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Last updated: October 30, 2018

Producing Radio Plays WITH Children

Advice on producing radio plays with children as cast/crew. This is from a post I made to the radio drama e-mail discussion list. You may also want to see my advice on Writing Children's Radio Plays.

From: Tony "Sparx" Palermo
To: Radio Drama List

Subject: Radio Drama with Children

Someone  wrote that she was interested in finding radio scripts for children. Here's my advice:

Plays for Sale:

While there is a wealth of dramatic material available to perform IN FRONT OF children, it is generally for adult actors. Sadly, there is little of any kind of drama available for production BY children. You could try the Samuel French company which is a major vendor of plays and books on stagecraft: .

Audio Theatre for Children:

I created a family workshop program for the Museum of Television & Radio in both Los Angeles and New York.  Visit The Museum of Television & Radio - Re-creating Radio Workshop for more info.

I also conduct workshops for hire and provide scripts, scores and a detailed method for those interested in creating their own workshops. Contact me at 

Material Suitable for Children:

Please note that I do not write FOR children--meaning I do not write down to kids. I write radio dramas that both adults and children will like. I don't believe you need child characters in a drama for children to be interested. Radio drama is all about imagination. My plays let the kids become spacemen and gangsters and cowboys and pirates and crusaders. They know all about being children, why play one in an imaginative drama where anything is possible? So, when searching for material, try to find (or write) something that stretches the mind. Kids are great consumers of media, and radio drama is the only area where they can produce something that rivals the big guys.

Do-It-Yourself Considerations:

Finding radio dramas for production with children can be a little tough. My website's main page section of writing has links to script archives of Old-Time radio classics which you could download and use, but you must remember that most OTR classics were done with 4-5 actors and two sound effects artists. OTR shows are not risqué, but often very talky. Also, if you are going to work with a large group of children, you need a slightly different animal.

I've written twenty plays specifically for use in MT&R workshops with 15-20 participants. These plays have as many as 15 roles (however, I do observe the rule of radio where you only have 3-5 characters speaking at one time). I use up to 5 SFX artists--often having them layer manual sounds (like wind, thunder, rain, horses, and wagons) at the same time. This keeps everyone busy and makes for a lively show. My workshop plays have plenty of action since this provides more work for the SFX crew and keeps the actors and audience interested.

When working with children, I've found that ages 9-14 are the best for radio. The 9 year-olds can read well and are very enthusiastic. As you get older kids, they become "too cool" to emote. After age 14, they are ice cubes of cool. Good luck unless you're working with teen drama class actors. Try to limit the amount of dialogue you give any actor. They are not professionals and long passages will daunt them. Just the same, I never over-rehearse children (or adults) because it saps their performances.

Tony Palermo's Workshop Production Method:

I produce family workshop plays in two hours--from audition to playback. My plays run the OTR standard 25 minutes. First I audition everyone using short custom monologues, then I TELL the group the story, then split the actors from the SFX crew. I DO NOT do a traditional "first read through". Instead, I hand the actors scripts--with their lines highlighted (FYI: Green & Pink hi-lighters work best in dimly lit studios). I have the actors only read over their OWN lines--and I have them say the lines aloud, several times, to teach their tongues the words. I then huddle with each actor to give them direction as to their character's motivation and manner. This takes maybe 15 minutes total. It's live radio, you've gotta work fast!

Meanwhile my SFX chief is demonstrating our manual SFX and rehearsing cues with the SFX artists. We then begin a cue rehearsal, with cast and crew, of the entire play--stopping for mis-pronunciations and bungled SFX cues. We take a short break and then plunge into the recording. It's amazing how an often terrible rehearsal turns into a fine performance.

I would go back and do pickup re-recordings for certain lines, but the MT&R generally has a "Live radio" ethic, so we don't stop for mistakes.

That's maybe info more than Barbara was looking for, but it may help other list members see how they can bring radio drama to the masses. If not over the air, then in the classroom.

TONY PALERMO is a radio playwright, professional sound effects artist, radio director, composer, and educator based in Los Angeles, California.

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