July 16, 2011

Wings - from the later stage version.

Even though Radio Drama is alive and well and still flourishing throughout Europe it is pretty much a dead form here in the U.S. and has been for many years. One of its last gasps came by way of National Public Radio in the 1970's in the form of an experimental series called Earplay. It combined an adventuresome spirit with what was cutting edge technology at the time to achieve what could have been a resurgence of the form. It lasted from the early 1970's into the early 1990's in various fits and starts, eventually morphing into NPR Playhouse.

But while it was going, NPR managed to commission plays from a number of notable authors, including Arthur Kopit, whose play Wings is being posted this weekend. Wings, which was later revised and extended for a successful Broadway run, came about as the result of his father's stroke shortly after receiving the commission.

The result was an experimental tour de force. Kopit's intricate portrayal of the inner workings of a mind going through crisis, combined with an intense electronic score made it a landmark presentation and one of the high points in creative Radio broadcasting.

Sadly, this version seems to have disappeared. If the original recordings exist at all they may be collecting dust somewhere in the National Archives, which is where most all of NPR's archival recordings are (or supposed to be) or in private collections. Like the landmark Jazz Alive concert series, Earplay sought to bring about some of the best of new writing and performance to a public still curious about the world around them.

Here is the original radio presentation of Arthur Kopit's Wings as broadcast on January 1, 1978, with Mildred Dunnock in the title role of Emily Stilson and Cara Duff-MacCormick in the role of Amy. The sound score is by Tom Voegeli.


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