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Last updated: October 30, 2018

How to Prepare Radio Play Scripts for Production

Advice on producing RuyaSonic's radio play scripts.  If you'd like to produce one of my shows, see the listing of my radio plays.

Preparing Actors' scripts, plus the Sound effects artists' and engineer’s binders

In order to produce my radio plays in a timely and efficient manner, you will need to have Sound Effects and Engineer’s binders prepared before you begin rehearsal. You will also need to have the actors’ scripts highlighted with their dialogue lines. It’ll take some time, but this kind of preparation makes for more efficient rehearsals--and performances.

Each RuyaSonic radio play script contains all the necessary pages for making the SFX and ENG binders. You only need to assemble them and mark them up with colored highlighter pens.

For each show (Christmas Carol, Wonderful Life!, Headless Horseman, Auntie Scrooge, Nativity Play, etc.) follow the steps below.

NOTE: This prep method can be used for radio plays other than mine, but my RuyaSonic radio scripts are formatted in the classic 1940s radio network-style. Conventional stage-play booklets are difficult for radio-on-stage productions because the booklets have cramped text, unclear cues, italics, etc. Take a look at an example of a professionally-formatted radio play script [PDF] and you will understand why clarity is so important when doing a live radio play, on-stage or in the studio.


1) Preparing the Master Radio Play Script

Print-out of the entire document, locate the actual performance script pages. These consist of the title page, followed by the cast listing, an optional glossary page, then the script itself--which ends with “THE END.” Stop there. This is what you will make copies of for everyone to work from. If you need to create the SFX and ENG binders, you will start with the dialogue pages and add in the appendix pages marked "SFX" or "ENG" in the top right hand corner.

First, mark up a master script:

RuyaSonic radio play scripts contain pages of music, dialogue and sound cues that look like this:

      3. MUSIC:             DANGER THEME--ESTABLISH--FADE UNDER.

      4* JOHNNY-BOY:        Look out! They've thrown a refrigerator out the window!

      5. SOUND:             REFRIGERATOR CRASH. WALLA-SCREAMS.

     6* SUZANNE:          (GASP) Oh no! Johnny-Boy's flatter than a pancake!

      7. NARRATOR:          (SIGH) Sadly, Johnny-Boy wound up just one more ghost.

                            Meanwhile, Kitty had to deal with ghosts of a different sort...

Add the timing "Q" marks:

In radio drama, an ensemble must coordinate delivery of their cues at just the right time. For example, music must be established before allowing an actor to speak; Or, a sound effect must be fully heard before letting an actor react to it. These require timing coordination. The RuyaSonic radio play scripts have asterisks beside the cue numbers to alert the director, cast and crew that they must pay attention to this cue at a timing determined by the director. In rehearsal (or performance), the director may point to a actor or SFX artist exactly when they want them to begin a line or SFX cue. OR, sometimes the performer must merely be conscious that they should delay delivery  until the previous cue reaches a desired point. The script indicates when these important timing cues occur. To make these cues stand out in the script, add a hand-written timing "Q" mark to the master script. All other copies made from this master script will contain these timing Q marks.

Take the master script and, using a Sharpie-style marker, hand-write a large "Q" besides any cues with an asterisk. In the example below, look for a cue number followed by an asterisk--as in  cues #4 and #6.  Make a  large  “Q” mark besides the cue number. These timing Qs generally occur after underlined music cues or SFX cues. 

EXAMPLE:

      3. MUSIC:             DANGER THEME--ESTABLISH--FADE UNDER.

   Q 4* JOHNNY-BOY:        Look out! They've thrown a refrigerator out the window!

      5. SOUND:             REFRIGERATOR CRASH. WALLA-SCREAMS.

   Q 6* SUZANNE:          (GASP) Oh no! Johnny-Boy's flatter than a pancake!

      7. NARRATOR:          (SIGH) Sadly, Johnny-Boy wound up just one more ghost.

                            Meanwhile, Kitty had to deal with ghosts of a different sort.


2: Script Copy Logistics and Office Supplies

  •  Now you will take your marked-up master script and make copies.

    • Make ONE-SIDED copies (one script-page per sheet of paper). Do NOT print "duplex" (with text on both sides of the paper)--that makes it difficult for an actor, reading live, to easily advance from page to page.
       
