Jonathan Groff made headlines when he starred in the first original podcast musical last summer, championing the show (36 Questions) and the medium that could help bring theatres to wider audiences.
Lifelong theatrelovers bemoan the escalating price of tickets, as well, there is a solution: Playing on Air. Spearheaded by artistic director Claudia Catania, the free radio show/podcast is dedicated entirely to the production of short theatrical works as radio plays.
Whether commissioning new works from America’s great playwrights—like Lynn Nottage, John Patrick Shanley, and Christopher Durang, or rising talents like Jesse Eisenberg, Julia Cho, and Rachel Bonds, or recording early works by winning writers like Doug Wright—Playing on Air increases the accessibility of quality theatre to theatre-hungry audiences.
The outlet has also become a welcome testing ground for authors to try new material while giving audiences the chance to hear these works done by theatrical powerhouses. Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, Oscar– and Tony-nominated actor Michelle Williams, and Tony winner John Leguizamo have all lent their voices to Playing on Air.
“When it’s a day-long commitment, look who you get!” exclaims Wright, whose Wildwood Park is now available for listening, starring Tony winner Denis O’Hare and Tony nominee Kristine Nielsen. “These are people you would kill to work with for four weeks in a rehearsal hall, but because it’s an afternoon commitment, they can come in and bring all their brilliance in a matter of hours.”
Watching Nielsen and O’Hare work (see the video above), performing the play is a hybrid of stage acting, voiceover work, even skills from film and television as they record in chunks and out of order, at times. “Radio plays allow the range of size of performance,” says director Wilson.
But Playing on Air is more than just theatre; it’s a performance combined with a talk-back. Partnering with radio stations across 21 states, the podcast broadcasts shorts (ten to 30 minutes) paired with raw artist interviews.
“We [as a society] have evolved now to the point where we still do a lot of listening,” says O’Hare. “We still use our imaginations.”
Watch O’Hare and Nielsen record a full scene from Wildwood Park below: