How Audible Theater makes live shows accessible to everyone
What do Sea Wall/A Life starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge; The Sound Inside starring Mary-Louise Parker; and John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons have in common? They were hot Broadway tickets that have since closed their limited runs, but they’ve all found an immortal second life on Audible, where anyone listen to and experience these shows.
You probably know Audible for its audiobooks and podcasts, but did you know its entire theatrical library is available for the price of a monthly streaming service? The platform’s drama division is called (you guessed it) Audible Theater, which launched in 2017 and commissions tons of audio dramas, including adaptations of staged works and plays written specifically for an audio format. Audible Theater even has an Emerging Playwrights program that accepts all kinds of script submissions, with half its commissions going to women and writers of color.
Audible Theater’s Off-Broadway home is at Manhattan’s Minetta Lane Theatre, where select Audible Theater shows will first premiere for a live audience before being distributed worldwide as podcasts. This season alone, Audible Theater has produced three solo shows at the Minetta Lane — the Cherokee memoir And So We Walked, the concert An Evening With Solea Pfeiffer, and Emmy award-winning journalist Faith Salie’s Approval Junkie. Now, Audible’s latest Off-Broadway show is Eugene O’Neill’s 1956 masterwork Long Day’s Journey into Night.
The project marks director Robert O’Hara’s (who directed Slave Play on Broadway) second collaboration with Audible Theater, after directing A Streetcar Named Desire in 2020 for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. When the in-person festival was canceled, all its productions were distributed as audio plays on Audible instead, allowing broad access to the prestigious festival’s shows.
A year later, O’Hara and Obie Award winner Elizabeth Marvel, who stars in Long Day’s Journey as Mary, had the idea to mount the O’Neill classic. “I, as a director of color, would rarely be asked to do an O’Neill play — have never been asked to do an O’Neill play,” O’Hara said. And he had a risky pitch: O’Hara’s production isn’t historical, but is set at the height of quarantine in 2020. He had to find a company that would support his work — and he knew just where to pitch it.
“[With] my relationship with Audible, in terms of having done the Audible Streetcar Named Desire recently … I decided to ask Audible if it would be possible for us to do it there.” The rest is history.
As an actor, Marvel said working on Long Day’s Journey was the most collaborative show she’s ever worked on, and the most respectful of everyone in the room, from the show’s stars to their COVID safety manager. Audible Theater productions are made with equal access and opportunity in mind, and O’Hara and his collaborators shared that mindset behind the scenes.
“It’s made me fall in love with this experience in a completely new way — to also be making [the play] in this Audible model, which is with a podcast, which is such a democratic creation,” Marvel said. Moreover, doing an Audible production has changed her entire approach to future projects.
“That there’s not a $300 Broadway ticket that has to be bought, that everyone can have access to this play, is so important to me now,” Marvel said. “And I think now it’s just something that I need to do as an artist. I must make work that can be accessed by everybody going forward.”