Persepolis - A Radio Play

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Persepolis – A Radio Play

Story and Dialogue by Marjane Sartrapi

Reinterpreted for Radio by Arielle Seidman

 

This scene includes the following characters, all of whom are carefully voiced by different actors;

 

SARTRAPI – the narrator. She is a confident-sounding, middle-aged alto.

MARJI – The young protagonist. She is an eager-voiced child.

FATHER – Marji’s father. He is a middle-aged man with a versatile baritone speaking voice, able to portray both sharpness and gentleness without losing coherency.

MOTHER – Marji’s mother. A tired but kind-sounding mezzo. She is around the same age as SARTRAPI, and there should be a bit (but not a lot) of vocal similarity.

SHAH’S FATHER – Confident, masculine voice, deep and booming. Bass.

YES MAN 1: Eager and speaks quickly. Tenor.

YES MAN 2: Slow to speak, and less confident. Tenor.

GHANDI: Soft spoken and careful to enunciate. Tenor.

ATTATURK: Forceful and bombastic. Bass.

FIRST BRITISH: Tenor with a British accent.

SECOND BRITISH: Baritone with a British accent.

GRANDPA: A man who sounds similar to Father, but more of a tenor.

FIRST COMMUNIST: Confident baritone.

SECOND COMMUNIST: Confident bass.

YOUNG MOTHER: Little girl, who can be played by the same actress as Marji.

GRANDMA: A woman who sounds a bit like mother, but an alto.

ADDITIONAL VOICES – members of the mob, etcetera. Sopranos and tenors.These should be a combination of men and women, none of whom have voices which are too distinctive.

 


 

Scene – The Water Cell

 

[Background noise of rhythmically stomping feet and clapping hands]

 

ADDITIONAL VOICES; Down with the king! Down with the king!

 

[Additional voices fade into the background, but continue faintly as dialogue progresses]

 

SARTRAPI: My parents demonstrated every day.

 

FATHER and MOTHER: Down with the king! Down with the king!

 

[Additional voices swell, so that they are all speaking at the same volume as Mother and Father. All chant together as the dialogue progresses.]

 

SARTRAPI: Things began to degenerate.

 

[One or two Additional voices scream or cry out. Loud, distinctive gun shots are heard.]

 

SARTRAPI: The army shot at them.

 

[Additional voices get louder, continue to chant faster and faster, until they begin to separate from another and not to chant all at the same time. A single additional voice grunts, as if in pain, and then another, and then several of them all at once, while the rest of the additional voices continue to chant louder.]

 

SARTRAPI: And they threw stones at the army.

 

[ There is the sound of running feet, and then all additional voices let out a grim cheer of success. The running feet and the cheering dies away into silence. Pause. After two beats of silence, the sound of the television, droning faintly in the background, can be heard. Then there is the sound of small, child-like feet running into the room, and coming to a quick stop.]

 

SARTRAPI: After marching and throwing stones all day, by evening they had aches all over, even in their heads.

 

MARJI: Hey mom, dad, let’s play monopoly!

 

[Father groans. Father begins to speak as Mother is finishing the last word of her line.]

 

MOTHER: Darling, we are tired.

FATHER: Now is not the right time.

 

[Small, childlike footsteps can be heard leaving the room. Mother’s line is in the background, as Marji speaks on top of her.]

MOTHER: Monopoly! I can’t believe it, haha!

MARJI: It is never the right time.

 

[Mother and Father keep talking in an undistinguishable undertone to each other, laughing occasionally as they do so. Pause. Marji suddenly speaks in an angry, biting voice.]

 

MARJI: As for me, I love the king. He was chosen by God.

 

[Silence, except for the background sound of the television. Father sighs. Television turns off, and then the sound of large, masculine footsteps can be heard. Father speaks gently.]

 

FATHER: Who told you that?

MARJI: My teacher. And God himself.

 

[Pause]

 

FATHER: Come, sit on my lap, I’ll try to explain.

 

[Mother yawns.]

 

MOTHER: Good, explain everything. I’m going to bed.

 

[Sound of footsteps. Father waits to speak until the footsteps have ceased.]

 

FATHER: God did not choose the king.

 

[Marji speaks quickly, almost interrupting her Father, but not quite.]

