Jane Austen on Radio Medium-specific characteristics ofradio playsConventions of a Jane Austen radioadaptationHow the above determine the waysin which a novel is rewritten
Radio Drama’s Medium-Specific Characteristics a) Language: Emphasis on dialogue to create and sustain situations b) Voice – used to cover the idiolect of a character; hence emphasis given to intonation, pronouncing: verbal ‘music’
Radio Drama’s Medium-Specific Characteristics (2) c) Noise – sound-effects assume more importance, as well as a way to denote setting d) Music – not only connoting an atmosphere but suggesting certain emotions e) Cutting and Fading – helping to structure a radio piece as well as denoting changes of setting f) Mixing – the use of different acoustic signals to generate meaning, for example, when footsteps get louder to denote the approach of a character into the scene
Listen to this extract from Emma Note the use of sounds to set the occasion Cutting and Fading to denote the arrival of the horse and cart Music to define Emma’s accomplishments Mixing behind Mr. Woodhouse and Emma’s dialogue – the crackle of the fire, the rustle of clothing
What can radio drama do that television and film cannot? Focus listeners’ attention on the voices and/or words Create situations with a minimum of sound- effects Create an atmosphere of intimacy which is especially useful in one, two or three- character exchanges (the basic structure of any radio adaptation)
Listen to an extract from Pride and Prejudice: Note the overlapping sound Note also the use of ‘Jane Austen’ as a narrator. She becomes a character in her own drama; listeners can either trust or question what she tells us. Hence radio drama is very good at stressing ‘point of view technique’
What radio drama cannot do Create large crowd scenes Focus on nuances of character through nonverbal means (cf. the close-up on film) Suggest a change of time-location (e.g. updating Pride and Prejudice to Clueless)
What strategies can adapters employ instead? An emphasis on contrasting tones of voice to denote character, to show differences of age, experience, interior reflection, etc. An emphasis on what is NOT said as well as what it is said – emphasis on pauses, silences, caesuras: as in this extract between Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Why are classic novels adapted for radio, especially on the BBC? Since 1922 the Home Service (now Radio 4) has regularly broadcast the Classic Serial, as part of the BBC’s wish to inform, educate and entertain. Books are adapted into 3, 4, or even 8 episodes & broadcast in 60-minute segments on Sundays at 3 p.m. and with a Saturday repeat at 9 p.m. (currently)
Casting Theatre actors and stars in leading roles Members of the BBC Radio Drama Company (founded 1940), with specific ‘radio voices,’ appearing in different adaptations Hence listeners are offered the pleasures of familiarity when they hear actors in an Austen adaptation
Style Classic Serials are intended for middlebrow audiences – unlike material on BBC Radio 3, the arts and culture channel – like Masterpiece Theatre Writers should focus on “story, story, story, with characters who follow through from episode to episode.” Hence the decision to create ‘Jane Austen’ as a specific character
Mode Passages lifted verbatim from Austen’s text spoken direct by the narrator to listeners – as in this extract from Mansfield Park: These are used to set the scene as well as comment on the preceding action
Most exchanges conducted as one- or two- person dialogue: partly for the sake of economy & partly to focus attention on character and story, as in this extract from Sense and Sensibility Sound-effects set the scene
Outcomes Classic Serials should be narrative-driven, “getting the audience to fall in love with a character is as important as getting them gripped by the story” (BBC Guidelines) By this means classic serials can prompt reflection on the relationship between characters and their author, especially in Austen. “We want the listener to be able to see how characters affect their creator” (Michelene Wandor).
Or sometimes, we are asked to reflect on the character’s status as narrator/ communicator to listeners, as in Emma, where the eponymous central character advances the story after having accepted Mr. Knightley’s suit:
Radio drama lets you fall in love with a character, but also promptsquestioning of their motives and/oractions. This is why Austen proves so enduringly popular as a subjectfor commissioners & listeners alike
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