Let’s face it: professional live theater is exclusive. Ticket prices are high, and often the “best” professional theater is clustered in major metropolitan areas--outside the daily lives of millions of Americans.
We want to break the financial and geographic barriers to live theater. We want to bring award-winning actors and compelling short plays into headphones, cars, living rooms, subways and kitchens. In today’s fast-moving world, we want to provide theater in a way that’s accessible and pocket-sized. And we want it all to be free.
How do we do it? We select works of short, powerful dramatic writing by some of the country’s top playwrights. We cast celebrated actors and rehearse with award-winning directors. With minimal, polished sound design, we produce podcast-length recordings that are broadcast across the country—and available on-demand.
Jump to section: Mission Statement | Our Story | Why Short Plays? | Why Radio? | Why Interview the Artists?
We believe that vibrant contemporary theater should be available to every person, regardless of time, funds or access. By recording and distributing short plays on public radio and podcast, we deliver the work of America’s best theater practitioners to the nation—for free.
With this in mind, we aim to:
- Provoke dialogue
- Share the voices of living playwrights
- Revitalize the short play with unassailable acting, directing and sound design
- Inspire the next generation of theater-makers nationwide
Through radio, podcasting, and low-cost live programming, we aim to bring contemporary plays and playwrights into the public space.
In 2010, Claudia Catania was attending a lot of play readings. With 30 years of producing experience, she was more than familiar with the setup: 8 folding chairs on the stage of a small black-box theater. There was no set; no costumes; no fancy lighting. The entire play would manifest through the actors’ voices alone.
At a certain point, she asked: Who can this play reach? Why just these 150 listeners? Why not a thousand? Why not a million? Why not broadcast the play across the entire nation? After all, music wouldn’t get anywhere if there weren’t free samples out there.
Playing On Air was born.
Launched in 2012 on Albany’s WAMC, Playing On Air has now expanded to over 40 stations in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Our broadcasts have reached millions of listeners across the country.
In 2015, we began re-releasing our entire production history in podcast form on iTunes, essentially making all of our content available free of charge.
Each hour-long broadcast features several short plays by award-winning contemporary playwrights, performed and directed by distinguished American theater artists. Following each performance, we also record a talk-back with the playwright, cast, and director.
Why short plays?
"Like a novelist who chooses to write a short story, a playwright will sometimes put aside a 3-act epic to write a wonderfully bite-size radio play instead. For those of us who do that, Playing on Air is there to bring those short plays to life, teaming us up with amazing actors, and helping us reach an appreciative audience that we might otherwise never find."
- David Lindsay-Abaire (Pulitzer winner, Rabbit hole)
Short plays—sometimes called “one-acts”—are a staple of acting classes, but rarely professionally performed outside of festivals. Yet they’re one of playwrights’ favorite forms: punchy, challenging and dramatically lean.
Like a short story, each short play is compact but potent. In ten to thirty minutes, the playwright has to set the scene, spur the action, and wrap it up. It’s a snapshot of characters that remain with the audience far beyond the brief minutes of performance.
A short play also meshes beautifully with the rhythms of on-the-go listening. In the words of playwright Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, short plays and radio create “a bite-sized opportunity to enjoy some of the best talent in American theater today.”
“A short play is like a sentence. The definition of a sentence is: ‘a complete thought expressed in words.’ I would say that applies!”
“The one-act play is to the full-length as the short story is to the novel- the etude to the symphony...It’s a jab as opposed to a knockout punch - a sprint compared to a marathon.”
— Frank Gilroy (Pulitzer- and Tony-winNING PLAYWRIGHT)
Radio theater lives where dialogue and imagination meet.
“I love Playing On Air because it makes the listener my collaborator,” says playwright Frank Gilroy, “supplying faces, settings and atmosphere beyond anything designers or I might supply.”
Unlike the historical ‘radio play,’ our broadcasts don’t rely heavily on ‘sound effects’—they’re fully fledged in the world of theater. They’re complete audio recordings of work originally intended for—and often produced for—the stage. Some have been performed in nationally-recognized festivals, while others are commissioned specifically for Playing On Air.
There are, of course, some perks. As Jesse Eisenberg will tell you, “Playing On Air allows actors to have the thrilling experience of acting without having to look in a mirror first.”
Why INTERVIEW THE ARTISTS?
A conversation with the playwright, actors and director follows every “short,” in which the artists share their thoughts on the piece they’ve just performed. What inspired the play? What was that character really thinking? What do each of them believe happens after the curtain falls?
We touch on everything from the theatrical process, the playwright’s method, and the quirks or turning-points of each particular play. In this vein, we hope we serve as a ‘gateway’ to other forms of theater, whether community, regional, or Broadway.
It is our hope that listeners come away from our broadcasts with not only an increased sense of introspection, enjoyment and enthusiasm, but a whetted appetite for all forms of live theater.