How do you turn a news story into a radio play though?

Victoria: Yeah it was definitely something that ... was really hard. Since the news is always changing. And I chose a very topical piece. When I originally came onto this product I was going to be writing about something completely different and in light of the events at Parkland, we figured that it would be a very very important story to tell.

And that was my first draft and I felt so bad [because it was] literally just notes and a timeline and breakdown. It was something you would see in college and not something you would see a playwright do. And it wasn't until the second draft was due that I really had figured out how to make what was happening into a cohesive narrative about hope and resilience and not focus on the tragedy as much as the empowerment of it.

I tried to quote people and use direct quotes from the students because what they say is so eloquent and already amazing ... I don't know how I could make that better. It was definitely like making a really, really intricate patchwork quilt of information and kind of making it focused on the mentorship of a teacher. The focus is on Mr. Foster, who taught all the students how to be these amazing advocates for gun reform and also activists in general.

We live in the digital age but what we've seen is that now with podcasts these radio stories are becoming really popular again. And so I just wondered: has that opened up a whole new world to people like you, just more opportunities for these kinds of storytelling?

Watts: Well yeah absolutely it has. And it's mostly for news stories in a radio theater format as opposed to just redoing radio theater. That is actually coming back too.