Have you heard of audio drama?

Emily Tarbuck

As someone who has always been interested (read: mildly obsessed) with theatre, coming to university in the middle of a pandemic was always going to present some unique challenges. But ultimately, it was a niche category of drama which I had never even considered before that ended up defining my experience of theatre in Durham.

Creativity through crisis

Durham Student Theatre (DST) is one of the largest and most varied student theatre groups in the country, but when I first arrived in October 2020, you wouldn’t have known that. Standing two feet away and wearing masks isn’t generally conducive to good performances, and I remember having to do exactly that for the few physical plays I managed to be in that year – only just getting permission to break social distancing rules for a fight scene.

On the other hand, Durham University Audio Drama Society, or DUADS, offered a different opportunity to the remnants of normal theatre that we were still able to do. Audio dramas, otherwise known as radio plays, are a form of entertainment that we were still very easily able to create from our own homes. I auditioned for the society’s flagship show, a wonderfully complex, student-written series based on Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and it is still a production I’m incredibly proud to have been involved in. Microphones were sent out to each actor, and we were able to record our lines individually within our student rooms, whilst never losing the sense of community that drama brings by holding our numerous rehearsals, recording sessions and socials over Zoom. I’ll always be impressed by the skills (and patience) of those in charge of tech, who worked out how to use various complicated programmes so that we could record only our own voices, while still being able to hear the people we were acting alongside through our headphones.

A society for anyone

Being part of DUADS was undoubtedly one of my favourite parts of my first year, and even over an online platform, I really felt like I’d become part of a community. The society was founded the year that I came to university, so we were all discovering how to create audio drama together, and I think it was this shared experience that made it such an open and friendly group to join. DUADS has always had a focus on enthusiasm over experience, and I love how we’re able to give so many people new opportunities that they might never have had otherwise – particularly when it comes to skills such as sound effect creation (foley) and audio editing.

So many of my friends are from the society, and I know lots of other people who say the same. We also have a fantastic track record for getting freshers and those who are new to theatre involved, and I’m particularly proud of the AudioCram project that we held last term, where four freshers with very little experience in the medium were able to turn three student-written scripts into full audio dramas in the very short space of 48 hours, taking on every role, from acting and directing all the way to editing. Almost all of them are now involved in our current productions, in both acting and production team roles – a demonstration of how much people enjoy taking part in what we do.

I can safely say that my experience of student theatre wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without DUADS, and I’ve absolutely loved the time I’ve been able to spend doing audio drama. I must have loved it because I was voted President of the society at the end of my first year, and now, in the second term of my third, I still hold the position!

Previous productions

As I mentioned earlier, The Three Musketeers was DUADS first show, launching audio drama into the student theatre scene. This was a major project, involving a diverse group of over thirty actors and production team members, and achieving several awards at the D’Oscars (Durham Student Theatre’s annual awards ceremony) that year. We’ve also been successful outside of Durham – both The Three Musketeers and last year’s project, The Right Kind of Hatred, have been nominated in the national Student Radio Awards.

The latter was awarded bronze in the category for Best Speech Programming, and as the co-writer and producer, I was incredibly proud of what we managed to achieve. The Right Kind of Hatred was one of Durham Student Theatre’s first forays into the world of horror, telling the story of a village haunted by murder and a mysterious force which takes hold of people, causing them to do awful things, and exploring this genre through the medium of sound was incredibly interesting. Our foley artists, Molly Knox and Martin Ramalingum, never ceased to amaze me with the wonderfully visceral sounds they were able to make with various types of food, and our composer, Rowan Aufrichtig, brought the whole drama together with his terrifyingly atmospheric music, much of which was recorded live.

The two audio recordings here consist of compilations from these shows, including the voices of Alex Comaish, Matthew McConkey, Peter Firbank, Arun Kotegaonkar, Olivia Adderley, Stephen Ledger, Bhav Amar, Eugenie Nevin and Matthew Fackrell. These are just a few of our actors, but I’m sure even from these clips you’ll be able to see just a small part of the talent we have here in Durham.

https://on.soundcloud.com/UFyu8

https://on.soundcloud.com/UvkGP

Get involved!

Series 2 of The Three Musketeers is currently in post-production, set to be released in the last term of this year, and we have two other exciting projects which we are working on this term as well. The first, set to happen on 19 February, is a live voice-acted charity playthrough, featuring the popular game Ace Attorney, through which we are raising money for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

Our main audio drama production at the moment is part of Durham University’s celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s First Folio, which Durham Student Theatre is getting involved in. We’ve just held auditions for Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and the Multiverse Time Loop at the End of the World by Carrie Cheung, but there are still plenty of opportunities available for anyone who’d like to get involved – from producing to the positions of foley artist and audio editor. Alongside this, there will be plenty of other productions inspired by Shakespeare this year, including Twelfth Night by Durham University Classical Theatre, Women of the Manor by Pitch Productions, and Castle Theatre Company’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These will provide opportunities to see and celebrate his work in all of its weird and wonderful forms – something which DUADS is incredibly excited to take part in!

There have been so many wonderful people involved that I don’t have space to mention them all, but I’m so grateful to everyone who has been a part of DUADS during my time at Durham. Lastly, a particular mention must go to my current exec: Rose Ormond, Marc Twinn, Izel Ilkten-Salman, and Jay Figueredo, our original President and the person none of this could have been done without.

Discover more

Follow DUADS on Instagram

Find out more bout Durham Student Theatre here

Find out more about opportunities to study Creative Writing at Durham University 

Creative Writing MA

 Creative Writing PhD and MLitt 

Department of English Studies 

Emily Tarbuck

My name’s Emily, and I’m a third year student studying History at St John’s College. I am very involved in Durham Student Theatre, having been the President of Durham University Audio Drama Society for the last two years. Outside of this, I am also involved in Choral Society and I am the Worship Coordinator for the Christian Union.

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