Riverside Theatre collaborates with remote artists for first radio play

Riverside Theatre and MusicIC collaborated with talent around the globe to revive The Kreutzer Sonata as a radio play featuring orchestral accompaniment.

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The Riverside Theatre website displays information for the play “The Kreutzer Sonata” on Thursday, July 29.

Jenna Post, Summer Arts Editor


From online to outdoors, Riverside Theatre is no stranger to presenting theater through non-traditional mediums. This Sunday, Riverside will make its radio debut with the premiere of The Kreutzer Sonata: A Play in Five Tiny Movements.

The Kreutzer Sonata was adapted from a Tolstoy novella of the same name. The play follows a man driven to violence after becoming jealous of his wife for playing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which was recorded by The Knights for the play.

Prior to the pandemic, The Kreutzer Sonata was planned to be performed on stage, as it had been during its original run in 2014. It was to be co-presented by Riverside Theatre and MusicIC, who jointly decided to ask playwright Jennifer Fawcett to reimagine the play for radio to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“In radio you don’t have a visual world. That world exists in our imaginations,” Fawcett said. “But also, since we knew we were working in this auditory world, I was able to play more with sound. It’s just a different storytelling tool.”

Fawcett said she got to play with audio in a way that wouldn’t have been possible with the restraints of live performance, allowing her to explore how the music and dialogue interact more deeply.

“I really enjoy being in the rehearsal process, because actors and directors come in with a different perspective than you as a playwright,” Fawcett said. “Sometimes when they say the words out loud you find some holes, and we were able to take the time to smooth those over because this is made for radio. You don’t have to also worry about blocking, for example.”

Riverside Director Adam Knight said while the unexpected change in format presented challenges, it also presented more opportunities for Riverside to remotely collaborate with like-minded artists. The resulting team included actors, producers, and musicians working from Colorado, Washington, New York, and South Korea.

Knight said the team was a good fit and he trusted their creative decisions, which allowed him to focus on the new challenges that came with directing for radio, like lacking visual cues.

“When directing normal theater, or even virtual or Zoom theater, the visuals tell a lot,” he said. “I found that sometimes I had to turn my screen off or close my eyes to make sure I was really getting the information, and not being tricked by the facial expressions the actors were making.”

Another new element of creating a radio play was finishing directing a few months before the play would be released, he added.

“As a director you’re typically involved up to the very last minute,” Knight said. “Releasing control and trusting these other crucial collaborators was a great experience. The performances are just one aspect of this play’s storytelling.”

The audio from Knight’s direction was then given to Grammy Award-winning producer Jesse Lewis, who found that acting and music go hand-in-hand to tell this story, he said.

“I was surprised how well the music fit with the words,” Lewis said. “There are moments where a section dialogue perfectly lines up with the music and it just comes to life. It was really amazing to see.”

The Kreutzer Sonata will debut on Iowa Public Radio on Aug 8. It will be available on demand on the Iowa Public Radio website beginning Aug 10.

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