Create your own radio play
WHUT Happened?! is a participatory radio play series by theatre practitioner Li Xie, which invites listeners to respond to a scenario with their own short plays. (Image: Ric Liu)

Create your own radio play

For many, the safe distancing measures brought about by the pandemic have been an inconvenient necessity. For theatre practitioner Li Xie, however, it has opened doors to new creative possibilities.

Li is known for her participatory theatre pieces, where the audience interacts with the performers. The need to shift performances online due to the pandemic led her to explore virtual ways of creating participatory theatre. She says: “It is very exciting to devise something that involves audiences as co-creators, and that overcomes physical space and time.” 

The result is WHUT Happened?!, a participatory radio play series where listeners are invited to respond to a minute-long scenario devised by Li, with their own short play. Their plays, submitted via audio recordings, are then shared by Li via weekly broadcasts on the play’s Facebook page.

The play can also be accessed via the YouTube page of 3Pumpkins, a non-profit arts organisation and collaborator on the project. The series has also been downloaded onto MP3 players and distributed to some 1,000 seniors who live alone, with the help of the social service agency Lions Befrienders.

Of her choice to turn participatory theatre into the format of a radio play, she says: “Radio is something very close to my heart as I was a radio presenter-producer for 12 years. Marrying radio and theatre into a new art form opens up a lot of possibilities and creative challenges.”

Each scenario in the radio play is based on a different genre such as mystery, sci-fi, or comedy, and she brings it to life through evocative soundscapes. “When people hear footsteps, thunderstorm and a phone ringing, everyone imagines a different story, and that’s the most exhilarating thing about WHUT Happened?!. Everyone is free to express their unique interpretation of the scenario and have full ownership as co-creators.” 

It took a while, however, for the public to warm up to the invitation to co-create radio plays. But once they did, she found herself pleasantly surprised by their submissions. “I was so moved when some senior listeners took part and acted out their imaginative scenarios playfully in dialects.”

She was also impressed by a submission from a group of friends and a child, who devised a short play about a kidnapping gone wrong based on the same scenario she mentioned – where one hears a thunderstorm, footsteps and a phone ringing. She says: “It was clever, hilarious and very, very impressive that they could tell a simple story so precisely in 1 minute.” 

Encouraged by the public’s response, she is keen to take the project further. She wants to find ways for people to participate in the series not just as individuals, but as a collective. She hopes to bring people from different communities such as seniors, youth and migrant workers together to create work, and to incorporate more languages in the plays.

She says: “WHUT Happened?! has definitely opened up exciting possibilities for interactive theatre. Even without a physical space, it can become theatre of the mind, theatre of the voice and theatre by the ordinary people.” 

Tune in to WHUT Happened?! via the play’s Facebook page, or on YouTube.

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