April 6, 2021 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Faculty members and students from Liberty University’s School of Communication & the Arts (SCA) were recognized by the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) this month for their work on the radio drama series “The Encounter.” An SCA student was also recognized for her short-form audio story.
The BEA is the premiere international academic media organization with a pool of over 1,300 award entries in its annual Festival of Media Arts this year, representing over 250 colleges and universities in the following competitions: audio, documentary, film & video, interactive multimedia, news, scriptwriting, and sports.
“The Encounter,” which began in 2015, is a mystery drama set in a dystopian future and told in 15-minute episodes written, performed, and produced by students and faculty of SCA, namely the Theatre Arts and Digital Media & Journalism departments. The audio series is available on its website, iTunes, and Spotify.
The awards are broken into faculty and students awards. This year, two episodes won Awards of Excellence in Long-Form Production under the faculty category, following a record of success for the radio drama. “The Encounter” has received at least one award from BEA in each year of eligibility and 11 in total.
As producers of the series since the beginning, theatre arts professor Christopher Nelson and digital media professor Kornel Gerstner said they each bring the students and skills from their neighboring departments to the production.
“That collaboration of faculty and students is something that makes it fun for everyone involved,” Nelson said. “We’ve found that other schools are wanting to do it, but it’s not easily replicated because of the collaborative nature of the two departments. The key is the collaborative nature and the multiple ways we use the students.”
This combination also allows for growth and learning for the students involved at each step of the process, and Gerstner added that he’s used some of his audio courses as opportunities for students to contribute to the production.
“I used my DIGI 290 (Post Production Sound Design) class to create sound design for some episodes and DIGI 334 (Intermediate Audio Production) where students could come in (to the studio) and be a part of the recording sessions,” Gerstner said. “This is not an overnight project and we’re talking about close to 100 people being involved in the writing, recording, editing, and the rest of it. Some students use it as their (degree-required) internship too.”
Nelson added that from the theatre arts side, the radio drama is “a form of performance that we don’t really have a curriculum for and it gives them additional support before they graduate by diversifying their talents and skills for jobs. It’s also revealed to some students that this is what they’re best at.”
The storytelling medium of audio has seen a resurgence with podcasting and sharing content in a “bite-size” format, and Nelson said that making “The Encounter” in this way has opened doors for new industry opportunities, such as hosting the audio convention “Sonic-Con” on Liberty’s campus last fall. The convention will be held at Liberty again this fall, from Oct. 22-24.
“Sonic-Con was a natural follow-up to this because there is so much going on in the audio industry and when we did Sonic-Con, we realized just how many people are making programs like this,” he said. “Also, people of faith have been doing it for a while, and so this is a great opportunity to seize some territory and become part of the industry because organizations like Focus on the Family and others have been here already.”
Gerstner explained that the series tells its story through a Christian perspective and has themes related to faith, citing Focus on the Family’s popular audio series “Adventures in Odyssey” as an inspiration. Having talked to those who worked on the program, Gerstner said those behind “The Encounter” have learned what it takes to make a successful, Christian-influenced radio series and are preparing for future seasons.
“Many of us grew up on ‘Adventures in Odyssey’ … and now that they are coming to be a part of Sonic-Con, they’ve let us into their circle and in a way passed the baton to us,” Gerstner said. “If the story is good, you know your target audience, and you’re consistent with what you’re putting out, people will tune in. Five years ago, I don’t think we thought about (reaching) Season 7, but all of this has unfolded and the ripple effect has brought it to today.”
The new seasons of “The Encounter” will be recorded and edited in Liberty’s new radio station in Marie F. Green Hall. Season 4 of “The Encounter” is expected to begin airing this spring.
In the student BEA awards categories, junior digital media-audio student Moriah Sprinkel earned third place in the Best Student Educational Program category with her short audio story “Clouds.”
The project was created in one of her audio production courses. The five-minute piece, available to online, tells an interwoven story of a girl who admires the beauty of the clouds and an art critic who is given the credit for a praised mural instead of the artist.
“It was an incredible encouragement to get the award, and I was really proud of my story and how it turned out,” Sprinkel said. “It was something that I really wanted to do, and it was rewarding to see it get accepted like it did.”