Face to Face with a Radio Play Director: Conversations with Erik Altorfer. PART 2

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

Howdy, welcome to Part 2 of ‘Face to Face with a Radio Play Director: Conversations with Erik Altorfer.’

read PART 1 HERE

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.


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

See Questions as Continued below.

  1. Do you think that radio culture has a future; and that if someone ventured into it, they could define themselves a prosperous career?

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. 

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

The other challenge is that the royalty we earn now as writers or directors on these productions is little. 

For example; in the past, I was able to earn from a radio station, and another would also contact me to use the radio play, and they would also pay me. But now that the work is already accessible for free online, the other broadcasters do not think it makes sense to pay me or play the radio drama when the listeners can also find it online. 

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


  1. Erik, What would you say to an artist who aspires to venture into this sector, even considering all the challenges you have shared?

My advice for them is that; the beauty of it, and also the technological possibility, is that unlike theatre, it takes very little to get into a radio play production.  I have been doing this with students at the University of the Arts in Switzerland, and I know now it is possible for you to produce on your smartphone. You don’t need to rent a studio, you don’t need any more equipment than you already have. You can produce low-budget as there is a lot of music and sound effect which is royalty-free/ has no royalty for you to pay to access.  So, you can write to yourself, direct yourself, and even act or get friends to act.

You can now produce work faster, with zero or a low budget, than theatre. Which is nice. Also online, things keep changing so quickly and the younger generations are so inventive in placing their things online so that they get recognized. 

I think you guys, the young generation whom I call Digital Natives, are so familiar and so fast with technology. You are also YouTube learners, which I think makes things easier. The challenge then just becomes how ready are you to publish it and monetize it. 


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


  • Have you faced any challenges in line with copyright?

No, sometimes we can commission a writer, so they just get a fee for the writing. If I am choosing a stage play or a novel to adapt, then of course, there always has to be a contract with the publishing house or the writer; that allows us to transform the writing into an audio play. So we are not able to do anything with the writing before we have settled the rights with the writer and made a contract. 


  • Do you seek consent to use all documentary material that you adapt in the audio play?

I don’t know how things are here in Uganda or Kenya, but in Europe, you can use up to (I think) thirty seconds of audio material. 

  • For me working both in theatre and in radio, what I like about radio is that I can have artistic control over the project or the product. I get to analyze the text until it has reached a point that I am happy with or select a piece, and then I get to choose the actors I want to work with. There are limitations now, more and more over the years; as now, there is a financial crisis, then Dioxide (CO2) levels are high. So I together with the radio stations no longer want to fly in any actor, they should live in the town where the studio is or travel by train. These can lead to artistic restrictions as I am no longer able to choose any actor from wherever I want; of course, those I can deal with.

Some are time constraints since studio time is expensive, for instance, if I have to record a sixty-minute production in three days, the overall studio time is 2 weeks. Name it. 

This is all unlike theatre, which is bigger and more expensive in every sense you can imagine. But I sometimes miss the adrenaline during a theatre production, the anxiety before opening night and all. We don’t have all that in audio. Also, the audio would reach more people than the theatre. But the challenge there also is that it becomes too difficult to get feedback from the audience of audio dramas.


Some of Erik’s works he feels so greatly about include; The Notebook (Das große Heft) and What Kind of Heat it is (Welcher Art die Wärme ist)


Erik Altorfer


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 is teaching at the Zurich Academy of the Arts, with a focus on writing and directing audio plays.

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