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Causing Drama At Trent Radio

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Years ago, back in the late ‘60s, Trent Radio was the “Trent Radio Service” and broadcast just two hours on Sunday nights on CHEX Radio as their local content. The test to see if you could be on air or not was to read this script:

ANNOUNCER: Trent University President and Vice Chancellor, T.H.B Symons, came out swinging last night as he unleashed a scathing attack on the liberal administration in the House of Commons. Symons termed as ‘ridiculous and misleading’ statements by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that the education problem was, quote, “A provincial responsibility.” Tom Symons went on to say, “As an occasional listener to radio, I have learned that two-way dialogue is a vital force in modern Canada.”

As Steven Stohn, one of the founders of Trent Radio, Arthur, and the Trent Student Union (which later became the Trent Central Student Association) once said to me of this small script, “If the reading was half-way decent, you were on the air!”
Obviously things have changed since then. CHEX Radio is now CHEX TV, Trent Radio has its own frequency, broadcasts 24 hours a day, and Steven Stohn and his wife went on to create Degrassi Junior High.

However, our criteria for being on the air hasn’t changed that much. It’s pretty easy to get involved, and especially to get involved in interesting ways.

For instance, being part of a radio drama. A radio drama is a play made for the ear, a story heard only through dialogue and sound effects, with bits of background music and creative ambiance. They are usually either five minutes or half an hour long. We’re always looking for more actors and, for the brave and the bold, writers.
People love acting. The key part is that you don’t actually have to be seen, just heard. It’s amazing how self-conscious we all get at even the slightest judgment of our appearance. So, instead, I embarrass people aurally by making them read out the T.H.B. Symons speech above. It has all the Can-con you could ever ask for, some tricky turns of phrase, and it feels rather topical for Trent University.

Someday I’ll take the hundreds of recordings I have for the speech and make a truly powerful T.H.B. Symons audio collage, but that’s another matter.

People love acting because you get to be someone else through your voice alone for about an hour and a half and then about a month later, when I’ve finished the editing, you get to hear your voice transformed into a very different role from your daily life.

You may have started off a nerdy first-year Politics student, but by the end of editing, you are the Steampunk Sasquatch—daring, mythical adventurer who flies his Tesla coil-powered zeppelin around the world… Or, whatever the drama was about.
They don’t need to be that silly, but when I’m writing the material, it usually ends up that way.

It’s much harder to recruit writers. People are less inclined to part with their baby and see it butchered by someone else’s reading. I’m in the minority opinion, that when an actor gets at your material, they find interesting things in it which you never intended.

So, I encourage people to take the plunge of submitting their writing for radio drama, but it’s hard to get volunteers. It can take me months to get from a potential writer saying, “Yeah, I’m interested!” to actually getting their script. The delay is always their self-conscious hang-up about how “it’s not that good!”
Well, frankly, I just wrote something about a sasquatch who wears a monocle, wristwatch and vest, and spends his days flying around the world in high adventure, so don’t talk to me about quality. What makes an idea good is its passion. If you like it that much, someone else will, too.

The rest – cleaning up dialogue, jumping over plot holes—that can all be taken care of later. But you have to start from a place of excitement, a place like, “Oh no, Steampunk Sasquatch! The Angry Baron is chasing us in a Spitfire Spaceship, the only World War II fighter plane capable of flying into space! How ever will we outrun it in this zeppelin?!”, to which the sasquatch growls, “Roar, roar, roar,” checks his wrist-watch and does some aerial calculations… Or, whatever the drama was about (perhaps a Trent University-themed Degrassi?).

This October 30 is the 75th anniversary of the first broadcast of Orson Welles’ adaptation of War of the Worlds, so I’m trying to focus on producing a lot of radio drama this year.

If you’re interested in doing some acting or writing some scripts, it’s as easy as coming out to the audition meeting on Friday, October 25 at 2pm at Trent Radio House, 715 George Street N, the corner of Parkhill and George. Alternatively, you can email me at…

Plus, you already know what I’m going to get you to read as the warm-up.

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