With Audio Dramas, Urbanite Looks Back to Move Forward

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY SEP 11, 2020

As theatres continue to seek new footing on uncertain terrain, many have turned to new technologies. Smart phones and video conferencing platforms make it a simple enough task to create some sort of content that can be shared with audiences. But for Brendan Ragan of Urbanite Theatre, it just does not feel right. “Zoom theatre just isn’t very interesting to me,” he says. So, Ragan turned to an old form that finds itself in a bit of an upcycled resurgence.

Radio shows like Amos ‘n Andy or Captain Midnight once accounted for a large slice of family life. But as moving pictures came to dominate the entertainment industry, radio shows either became adapted for the screen or disappeared altogether. With podcasts on the rise, however, Ragan saw an opportunity to try his hand at something a little retro. “We just put the finishing touches on our first radio play,” he says. The one-man play, titled Conceal and Carry, was written by up-and-coming playwright and director Sean Christopher Lewis and explores the culture and psychology of gun ownership. Urbanite’s production sees Ragan perform the play using only his voice, with sound design and score written by Sean Ragan.

The result is a 50-minute production in which Ragan employs all the emotive dynamics of his actor’s voice to give life to a script that was meant for the stage. Written in first-person and with all the quirks of contemporary lexicon, the final product feels like a cross between a dramatic reading and an exquisitely voiced audiobook. More importantly, there is a level of intimacy absent from the now-common Zoom format that lends itself to a story that seems more real. “It’s an artform that worked forever,” says Ragan, “and I think you can suspend disbelief a little more with it.”

Urbanite Theatre hopes to build on this first, one-person audio drama with increasingly complex audio productions. The format allows actors to perform remotely by recording their parts in their own homes, while the audio-only work means Ragan is bound by SAG-AFTRA rather than Actors’ Equity, the latter of which has only given the green light to a small handful of theatres to produce work.

It’s just one way Urbanite has tried to keep some momentum through the pandemic. With audiences unlikely to return to theatres in numbers that translate into solvency, creative theatre minds can only hope to keep busy by creating. “We’re just trying to keep fulfilling our mission to support bold, new artists,” says Ragan, “and we’re doing our best to hang in there.”

Urbanite Theatre, 1487 2nd Street, 941-321-1397. Photo courtesy of Urbanite Theatre.

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