With performing arts venues around the country shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, new theater is hard to come by at the moment. But Soundstage, a podcast series from Playwrights Horizons announced on Thursday, allows listeners to experience world premieres by playwrights including Robert O’Hara, Heather Christian, Lucas Hnath and Jeremy O. Harris while confined safely, if sometimes uncomfortably, indoors.
The podcast has been in the works for about two years, but its release date was moved up to April from the summer in response to social-distancing directives.
“Once we were all home and we got the sense that we were going to be home for a while, it felt really clear that we needed to change our plan and get these out quickly,” Adam Greenfield, the associate artistic director of Playwrights Horizons, an Off Broadway theater, said in an interview. “Having pieces of fiction made by playwrights and made by theater people with actors, and putting those out into the world, I hope it at least helps satisfy the hunger so many of us share to go experience a play.”
Despite its timely debut, the podcast’s episodes aren’t intended to be straight substitutes for traditional stage plays. The commissioned pieces were written for the medium and recorded specifically for the format. This encouraged the playwrights, directors and sound designers to push the acoustic envelope.
“We’ve been really careful to not ever call these radio plays,” Mr. Greenfield said. “Radio drama, to me, connotes a live event that’s recorded in front of an audience with a foley artist who may or may not be banging a couple of coconuts together.” The inspirations they drew on instead were works that were created to be audio experiences — like Orson Welles’s 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast, Janet Cardiff’s sound art and Joe Frank’s experimental radio transmissions.
The first episode of the free anthology series, released Thursday, features Heather Christian’s “PRIME: A Practical Breviary,” a contemporary riff on the morning prayer traditionally performed by some Christian monks at 6 a.m. Ms. Christian, joined by a quartet of vocalists and backed by musicians and a choir, perform the 10-song cycle about, what Mr. Greenfield called, “the difficult task of waking up and facing the world.” The next episode will be released April 15. After that, episodes will drop biweekly.