Adapting five of my plays - some highly visual- into podcasts over the last two months was no mean feat. It felt like training for the Olympics at first, but once I got into my stride; it became more like bootcamp. I learned a crucial new skill; vital during a pandemic with live performance artists badly hit.
As a playwright I’m used to providing scenarios, dialogue and action but the magic of theatre manifests when plays get produced in collaboration with a host of other artists; directors, actors, set, costume, sound, light designers, hey presto it’s magic.
I consulted with very knowledgeable and experienced radio dramaturg Heather Brown, who I’m working with on another project. Heather made me understand just how much goes into adapting stage shows for radio or podcasts. Every description must be transformed into spoken text without being obvious or be lost. In some of these adaptations I have let go of fixed ideas of character description (knowing that most people have under-utilised imaginations due to the sheer volume of screen content we consume on a daily basis) which allows the listener to create their own vision based on the voice they’re hearing. Each play posed its own particular puzzle that forced me to hone my creations in ways I had never considered.
I had to cut a beloved silent character (The Gourmand) from The Circus, and lose the metaphor of its physically transformed playing space. Another real challenge was creating an aural arc for Cebelrai- the Cosmic Contortionist – whose narrative was physically choreographed on silks by Hamilton Arial Group’s founder Laurie LeMare for its 2013 production at the Lyric Theatre in Hamilton. How could I tell her story and link it to the main narrative?
With steamy Ganga’s Ganja, I had to find a subtle but effective way to convey that Kadru is nagi, part woman part serpent, a celestial being. Up till then I relied upon actors and dancers, on costume design but all that is ripped away for podcasts.
Already rich with sound written into text building its world, The Washing Machine set in 1979 Whitefield (Bangalore) has many characters, a mostly silent ghost, a Chorus of Monkeys (real and ghostly) and a sad, foolish heroine suffering from selfishness and PTSD.
Rukmini’s Gold was the toughest cookie and for those of you who know this play you’ll understand why. Each scene is set at a different train stations spanning four continents and more than a century. Its metaphors and themes had to be distilled led by dramaturg and director Anand Rajaram’s astute observations.
Blackberries in Brum, set in 1980s Birmingham is a gritty action driven mystery; I had to examine each action, decide whether it’s vital and had to be verbalised or let it slip away.
How the hell did I manage it? You’ll have to tune in to find out! Red Beti Theatre’s incredibly talented company will create and produce this series of Play Podcasts to celebrate our 10th anniversary.