The radio play is back, and with a contemporary twist.
Toronto-based Expect Theatre is launching their new digital theatre initiative, entitled PlayME, on Jan. 14. It is an experiment artistic directors Laura Mullin and Chris Tolley expect will make listeners more cognizant of new plays and emerging artists in the Canadian theatre scene.
PlayME will produce an annual season of audio plays, which will be released through serialized podcasts on a weekly basis. Users will be able to listen to podcasts online, and can also download and listen to them on the go.
Mullin says this initiative seems like a natural fit in our “on demand” world.
“Chris and I have been in theatre for many years and I think we can speak for many people in the theatre community and say it is a very hard thing to get work out there … sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes you have work that doesn’t get seen or you see a friend’s show and they have trouble getting it out there. This is just a great way to help grow the awareness of Canadian playwrights and plays,” she says.
Through PlayME, Mullin and Tolley say they will be giving opportunities to both emerging and established artists to have their work be heard and, they hope, eventually seen in traditional theatres.
“We try to see (PlayME) as a gateway drug to getting people to buy tickets to the theatre,” Tolley says. “Hopefully, people who don’t traditionally go to theatre will get to know a certain playwright, (and) will get to know particular performers.”
Tolley adds that the initiative can also serve as a beneficial tool for artistic directors, who can use it to stay up to date on new content by listening to the podcasts.
In terms of the types of technology and tools used in the making of the podcasts, Tolley notes that he and Mullin are not willing to abandon traditional methods altogether.
“(PlayME) is this great crossover of (old and new). We have this incredible digital technology that makes recording audio accessible to anyone, but at the same time, you have the old-fashioned Foley world where you can make rain with rice and tin foil … and our hope is that this is a way of sort of keeping it alive.”
The pair is looking for “current, edgy and innovative work,” Mullin says. She adds that because PlayME is a digital theatre, she and Tolley have a lot of flexibility in terms of producing content that reflects current issues.
“Unlike a regular theatre, we don’t have to plan our season a year in advance. If something happens in the world and we find a script that reflects that, that can go out in the world,” she says.
Tolley notes that the drawback to traditional theatregoing is that if someone wants to see a play that is not in close proximity to where they reside, they have a very specific amount of time to make it to the show before the end of its run. With PlayME, time and spatial limitations disappear. The podcasts are accessible nationally and internationally.
“We are trying to not take away from the theatregoing experience, but to add to it,” Mullin says. “We hope (listeners) get drawn into different worlds and into these plays, and incorporate them into their podcast playlist … we hope they will really gain a familiarity of theatre artists in Canada.”
Users will be able to listen to PlayME content at www.playmepodcast.com, beginning on Jan. 14, free of charge. The first podcast of the 2016 season will be Agamemnon by Nicolas Billon, which is currently playing at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.