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Liberty Theater airs first radio drama

Alex Miller, left, and Kelli Overmyer read lines for "OCD" in the Victory FM studio.

"Playhouse of the Airwaves" — Liberty University’s first radio drama, written and performed entirely by Liberty students — aired its first broadcast this summer on Victory FM and recently released it via podcast for those who were unable to tune in.

A product of the Liberty University Department of Theatre Arts, "Playhouse" rewards aspiring writers and actors for academic excellence within the program. Students gain real-world experience in either script writing or voiceover acting and get to showcase their talents to an expansive audience.  

Each 30-minute broadcast features its own original script, written by a theater student for a playwriting class, and then formatted for radio. Actors are selected within the department to portray the characters.

The inaugural show, "OCD," was written by Jamie Cloutier (’12) and deals with conflict and struggles associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The story involves a married couple who have both humorous and serious interactions stemming from the husband's condition.

“I pulled from more than one personal source and brought the conflict to life in the two characters of Gerry and Maggie,” Cloutier said.

The radio drama is the brainchild of David Steele ('11), theatre media specialist and producer and director of "Playhouse of the Airwaves," who pitched the idea to Linda Nell Cooper, theatre department chair, in January. Production began during the spring semester. Steele drew much of his inspiration for "Playhouse" from the popular Christian children’s radio drama "Adventures in Odyssey," of which he has been a fan since he was a child. His vision has been to create a similar broadcast for adults.

“There is something lost in the art of radio drama for adults,” he said. “With the radio, all you have is the storyline and the actors; everything else is completely up to your imagination. You can just close your eyes and picture it in your head if you want to.”

He said it differs greatly from stage or film, where you have a director dictating their ideas about what various visual elements should look like.

Victory FM, a broadcast service of Liberty University, had been interested in collaborating with the theatre department for some time and was excited to help out. Mark Edwards, Victory’s music/production director, provided the station’s recording studio and equipment for "Playhouse."

“Victory FM has a history with radio drama — with 'Adventures in Odyssey,' 'Lamplighter Theatre,' etc. — and our audience enjoys it,” Edwards said. “It is a natural tie for us to work with the theatre department and we are excited to be able to further promote its talent and growth, as well as the numerous productions.”

Though there is no academic credit involved for participants, "Playhouse" adds a valuable tool to their arsenal.

Actors receive training and experience in voiceover acting, which has enormous possibilities in terms of career options, with video games, commercials, and even telephone menus requiring voice talent, Steele explained.

“There are so many more complexities to radio acting and to voice acting that students do not understand until they get into the real world … and you can’t do it unless you have had experience,” he said.

For writers, it not only gives them exposure to an audience, but also grants them a unique, professional learning experience. Cooper chose a couple plays she deemed as excellent from her script writing class and Steele narrowed it down to "OCD" because of its balance between heart-wrenching drama and light humor.

Cloutier got a real-life taste for the editing process as she collaborated with Steele to cut certain scenes and elements so her play, originally written for the stage, could suit the radio audience and meet time constraints.

About 21 theater students auditioned for the characters and Steele chose Alex Miller and Kelli Overmyer to fill the play’s two roles. He explained that the selection process involved not only acting talent and ability to depict emotion effectively, but also connection to and the right voice for the character.

Since Steele had never produced a radio drama before, he interviewed a sound designer with "Adventures in Odyssey" to learn what is involved with production and received some post-production consultation from Edwards.

In addition, Steele spent many hours doing research and learning new techniques, including the art of Foley sound (creating/reproducing sound effects for a production).

To bring the story to life, he worked to include sound effects to make the scenes feel more authentic, and edited and layered them with music and the actors’ voices. This process took more time than editing the script, rehearsing, and recording combined.

When Cloutier finally heard her story’s finished product for the first time, shortly after it aired, she said she was overwhelmed with emotion.

“I loved it, and I cried. It was really crazy to hear the sound effects that were in my head come to life on the radio, and to have the emotion of the characters not seen as they would be onstage, but truly heard.”

With the airing of "Playhouse of the Airwaves'" first show, Steele hopes to produce and air one broadcast per semester with plans to expand as the process becomes more streamlined, including a mini-series.

  • Victory FM can be heard on its network of more than 30 full-power stations and translators throughout Virginia and North Carolina. It has been reaching people through Christian music and Bible teaching programs since 1981. As the flagship for the Flames Sports Network, it has provided coverage for Liberty University football and basketball. It also airs the Liberty Journal radio program Monday through Friday, reporting on news and events from the university.