 

MARJI: He did so! It’s written on the first page of our schoolbook.

FATHER: That’s what they say.

 

[Marji makes a curious, questioning sort of sound.]

 

FATHER: The truth is that 50 years ago, the father of the shah, who was a soldier, organized a Putsch to overthrow the emperor and install a republic.

 

[Music plays, indicating a new setting for a new sequence. As the music fades out, the sound of crackling flames can be heard.]

 

SHAH’s FATHER: If it is God’s will, we will reach the capitol in 19 days.

 

[Additional voices murmur in agreement.]

 

YES MAN 1: God is with us, Reza, God is with us.

YES MAN 2: And even if he isn’t, what can stop us?

FATHER: At the time, the republican ideal was popular in the region, but everyone interpreted it his own way.

 

GHANDI: The Hindus and the Muslims must make peace to overthrow the British.

ATTATURK: We, the Turks, are secular Westerners. For Proof, look at my green eyes.

 

FATHER: So the father of the shah wanted to do the same.

 

[Marji makes a noise of basic understanding/curiosity to hear more.]

 

FATHER: But he wasn’t educated like Ghandi, who was a lawyer. Nor was he a leader of men like Attaturk, who was a general.

 

[MARJI makes an unhappy little noise, as though she is beginning to worry.]

 

FATHER: He was an illiterate, low ranking officer.

 

[A military march plays. Father continues speaking as the military march dies away.]

 

FATHER: A blessing for the very influential British, who soon learned of his prospects.

 

FIRST BRITISH: The country is rich –

SECOND BRITISH: -and the Bolsheviks are near.

FIRST BRITISH: What’s that soldier’s name again?

SECOND BRITISH: Reza. We should go meet him-

FIRST BRITISH: -immediately! Persia is full of oil!

 

[Both BRITISH laugh. Military march plays, and then fades out as footsteps can be heard. Footsteps stop.]

 

FIRST BRITISH: Well, Reza, shining your boots?

[Shah’s father grunts in assent.]

SECOND BRITISH: When you are emperor, your secretary of state will shine them for you.

SHAH’S FATHER: Emperor? Me?

FIRST BRITISH: But of course, my friend. It’s much better than being president.

SHAH’S FATHER: But there already is an emperor. I want to create a republic-

 

[Second British speaks so quickly that Shah’s father is barely able to finish his sentence, and trails off at the end of it.]

 

SECOND BRITISH: The religious leaders are against it, and they’re right. A vast country like yours needs a holy symbol. You will have everything! Power, shoe shiners…

FIRST BRITISH: And even more! Anything you want in cash!

SHAH’S FATHER: What do I have to do?

FIRST BRITISH: Nothing!

SECOND BRITISH: You just give us the oil, and we take care of the rest.

 

[Shah’s father makes a “hmm” sound, as though he is thinking hard. Military march plays, and ends. Music plays to indicate the change in setting.]

 

FATHER: And that’s how he became king, and naturally his son succeeded him. God had nothing whatsoever to do with this story.

 

[Marji mumbles incoherently in confusion. When she speaks, she speaks in an audible whisper.]

 

MARJI: Maybe God helped him nevertheless.

FATHER: The emperor that was overthrown was Grandpa’s father.

MARJI: My grandpa? Grandpa was a prince?

FATHER: Yes, among others. But that’s not the question.

MARJI: What do you mean, that’s not the question? My grandpa was a prince…

 

[Fantastical, happy music plays. There are the sounds of horses hooves, swishing swords, and masculine laugher.]

 

MARJI: My grandpa was a prince!

FATHER: Ath the time, your grandpa was a young man, and the father of the shah confiscated everything he owned.

 

[Music plays, to indicate a change of setting.]

 

SHAH’S FATHER: Don’t forget the tiles in the bathroom.

GRANDPA: Go right ahead. Don’t let anything stop you.

FATHER: And since his entourage was uneducated, our grandpa was named prime minister.

SHAH’S FATHER: Today, you are my prime minister.

 

[Grandpa sighs, unenthusiastically.]

 

SHAH’S FATHER: You’re pleased, aren’t you? You have diplomas, they have to be put to use.

GRANDPA: Uhhh…thanks.

FATHER: He had studied in Europe. He was a very cultivated man. He had even read Marx.

