Have you ever wanted to produce a play? What about a radio play?
Now’s your chance: this year, KZMU’s annual radio play will take the form of a festival. Instead of producing one play with experienced actors, KZMU will air multiple, pre-recorded mini-plays created by the public. Anyone, with any experience level, can sign up to write, record and produce a play.
“For this year, I wanted to be able to make the radio play more accessible, diverse and inclusive,” said Serah Mead, KZMU’s station manager. Mead and Jessica Retka, who has been creating the music for the radio plays for years, came up with the idea for the festival format.
“We’re really leaning into this idea of audio theater and the magic of the imagination,” Mead said.
Participants can sign up as a group or as an individual—there’s no maximum team size. Participants can also perform in as many plays as they would like. There are a few rules: plays are capped at 5-7 minutes and must include hand-made sound effects, called Foley effects, and at least one voice. They must also adhere to the Federal Communications Commission radio rules, be appropriate for a wide range of ages, and not use any copyrighted sounds or music.
Unlike years past, there will be no live performance—all plays will be pre-recorded, then broadcast on the radio.
Other than that, Mead said, there are no rules on what genre to follow or what sounds must be included.
“I would love it if there was some horror, some comedy, some drama, some super heady intellectual sound art stuff,” Mead said. “The basic rules are just rules of the radio.”
KZMU will also offer radio workshops later in February for participants that will go over the basics of radio theater and offer tips on how to succeed. Workshop topics will include voice acting, playwriting and how to make a Foley box.
The radio play event began in 2016 as a grassroots fundraiser after the station was defunded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
“At the time that happened, it was a really big hit,” Mead said. “The loss of that funding was really scary.”
Marty Durlin, the station manager at the time, is a playwright and came up with the idea for a radio play fundraiser. The first play was called “Downtown Abbey,” and followed the story of Edward Abbey’s evil “fifth cousin twice removed” in a parallel universe.
The play was aired in three episodes in 2016, with the last episode being performed live in front of an audience at Star Hall.
“That just really took off. It was amazing,” Mead said.
For the following years, the plays focused on live stage elements while still being broadcast on air. KZMU scouted experienced musicians and hosted auditions for character roles. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, Mead knew the following year’s play couldn’t have a live audience. That’s when she started brainstorming new formats.
The play has attracted a few of the same participants over the years, Mead said—some of the cast members and musicians have been involved since the very beginning. But with the new format this year, Mead hopes teams are made up of locals from every facet of Moab.
“I would really love to see people experiment with the form,” she said. “I’d love to see people register as an individual, to take the monologue to the next level. Or maybe there’s something people have written they’d like to add sound effects to.”
For Mead, an especially important part of this year’s event is its accessibility. Anyone can write and create a play—there are no auditions, no vetting of playwrights. For participants who don’t know where to start, “it’s a lot easier than it seems,” Mead said.
“If you have a phone with a decent microphone, you can do it all,” she said. She recommended participants look into free audio software such as Audacity and find copyright-free audio in the Free Music Archive (www.freeemusicarchive.org).
“For the past six years, we have spent so much time and effort on one particular story for the radio play, which has had amazing payoff—the plays are so well-crafted and so well-acted,” Mead said. “So I’m really excited to see what happens when someone outside of KZMU, with their own passion and their own creativity, puts their head into radio theater gear. I’m so curious to see what it’s going to be.”
Registration opens on February 1. Finished plays are due to KZMU on March 25, and the plays will air the weekend of April 8. Mead encouraged anyone who wants to participate but is unsure how to start or wants to find a team to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.