Who’s Afraid of Hearing Virginia Woolf Up Close and Personal?

This week’s post is guest written by my good friend, playwright and actor Larry Powell. Larry is working with Hooke Audio to bring his upcoming “Podcast Plays” to life in 3d audio.  

In October of 1962 a play by Edward Albee hit the Broadway Stage in NYC and changed everything.

It won awards (including the Tony for Best Play), made its way into college syllabi and became an essential thread in the tapestry of the American Theatre and Culture. The play is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

The 1966 film version of Albee’s classic directed by Mike Nichols

I first discovered the play in 2008.

I was finishing up my senior year at my alma mater Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama. The professor, a great director, was so excited to teach the play. He went on and on about how it’s this amazing play that is so important and an example of great storytelling. I do remember liking the play when I had to read it for homework. I even remember having some fun when I was chosen to read the last scene of the play in front of the class. But it wasn’t at all life changing for me. Which was weird because me and this professor were always on the same page with things like this. He got me and I got him.

But this time, he missed me.

Maybe the gap in time was too large? Maybe I had to be there? Hmmm…

Let’s go back to 1962. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” set Broadway on fire. The actors in the original production of this play were giving some of the most legendary performances of all time including great acting giant herself Uta Hagen’s tour de force performance in the lead role of Martha.

The characters were fully realized. The language sizzled, cracked and popped with passion and precision. The emotional intelligence of these performers was impressive. Strong. Complex. Human. The play can make you cry and in the same breath almost die of laughter. It’s some of the best storytelling ever.

How do I know this? Because I was there.

Now, unless, in a past life, I bought a ticket and attended a performance while it was running on Broadway in 1962 there is no way I could have experienced this great piece of art. I wouldn’t be born until 24 years later.

But, I’m telling you the truth.

I was there.

I was there in a different way. A very, very powerful way. I was there through audio. Through a recording… Sound brought me there.

In 1963 Columbia Records brought the cast and creatives of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” into a large studio, put up a version of the set, setup microphones all over the space and audio recorded them performing the play. They performed the play just as they would on the broadway stage.

When I found this complete recording of the play online (first iTunes, then YouTube, now Spotify) I was left there at the end of it in chills, completely riveted in cathartic awe. I had finally understood what my professor was trying to get through to us. It’s truly amazing.

As a writer/actor, this recording has changed my artistic life. It has influenced the way I create. I have listened to the great actors from a time before mine go at eachother over and over again. I’ve imagined how the actors are sitting. Or how they’re walking as I hear their footsteps march across the floor. I have replayed scenes time after time studying the playwright Edward Albee’s genius gift for dialogue and musicality in language. This recording had made me a better storyteller.

And I know it’s happened before. People have recorded great performances before. But I am so thankful we continue to keep this going.

Thank God for audio recordings of plays, speeches, and moments that truly have made an impact on the American and World Story.

Over the past year or so since discovering this recording I have been inspired to make my own audio recordings of my own plays.

There is something intimate and enveloping about the experience of having great performances in your ears or in the privacy of your own home. It does something powerful with the imagination. Allows it to fly in a different kind of way that is exhilarating.

People deserve to experience this audio in the best way possible. So, I’m making my plays into Podcast Plays and with Hooke audio I’m able to do it in a smart way.

Imagine actors wearing Hooke while performing the plays. Imagine getting a seat that is closer than front row center. Closer than the hands and feet of the actors. Imagine being in the inner-ear of the magic. Imagine meeting the story there.

The recording of Great Performances is crucial and necessary. It will help us carry the age old tradition of storytelling into eternity. After all, one story can empower and inspire even the smallest group of individuals. And those individuals when focused and determined can change the world.

Why limit the power of theatre to being able to physically attend a show? Why not continue to also find and create ways to bring the show to us? Why not bring passion to our inner-ear. This audio recording of “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” did that for me and I know my podcast plays will do that for others.

-Larry Powell
Writer. Actor. Producer

Sound truly matters and Larry’s experience with the 1963 recording of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is evidence of that. It is amazing that a play, an art form that equally relies upon visuals as much as it does sound to succeed could be this impactful from just a recording. Today, the way we capture and share stories has changed. Most of it is done with our mobile devices and we are missing out on so many incredible opportunities to capture game-changing stories like this one. It’s time our mobile devices possess the power performances like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” did. We don’t all have access to Columbia Records recording equipment. We do however have powerful computers in our pockets. How many great performances have we lost by not having the ability to capture them in their fullest strength and clarity? It’s time we change the way we record the world, so that performances like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and Powell’s “Podcast Plays” are experienced the way they’re MEANT to be. 

From One Ear To Another,
Anthony Mattana
Hooke Founder and CEO

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