Writing for radio is much like writing for the stage. The decisions you have to make are very similar. You have to set a scene, develop characters, and create a strong narrative arc. The format is also quite similar. You need to indicate ‘entrances’ and ‘exits,’ music breaks, and the like.
As a playwright, you would have a variety of visual tools to add weight to the events on stage, like costumes, a set, and blocking. The spotlight, for example, is a great way to amplify the important elements of a scene. But in radio, all of your dramatic queues must exist in the realm of sound. What is the audio equivalent to a bright beam of light, focused on the speaker centerstage?
Let’s call it the sonic spotlight.
I was ten the first time I ever saw an imax movie. At the beginning it did one of those timelapse cityscapes, where the cars become blurs, flying through the city’s streets like blood cells through veins and arteries. It was meant to “wow” the audience and get us settled into our seats for the main feature, but I was so “wowed” that I have no recollection of what the movie we watched was about. I wanted the timelapse to continue. I wanted to watch a whole movie of it... I love timelapse.
Since then I’ve fallen in love with audio, too, and I have sometimes wondered how you could create a similar effect in sonic medium. Now I wonder no more, because producer Tony Schwartz has proven that it can be done, in “Nancy Grows Up.” This piece represents, according to Schwartz “Thirteen years condensed into two minutes and thirteen seconds,” and I think Schwartz is being modest when he says that he’s “using the timelapse technique” in the piece - timelapse is a simple mechanical process that involves shooting film at a slow frame-rate, then playing it back at regular speed so it appears fast. Schwartz’ technique, as you’ll see, is much more creative than this.