    • You can either print on no-hole paper or print on 3-hole paper--either way is fine. However, with no-hole paper you will need staples to hold the pages together. A script of 60-pages requires 3/8" staples and a good heavy-duty stapler, such as the Swingline Platinum--at Amazon.

      While you could use 3/4" staples for 100-page scripts, those scripts tend to be a bit bulky for actors to hold at a mic and easily turn pages. For longer scripts, you may choose to break actors' scripts into two parts--say, Act 1 & 2 together, then Act 3. (or Act 1 by itself and Act 2 & 3 together).
       
    •  BETTER YET, if you print the scripts on 3-hole paper, you can fasten them with a single loose-leaf ring (1-1/2") in the upper-left hole. This method makes for easy, quiet page-turns. Get something like the Clipco 1.5 inch Book Rings--at Amazon. Again, you may wish to break long scripts into two parts. Get enough rings for each actor, needing 1 or 2 rings.
       
    •  NOTE: Do NOT use binders for actor's scripts. Binders cause noisy page-turns and the double-wide orientation makes it hard for 2 or 3 actors to share the same mic.
       
  •  To mark up scripts for actors, engineers, and SFX artists, you'll need colored highlighters.
  • Sharpie's Orange highlighters are great for radio-on-stage-shows  
    Sharpie's Accent chisel tip highlighters are great for radio-on-stage-shows

    Note that yellow highlighting in scripts may not show up well with stage-lighting or in dimly-lit studios. I prefer ORANGE Sharpie Accent highlighters, get a 12-pack like this set--at Amazon.

    You will also need several different color highlighters for the various cues in engineer's and SFX artists' script binders. Get something like these Sharpie accent highlighters, multi-colored 12-pack -- at Amazon
     

  • For the engineer's and SFX artists' binders, get 4 binders (1 for engineer, 3 for SFX) to hold their scripts and special instruction pages. Use 3-ring style binders with, 1" to 1-1/2" rings, (depending on the number of script pages). I suggest something like this 3-ring 1" binder 4-pack--at Amazon. Big rings make for easy page turns.
     
  • To make for quiet, easy page-turning and increased visibility, all pages in the engineer's and SFX artist's binders should be put in plastic sheet-protectors. Wait until you've color-highlighted their scripts before inserting the pages into the plastic sheet-protectors. And when you insert them, the pages should be back-to-back--like a novel--so you can always see two pages at one glance. This allows engineers and SFX artists to see ahead for their upcoming cues.

    Note that because the pages are back-to-back, you only need only half the number of plastic sheet-protectors as there are script pages--per binder. Get anti-glare, top-load, 8.5 x 11 plastic sheet-protectors like these--at Amazon.
  • For a script up to 65-pages, 200 plastic-sheet protectors are enough to make 4 binders. If your script is longer, get a bigger binder and more plastic sheet-protectors.

3) Preparing Radio Actors' Scripts

Highlight dialogue for all characters:

NOTE: Yellow highlighting tends to disappear on-stage (and in dimly-lit studios). Orange, pink and green highlighters show up much better. Minimize use of yellow.

For each character in the show, write the character's name on the title page and take an orange, pink or green highlighter to highlight just the dialogue for that character.  Do NOT highlight the character name along with their dialogue. See below..  

EXAMPLE:

For the Narrator's script, write "NARRATOR" on the title page and highlight only the Narrator's lines.

    7. NARRATOR:         (SIGH) Sadly, Johnny-Boy wound up as just one more ghost.

                                       Meanwhile, Kitty had to deal with ghosts of a different sort.

Here, the highlight begins with the parenthetical delivery instruction of (SIGH) and ends with the spoken-words “different sort.” Highlight the dialogue for each major character. If you have more character roles than cast members, consult the cast listing page of the script to determine which roles can be combined, then use a different color to highlight the secondary roles in an actor’s script. When actors are doubling up roles, their script will have two different colors in it. Using different colors make it easier for an actor to keep straight which voice to use when playing two characters in one scene--they can even talk to each other.

Actor's scripts should be stapled in the upper left corner--to make for easy page turning. DO NOT USE binders for actor's scripts--they do noisy page-turns and the double-wide orientation makes it hard for actors to share the same mic.


