Guest Blog Post: Tamara Kissane Writes About the Birth of Her Audio Drama MASTER BUILDER

By Tamara Kissane, Artist Soapbox

Tamara Kissane is a theatre-maker, creative coach, and the host of the Artist Soapbox podcast. Click here to hear what Tamara has to say about changing the way theater is made and the comeback of the audio drama on the RDU on Stage podcast.

This all started in 1892, when Henrick Ibsen published his play, THE MASTER BUILDER. I wasn’t alive, of course, but someone in my family was. As far as I can tell, Ibsen’s play got mixed reviews. They had an inkling he was onto something, but the critics and audiences couldn’t quite make sense of it. 

Fast forward to the fall of 2015. (I know, it’s a big jump in time.) I sat on the floor of my son’s room, breastfeeding him, sleep-deprived and fairly certain I would never make creative work again. It was the middle of the night, and bleary-eyed, I watched a 1960s film adaptation of THE MASTER BUILDER (script by Ibsen). I thought the text was cumbersome, the characters unlikeable, and the structure wobbly. Yet I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Who were these oddballs and what made them tick? What was Ibsen doing? What did it mean? Why did I feel such an urgent need to start reading translations of Henrick’s script? [Side note: There’s a 2013 film version of A MASTER BUILDER starring Wallace Shawn if you are looking for something more contemporary. It’s a weird one, which seems on brand for this play.]

Fast forward to the winter of 2018. MASTER BUILDER, my stage adaptation of Ibsen’s script was performed at Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. Yep, my obsession had transformed into a theatre piece!  I’d changed the genders of many of the characters, set it in the present day, and messed with a few of the major plot points. I tried to lean into the oddball nature of the characters while digging a little deeper into their psychology. I also rejiggered that ol’ trope of an older person inappropriately seducing a younger person (that’s beat, and I’m not doing it). My version was also considerably shorter. Three acts? No thank you, Henrick. As far as I can tell, my play got mixed reviews. Well…one review, and it wasn’t great. By this point though, I was deeply infatuated by the bizarre world and family of characters we’d created with my MASTER BUILDER. And as much as I loved the stage version and felt extraordinarily grateful to have it produced, I also felt like the script wasn’t quite fully baked. I yearned to fix some of my playwriting missteps. I wanted another whack at it. However, for me, it was too time intensive, logistically hairy, and expensive to whack it again on stage. And my interests were morphing into the audio realm with the launch of my podcast, Artist Soapbox.

Fast forward to summer 2019. Yes, today! Right now! The audio version of the MASTER BUILDER AUDIO DRAMA will be premiering at the Women’s Theatre Festival in Raleigh. As I write this, I’m wondering what the hell I was thinking. I’d never written, produced or directed an audio drama before…but it turns out that not knowing how to do something doesn’t stop me from actually doing it. (This is a character trait with mixed results.) “How hard can it be?” I thought, “I’ll combine my experience in the theatre with my time as a podcaster and my passion for audio content, then drop in some fantastic local talent and voila, an audio drama will be born.” It was a grand experiment for me, and the recipe that I described was kinda what happened. I rewrote the stage version for ears-only. [Note: How to adapt a stage script into an audio script is another blog post entirely. The short version is that your audio script is going to be much longer since you’ll need to ‘say’ what you would normally show on stage — or at least write in the sound cues.] My sound designer, Edith Snow, is painting an awesome aural picture to support the narrative. The actors, most of whom were in the stage version, have knocked the voice acting out of the park. Pennee Miles wrote original music that lends mood and legitimacy to the whole dramatic endeavour. It’s been a joy to work on this project because it feels like an adventure in a brand artistic medium. Like most things I’ve attempted in my life, the MASTER BUILDER AUDIO DRAMA was a lot more work than I thought, took a lot more time than I thought, and was A LOT more fun than I thought it would be. Did I fix all of the problems in the script? Nope. Did I make mistakes during this process? Yep. Did I learn a significant amount about this new medium? Yes x 1000. 

Recently, I listened to a podcast featuring the author, Austin Kleon. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said something that really resonated with me.  He said, “It’s ok to be proud of something and not know if it’s good.” That’s right where I am. Intensely proud and very grateful, and eager to complete the final version of this audio beast in progress so I can share it with the world.

And finally, I’m certain that  I can’t wait to make the next one and the one after that. I have two in the queue right now to be released in 2020. Stay tuned.

MASTER BUILDER, Tamara Kissane’s first audio drama, will premiere on July 14th at The Women’s Theatre Festival. For more information visit: https://www.womenstheatrefestival.com/.

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