Face to Face with a Radio Play Director: Conversations with Erik Altorfer. PART 1

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Erik Altorfer (Centre),
Lunkuse, Chris, Lorah (Left), Barnabus Oselle (Right)

“When I was a boy, there was a radio program playing; it was there and then, and if you had missed it, it would be gone. But what is different now is that if you miss listening to a play when it is showing, you can always listen when it is re-broadcasted.  You are always able to listen later because it’s archived online. It is not time-based anymore. I think that is nice. 

But the online system also has challenges in its way, because the legal order for online can be easily breached. A writer, or even a director like me should earn well from the broadcasts online, but the royalties are very little! ” – Eric Altorfer.


Eric Altorfer – Radio Play Director
Photos by Marcus Enock / Alphatheman Pictures



Howdy, welcome to bettyslunkuse.com.

Heard about such a thing as radio plays? Today I share with you an experience concerning radio plays / audio dramas…

As part of the 2023/24 Emerging Artists Intensive Lab with Tebere Arts Foundation, the Cohort was divided up into groups to write audio plays, direct and voice-act accordingly. 

The workshops were intense, facilitated by the Tebere Arts Foundation, and the Cohort was mentored by Erik Altorfer and Lulu Jemimah.


Photo moment with Erik Altorfer (Left), Betty Lunkuse, Daudi Kitasimbwa (Centre), Barnabus Oselle (Right)

Whilst radio plays may be popular in some parts of the world like some countries in Europe, they are quite foreign in other countries. In Uganda for instance, I’ve come to learn that one of the most popular Radio Plays is Rock Point 256, which unfortunately stopped being aired years ago. Well, lucky for you, some of the audio plays I and my colleagues wrote, acted, and produced under Tebere Arts Foundation as part of the Kwa Nuru Audio Installation project 2023/23 are now available at the Tebere.Org website. 

Emerging Artists, Instructors & Mentors @TAF
Photos by Marcus Enock / Alphatheman Pictures

Check them out HERE.

Meanwhile, I had a chat with Erik Altorfer, a Swiss Radio Play director and writer,  who mentored me and others in audio production, and here’s what I gathered. 

Photos by Marcus Enock / Alphatheman Pictures


Erik Altorfer started his professional artistic career as an assistant director at the Schauspielhaus Zurich.  Since 1997, he has worked as a director and dramaturg for theatre and radio. Erik organized Festivals commissioning and showcasing new plays in Switzerland, Austria, Egypt, and Argentina. He was artistic director of the Swiss playwrights program Dramenprozessor which received the Swiss Theatre Award in 2015.  He held writing workshops in Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, and Egypt, and directed, commissioned, and adapted numerous radio plays for German and Swiss radio stations. He curated audio drama/blog productions in Alexandria with a dozen Egyptian and Syrian artists. Several of his radio drama productions were invited to Mawgat Cairo’s International Radio Drama Festival 2020. He has led writing/theatre workshops with Refugees in Beirut, Graz (Austria), and Zurich with Syrian playwright Mudar Alhaggi. Erik teaches at the Zurich Academy of the Arts, with a focus on writing and directing audio plays. 


(Hintergrund-) Information über Bild:
Vorname Nachname, Sendung, Ort, Datum, Anlass, Verwendung
Copyright: SRF/Oscar Alessio


  • Erik, what do radio plays mean to you and why do you still do it, from the time you started?

When I was a child, I lived in Switzerland but had a neighbor who listened to a German Radio station. Every Tuesday evening that radio had radio plays and we would listen to them together as children. I was just carried away by stories but also hanging around in our homes listening to them, and discussing the plays influenced me a lot. One of the intriguing stories was later on the Swiss radio, a story about the last ‘so-called witch of Switzerland’ that had been burnt. It was historically the last process that had been done on a female, that the society called a witch. That story, delivered in an audio, was just to me very special. It was a true story that the writer turned into a radio play and it came across as very dramatic and also was interesting to know how society reacts to somebody who is different and how that person who is different can become an outcast. That’s the last witch story history knows of in Switzerland. 


  • So, that’s the story that triggered you to pursue this career?

No, the thing is I started in theatre but I had this background as a listener. I liked the radio plays. The first production I had in theatre, I called this radio station and asked if we could turn this theatre production into a radio play. They were not interested but some years later, I went and found a new administrator at the same station, and shared my background. I had my first experience as an intern and then was able to make my first production, after which I was lucky, they kept this going, with me as a director. It took the background of me working in theatre with actors and actresses as a director, and also my interest in radio plays. 

Photos by Marcus Enock / Alphatheman Pictures

Some of the challenges Erik has faced working as a radio play director for over twenty (20 ) years as he shares, include; 

  1. Convincing the radio play department in a radio station. Convincing them of a story or idea, and assuring them that it will work. 
  2. Finances – because publicly funded radio stations in Switzerland and Germany, have also suffered a decline in the last twenty years. There was a lot more possibility back then than there is now.
  3. Now in the Digital era, many people, even the heads of publicly funded radio play departments, are more and more interested in the number of listeners. These stations compare themselves with platforms like Spotify and Netflix. So the content they want becomes more mainstream-like. 
  4. Also having been in the business for more than 20 years, after every production, I fear that maybe it is the last one. 
  5. There are constant changes in the structure, and radio plays just keep getting less and less funding.


(Hintergrund-) Information über Bild:
Vorname Nachname, Sendung, Ort, Datum, Anlass, Verwendung
Copyright: SRF/Oscar Alessio
  1. How do you go about technological challenges like software upgrades?

This is something that happens in the studio. The development of new software has not affected me very much; since I work with sound engineers, music composers, and musicians. These are the people who may have to learn every detail of the software programs, so I can concentrate on the creation.

But there are things in the programs that have helped. For example, Actors and actresses sometimes make funny mouth noises, indicating dry mouth, or such natural noises. Those can be a challenge which used to take so many hours before to be cut out. But with each new software, these glitches become easier to clear.

Also before, studios were constructed in such a way that different things could be used in the same space, for instance; if we needed sounds of someone walking on the stairs, the studio would have staircases made of wood, metal, and concrete. So the actor or actress would walk on them, then we would hear the noise it made, and we would choose a sound to work with from that. But with new software and development, these studios are no longer built. There are platforms online where one can just go; search for a sound, and use it for free.

Another change that Erik notes, occurred during the COVID-19 Pandemic as restrictions were made. He couldn’t work at some radio stations as they were closed.

“I had a production in March & April 2020, but we had to do the post-production online, between Germany and Switzerland. It was really hard, but it was possible to do. And when we were allowed to work in physical spaces again, we were not allowed to have two actors in the same room. They had to be in two different rooms, then they would hear each other on the headsets, and do the dialogue. 

The director, director’s assistant and sound engineers; we were also in one room, in the distance. Wearing masks, but we were able to do it. But this somehow helped since in my  recent productions, I hardly ever have two actors in the studio at the same time. My method of working changed, and I found a means and made adaptations in a more Soloist way. Not that many crowd scenes.” – Erik Altorfer

TAF EA 2023/24 Cohort
Photos by Marcus Enock / Alphatheman Pictures

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