4) Prepare the Engineer's Binder

Begin with one of the master Q copies and then take the non-script pages--the Engineer's section from the appendix. In RuyaSonic scripts, the Engineering section begins with ENG-1 in the top most right hand corner. Put that section into the script just before page-1/cue-1 (the dialogue section).

Use several highlighter pens for the Engineer's binder: pink, orange and green are good.

Music Cues:

Use the pink pen to highlight all the music cues in the script--for example:

1.  MUSIC: [A-1]                     INTRO THEME. UP AND UNDER. CONTINUE UNDER.


Highlight that entire line with a pink (or magenta) horizontal line. Cover ALL the words of the cue in color.

       1.  MUSIC: [A-1]                     INTRO THEME. UP AND UNDER. CONTINUE UNDER.

NOTE: The bracketed code, [A-1] indicates using playback device "A" and track number "1". This device could be a CD-player, an MP3 player, or a PC triggering MP3 files or samples. If more than one playback device is suggested, you will see other codes referring to them,  [B-2] for example. I generally recommend using two playback devices, because it allows you to quickly go from one cue to another and even cross-fade between them. Additionally, you can trigger music and pre-recorded sound effects tracks using two playback devices--one for each.

Now determine how long the music cue should play.

Is it merely a "bridge" between scenes--with no dialogue to be accompanied by music? If so, highlight just the music cue.

Does the music play underneath dialogue? If so,

Paying attention to the cue instructions (such as “LET FINISH” or “CONTINUE”, etc.), listen to the music track and read the dialogue aloud while the cue is playing. Read at a natural pace--maybe even a bit slower than normal. Notice where the cue fades or ends. Draw a vertical highlighter line beginning with where that music cue started, on down through the dialogue and SFX cues to where the music track ended. Bridges will be very short and beds very long.  In some cases, the music must end at a particular point--such as the end of a scene or action sequence. Indicate that with a short horizontal highlighter line at the end of the vertical line--looking like an upside down "T". In other cases, you may wish to fade out the cue under the dialogue. Indicate that fade with a wavy vertical line--like an "S". Repeat this procedure for all music cues in the script.

Effects Device Cues:

Review the information on page marked ENG-1 and see if reverbs or telephone filters are required for the program. If they are used, read through the script looking for production notes about filters or reverbs and also for dialogue lines beginning with [FILTER] or [REVERB]. If you find any, make a short green horizontal mark highlighting the character’s name and the effect label.

Note: The "filter" is an electronic device that simulates a telephone or walky-talky radio effect. You may wish to use a manual device to get this effect--like having the actor speak into a plastic cup or coffee mug. If you use an electronic filter, then the engineer may have to turning the effect on, or the actor may have to go to a special microphone. In all cases, highlight the ENG script so the engineer knows this line is supposed to have the effect.

7. OPERATOR:  [FILTER] What number are you dialing?

Here you would use a green highlighter to color the script in a horizontal line from “OPERATOR:”  to the end of [FILTER].

        7. OPERATOR:  [FILTER] What number are you dialing?

If the character has more effected dialogue below this line, then draw a vertical line through their lines until they are done using the [FILTER]  This will indicate to the engineer just how long the effect is in use.

For reverb effects, you will do the same highlighting, but use the orange highlighter. (Don't use blue, because often the tech booth employs blue lights--which would cause any blue highlighting invisible.)

Put script pages into plastic sheet-protectors

Once the music and effects device cues have been highlighted in the Engineer's script, put the script pages into plastic page covers in the ENG binder. Arrange pages so that Page 1 and Page 2 will open together--with page 1 on the left and page 2 on the right. Then insert all other pages back-to-back this way. Now the engineer has two pages open at a time and can see ahead when the show is performed.  


5) Prepare the Sound Effects Binders

From the non-script pages--the ones in the appendix--take the pages that have SFX-1 through SFX-3 or SFX-14 in the top most right hand corner and put them into the script just before page-1/cue-1 of the dialogue script.

For the SFX binder, use several highlighter pens: orange, pink, blue, green, etc. 

Starting with the listing of Sound Effects Roles, use one color to highlight all the SFX for each SFX artist. Highlight all of these in say, green.

