New Works Festival Premiers Five Audio Dramas

Tuesday, April 20, 2021



The UVA Department of Drama will continue its 2020-2021 season with its fifth annual New Works Festival featuring five short audio dramas (including a musical!) written, directed, performed, and produced by students.  The New Works Festival will be streamed beginning April 27, 2021 on WTJU.

Faculty mentors Dave Dalton and Doug Grissom arrived at the decision to produce this year’s festival as audio dramas after script selection. When they observed that a few submissions were naturally suited to the genre, moving the entire festival to audio dramas seemed like a creative solution to the live theatre experience in the era of COVID-19. “Strategy and Lovers, Reversed, for example, both take place with a limited cast in one location, so a lot of the conflict is resolved in dialogue,” Dalton said. “FUNeral and Half-hour Ride North, by contrast, initially had a lot of visual elements built into the scripts. We worked with the playwrights and our sound designer, Shane Rettig, to suggest changes that would make those plays appropriate for an audio drama.” Dalton and Grissom also thought the musical would be an uncommon addition to the festival. “Creating a musical is incredibly hard. It takes creativity and coordination and we wanted to celebrate the rare student collaboration between Izzy Ullmann, the playwright, and Vaheed Talebain, who wrote the music,” Grissom said.

Dalton and Grissom credit the Department of Drama for providing extraordinary technical support. Audio dramas are typically recorded with the cast together in one studio, listening to one another and responding in real time. Because COVID-19 protocols meant the actors, director and sound engineer could not share the same room, pop-up recording studios were set up throughout the building, and the cast used Zoom to listen to one another in real time while recording their voices in isolation on separate tracks. Dalton shared, “We had lots of technical issues to work out in order to coordinate the sound and make sure that the recordings were consistent and high quality, while also remaining safe for all the students. Additionally, some actors were recording in the Drama Building, while others were recording at home.  We had four microphone kits that could be sent out if, for whatever reason, a student could not come into the building to record. There was a lot of coordination needed, plus time to disinfect and quarantine the microphones for safety.”

The question of how to stream the audio dramas was answered when WTJU general manager Nathan Moore offered to host them as podcasts on the Virginia Audio Collective, for which he is also Executive Producer. “We are grateful to Nathan, WTJU, Lewis Reining, and the Virginia Audio Collective for their expertise and for their generous support of our students and the Drama Department,” Grissom said.

The New Works Festival podcast episodes will be available beginning April 27, 2021 on WTJU at .

The audio dramas include: 

Strategy, by Avery Erskine – The morning of a gubernatorial candidate's apology speech, his daughter discovers his plans to use an anecdote from her life to sway voters. She confronts her father about her discomfort, only to open the floodgates of much larger issues with their relationship.

Half-hour Ride North, by Karen Zipor – Claire urgently needs to drive David, her troubled childhood friend, to Canada. During the last 30 minutes of their ride, they discuss their old adventures and personal trauma — all while Claire grapples with whether she's still a righteous person after committing a murder. 

The Lovers, Reversed, by Allison Kinney – Amanda is a young person desperate for reassurance that her love life has a bright future. Zed is a brutally honest psychic who tells Amanda that love isn’t in the cards for her but offers to help try to find someone (anyone) for Amanda to love. Our heroes face malevolent supernatural interference, Amanda’s terrible taste in suitors, and the hazy boundary between self-deception and hope.

FUNeral, by Rainah Gregory – The Lee family seem to be in a pickle, and it’s not your typical pickle, either. After receiving an invitation to a funeral, the Lee family do what anyone would do: show up. But something seems a Can Dad save the day?

Boys the Musical, by Isabella Ullmann, Music by Vaheed Ali Talebian – Abigail is pressured by to “rebrand” herself in college as a party animal and finds herself in a situation that is completely untrue to herself. Abigail must learn to assert what she wants and who she wants to be, even if she isn’t quite sure what that looks like at age eighteen.

The New Works Festival is co-sponsored by the Department of Drama and by an Arts Enhancement Grant from the Office of the Provost and the Vice Provost for the arts with support from WTJU.