Staying Creative in Quarantine
Beth Keehn reports on how Brisbane’s Minola Theatre has reworked Bianca Butler Reynolds’ ‘Begotten’ as an audio drama.
Earlier this year, the Minola Theatre team was preparing their new play, Begotten, as a one-woman show to premiere at BackDock Arts, a small 50-seater former visual art space in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. And then, the lockdown put paid to their plans. Instead of cancelling, the team decided to repurpose Bianca Butler Reynolds’ play as an audio drama instead. She spoke to Stage Whispers about the creative process this has entailed to get the new audio play ready for audiences, and she uncovers how the lockdown period has unleashed new creativity for the company.
Stage Whispers (SW): Had you ever considered radio or audio as a medium before?
Bianca Butler Reynolds (BBR): Before the lockdown, I had never thought of doing an audio drama! So, you could say that at least part of this period has actually been a blessing in disguise. It has definitely opened us up to another way of working. And it could allow us to potentially reach a wider audience too.
SW: Tell us about the play, Begotten, and what advantages audio brings to the piece.
BBR: Obviously Begotten was written for live performance, but it was always designed to be a one-woman show, featuring five women who are different generations of the same family. It covers a 100-year period: we start with a woman in the present and move back through the previous four generations to the family’s origins in Ireland.
As well as being the writer, my role as the actor is obviously to play all of these characters and differentiate them. Being monologue based, the piece did lend itself to an audio drama format more so than many plays would – the scene building happens verbally. That was an easy adaptation to make. We also realised that one advantage of digital audio is that it is so easy to share beyond our usual live performance. This is a wonderful opportunity to share a new piece of work and reach a wider audience.
SW: Are you livestreaming the performance?
BBR: The piece is going to be a downloadable audio play – a radio play format. While we won’t be streaming live, we will premiere with a live listening party. Director, Kat Dekker, and I will look at doing a live stage performance after the lockdown – but we think it works equally well in the two different formats.
SW: Tell us about how you worked to focus on the sound: did it change the language of the script, or your performance?
BBR: I think because I’d already written Begotten in monologue form, the language was already quite descriptive. Because it is just me on stage, I really need that strong language to evoke the world for each person. So, the language itself didn’t really alter – but the presentation certainly did.
To create the audio drama, we hired a post-production sound designer and editor – Siobhan Finniss. She’s designed a whole soundscape to enhance the world and make it more vivid. The piece now has interspersed music and sound effects, which has really elevated it in the way it works for audio. Siobhan has also created subtle auditory motifs that recur throughout for each character. If someone is listening closely they’ll hear it.
In terms of what I can manage in voicing each character, I’ve had to pull out all the stops. In the original version, we were going to use different physicality, costume changes and lighting, a luxury we won’t have now – so I’ve had to see what I can do in terms of creating vocal range and working with my own voice as a medium.
We were always going to use music to cover logistics such as costume changes, but now we have a full soundscape that is really rich and engaging… I think that’s been a wonderful addition to the piece. It has been interesting to see what aspects of podcasting we can draw on while using the radio/film technique of having a Foley artist to create sound effects that actually bring the world to life. Siobhan has been really exhaustive in going through the script and finding – and creating – audio sources to spell out what’s being described. No spoilers – but there is a stabbing in the script and I think Siobhan has used something interesting to get the required sound!
SW: Has it been easy to continue to collaborate given the lockdown restrictions?
BBR: That has been one of the really interesting challenges of the process – the three of us are all in different houses, so at no point have we been able to sit down together in person. It has also been technically challenging – I’ve had to find a way of soundproofing a room in my apartment so I could successfully record my pieces. My husband has done some podcasting work so he’s helped me with microphones and equipment. We have stuffed all our blankets into a corner to avoid bouncing sound!
SW: How have you re-worked the rehearsal process?
BBR:I ’ve recorded multiple takes of the same chunk of dialogue over and over and we created a sound sheet – like a rushes log of dialogue with several takes. Kat listens to all the takes, works out which ones she likes the best, and then sends them across to Siobhan who edits it all together and adds her soundscape layers. Siobhan shares what she’s built – we listen to it and offer any notes or revisions. It was a staggered process – but we made it work. Siobhan and I were both able to deliver one segment per week as a draft version to get Kat’s feedback.
SW: What was the inspiration for the piece – do you have family history in Ireland?
BBR: Well, the key inspiration was finishing my PhD in playwriting. I was working on an ensemble family drama and exploring family drama through scriptwriting – looking at the rich psychological territory of families, and how a child’s personality develops in relation to their parents and their siblings. I was interested in looking at themes of heredity and what gets passed down, even unconsciously, between generations.
And yes, I do have Irish family roots… and unfortunately the lockdown meant I had to cancel the trip I’d planned for a year to go and visit my ancestral country – but, like everyone’s lockdown interruptions, it’s simply meant those plans are on hold for now.
Join the Begotten Listening Party launch on 16 May:
Find out about Minola Theatre: https://minolatheatre.com.au/