EXAMPLE:

SOUND EFFECTS ARTIST #1:
FOOTSTEPS.
WIND MACHINE.
CRASHING.

Proceed to the other artists and do the same using other colors.

EXAMPLE:

SOUND EFFECTS ARTIST #4:
THUNDER RUMBLING.
FLAPPING WINGS.
DOOR KNOCKS

POUNDING ON DOOR

Then go to pages SFX-2 and SFX-3 and use the same colors to highlight that artist’s SFX for the  “How to” information. This will be used to train the SFX artist.

Then move onto the script pages. Look for the SOUND cues and when you see an entry for say, FOOTSTEPS, highlight it in the same color that you used to highlight the SFX artist for that sound.

EXAMPLE:

     6. NARRATOR:   Jimmy froze when he heard the lynch mob arrive at his door. They meant business.

     7. SOUND:      FOOTSTEPS. DOOR KNOCKS (3X)

   8. JIMMY:      Um... Jimmy's not here right now.

   9. SOUND:      POUNDING ON DOOR (5X) WALLA--ANGRY MOB.

Here, you would use the green highlighter for the FOOTSTEPS--indicating that SFX Artist #1 perform the footsteps sound effects. If the sound continues through other dialogue or music cues, draw a vertical highlight to indicate how long the sound should last. It’s up to you to decide just how long the effect is necessary. Decide for yourself, but keep in mind that the FOOTSTEPS must end before some other SFX cue for SFX Artist #1 comes up. You normally don’t want the same SFX artist to have to create two sounds at once.

The Door Knocks would be performed by SFX Artist #4. The WALLA would be by either designated cast members or the SFX team or a separate WALLA team.

Repeat this step for each sound effect until all are highlighted. If you have several SFX books to make, do one master book first and then use it as a model for the other books. It can take an hour to finish five SFX books.

If you have a lot of walla-crowd sounds, don’t include the walla highlighting in the SFX books. I often make a separate book just for walla cues. If I have more actors than I have main speaking roles, I can give them the Walla book and let them perform the walla.

Put script pages into plastic sheet protectors

Once the sound effects cues have been highlighted in the SFX script, put the script pages into plastic page covers. Arrange pages so that Page 1 and Page 2 will open together--with page 1 on the left and page 2 on the right. Then insert all other pages back to back this way. Now the SFX artists will have two pages open at a time and can see ahead when the show is performed.



6) Tony's Radio Play Production Method

At workshops, I can produce my short (25-minute) "genre" radio plays in about two hours--that's from auditions to rehearsal to performance/recording. Longer plays (60-minutes to 100-minutes) take more time--say 3 to 4 hours.

Stage-play veterans marvel at how quickly a troupe can produce quality work, but the method I use is how 1930s-1960s network shows were produced. On a radio network, the sheer number of shows aired each day required an extremely efficient system of production. This system skipped standard stage-play rehearsal methods. There were no table-reads, no blocking rehearsals, no multiple run-throughs, no giving director's notes only at the end of a run, etc.

However, there isn't only one way to produce radio plays. Traditional stage-play rehearsal methods can supplement my method--if only to make actors (or directors) feel familiar with the process.


Preparation

Following the instructions in steps 1-5 above, I have highlighted each actor's script for their specific characters' dialogue--as described above. Similarly, the SFX binders have been highlighted as to which crewmember does which sound effect cue in the script. The engineer's binder has also been prepped, highlighting all cues for pre-recorded music or SFX-tracks and any instructions regarding special requirements (turning on reverb on a mic for particular lines, any telephone effects, fade outs, etc.)

NOTE: The following steps can take place on the same day--over the course of 2-3 hours.

Casting

  1. Conduct auditions, using the short, custom monologues provided in the RuyaSonic script's appendix.
  2. Evaluate actors based upon their ability to read right-off-the-page, vocal inflection, energy, acting ability, suitability to a specific role, etc.
  3. Make casting decisions for all roles--including any doubling of roles. (Try to avoid having actors play two roles within the same scene.)

Rehearsal, Part 1

  1. Instead of a table-read, I TELL the cast & crew the story.
    Since nobody knows which role they are playing yet, they pay attention to every detail. They learn the whole story, the themes, the approach. If they knew they were the playing the villain, say, they wouldn't pay much attention to any scene the villain wasn't in. Withholding the casting info keeps everybody engaged.
     
  2. For Actors:
    1. Hand out the already-highlighted scripts to the actors playing the specific roles. (Scrooge, Marley, Belle/Mrs Cratchit, Fred/Fezziwig, Tiny Tim, etc.)
    2. Have actors read just their OWN lines, aloud--several times, with different approaches. They "teach their tongues" the dialogue.
    3. Huddle with each actor, giving them an idea of their character's motivations and general manner. ("Scrooge is a wise-guy--not satanic." etc.)
    4. Allow the actors 15-20 minutes to familiarize themselves with their lines. They must hear their lines aloud to understand who they are.
       
  3. For Sound Effects Artists:
    1. In the SFX binders, the script's SFX cues are highlighted in orange (and--for SFX-busy shows, additional colors: blue cues, green cues, pink, etc.)
    2. The SFX crew "chief" assigns specific SFX artists to handle the orange SFX cues, or the blue cues, pink cues,  etc.
    3. The chief demonstrates each live sound effect (footsteps, doors, tinkling bell, fork-on-plate, etc.)
    4. Give SFX artists time to learn how to produce their specific sound "roles."
    5. Have the chief read aloud in the SFX binder script, setting up where any SFX cues come. The SFX artists then produce the sounds at that point--often in coordination with each other. (for example, a storm, a battle, a series of actions by the characters).
    6. Run through all the SFX cues, repeating until the artists perform them well. Stop and correct any mistakes. Coordinate ensemble SFX passages (say, a door opening, then chains, then a big crash)
       
  4. For Engineering crew:
    1. Have the engineer look over the already-highlighted ENG binder, noting where pre-recorded tracks come and any reverbs, telephone effects, fades, etc.
    2. Beginning at page-1/cue-1 of the ENG binder's script section, have the engineering crew read along and trigger pre-recorded tracks
    3. ...
      • Adjusting volume levels for music and SFX-tracks--especially when dialogue is going on underneath
      • At the end of a pre-recorded track, pausing the playback device, then advancing to the next track--ready for the next cue.
      • Turning on or off any mixing-board reverb or telephone effects.

The "All Cues Rehearsal" - at 75% tempo

This is NOT the stage-play style of tech-rehearsal, jumping from "cue-to-cue". In radio, we do the entire play--every cue (dialogue, SFX, music) in order.

  1. Director begin the "All Cues Rehearsal", with cast, SFX artists, and Engineering crew
  2. Explain "how to work a mic", what a hand-written "Q" means, and radio director's hand signals. See the script appendix section on "Radio Skills School".
  3. Begin script at page-1/cue-1 and work through the entire play at a relaxed tempo. (Say, 75% of "normal" tempo)
  4. The director "throws cues"--indicating whenever there's a hand-written "Q" in the script, specifying the start of an actor, SFX or pre-recorded track cue.
  5. Director speeds up or slows down the actors delivery--using hand gestures.
  6. ALWAYS stop for mis-pronunciations, late entrances, bungled SFX cues, or pre-recorded track cues. Get it right before moving on.
  7. Afterwards, take a break. Have actors drink water, potty breaks, etc.

Performance/Recording

  1. Re-convene cast & crew.
  2. Explain "the Old-Time-Radio speed trick" of pushing performance tempo to 105% of "normal".
    The director will use hand-signal of "drawing a circle" to indicate "Faster!"
  3. Begin the performance. If recording, don't stop for mistakes, just note where they came.
  4. Afterwards, if recording, go back and re-record problem sections--correcting mistakes. These "pickups" can be edited into the final recording.

NOTE: The slow pace of the All Cues Rehearsal often makes things appear dismal. But the "Old Radio Speed Trick" greatly improves the show--and the spirits of director, cast & crew. You'll be amazed at how well things go. The speed-trick works on the same principal as riding a bike: if you go too slow, it's dreadful and wobbly, but once you get up to a decent speed, not only do you stay upright, but you can really go places.

Since 1996, I have directed hundreds of radio plays using this method. It works with students and amateurs, but even Hollywood professionals are quite impressed with how efficient and actor-friendly this method is. You get quality results without tedium--or browbeating.


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

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