 

[Grandpa yawns. Sound of pages turning.]

 

GRANDPA: The workers! How can he believe that the rabble can rule?

FATHER: Once he was sidetracked from his prince’s destiny, he began to meet intellectuals.

COMMUNIST ONE: The Bolsheviks make miracles.

COMMUNIST TWO: The emperor of Persia is not Reza Shah, but the King of England.

GRANDPA: When I was Prince, all of this seemed so distant.

COMMUNIST ONE: That is really the problem of our country. Only the prince can allow himself to have a conscience.

FATHER: So, he became a communist.

GRANDPA: It disgusts me that people are condemned to a bleak future by their social class. Long live Lenin!

FATHER: So he was often sent to prison.

 

[Marji gasps in shock. Footsteps can be heard.]

 

MOTHER: Sometimes, they put him in a cell with water for hours. I remember, when I was a small girl…

 

[Music plays to indicate a change of setting.]

 

MOTHER: Every time there was a knock at the door, I thought they were coming to take my father away.

 

[Sound of a hard, firm knock on the door, three times. YOUNG MOTHER screams. Sounds of footsteps running.]

 

MOTHER: And one time out of two, it was really true.

 

[Two knocks at the door. Sound of door opening.]

 

LADY NEIGHBOR: Hello, is your mother there?

YOUNG MOTHER: N-no, why?

 

[Pause. Three knocks at the door, like before.]

 

SOLDIERS: Is your father there?

YOUNG MOTHER: N-no!

 

MOTHER: Your grandma and I went to visit him.

YOUNG MOTHER; Daddy, can I ride on your back?

GRANDMA: Stop it he is tired.

GRANDPA: Of course you can.

MOTHER: The poor man!

YOUNG MOTHER: Giddyap! Giddyap!

 

[Sound of heavy footsteps, uneven, and Young Mother laughing happily. Grandpa groans, and Grandma sobs. Young Mother, unaware, continues laughing.]

 

MOTHER: Prison had destroyed his health. He had rheumatism. All his life he was in pain…

[Mother can be heard crying. Father murmurs unintelligibly, but comfortingly to her until she stops crying and begins to sniffle.]

 

FATHER: Come on, that time is past.

 

[Footsteps can be heard, and then the sound of a door closing quietly, with Mother still sniffling. Father sighs.]

 

FATHER: Do you still want to play monopoly?

 

[Pause. Marji sobs once, then sniffles hard and stops her crying.]

 

MARJI: I want to take a bath…

 

FATHER: We can play after your bath, if you want to…

 

[Small, childlike footsteps can be heard running away, and Marji’s voice gets fainter as she says her line, as though she is retreating.]

 

MARJI: No! I want to take a really long bath!


 

Discussion

 

I’ll talk here about how some of the things which I have discovered really assist a listener in getting a good, immersive experience.

The first, and perhaps the most important part of an audio adaptation of a printed work is the voice acting. In cases where prose books are being converted into audio books, one narrator often reads the entire bok. In the case of Persepolis, a graphic novel, I feel that it is very important to have distinct voice actors for each character. Since every character in “Persepolis” is drawn in a slightly different way, a reader can differentiate between them visually, based on their clothes, their facial expressions, or the styles of their hair. Obviously that is not available to a listener who does not have pictures in front of them. Therefore, characters must be differentiated through the tone and quality of their voices. It is very important the major characters be voiced by people who speak very differently from one another, so that Marji and her mother should not both be voiced by Sopranos, but perhaps by a Soprano and an Alto. Since timbre of voice often indicates age, young Marji’s voice should differ from older Satrapi’s voice, and Sartrapi’s voice should be deeper.

Villains and other one-note characters should also be more easily differentiated from the main characters. Villains are often portrayed in many different media styles with deep, booming voices, voices which make the listener aware of the power and sway the villain has at his or her disposal. High, rasping tenor voices tend to indicate weakness or frailty, or perhaps a lack of conviction. Obviously this is not always the case, but using this kind of differentiation makes it easier for a listener to understand who is more important in the story, and how different personalities are defined. Ghandi is a strong character, and a man of conviction, and yet his famously skinny build lends itself to a high tenor voice. The man himself did not have that kind of a voice, and yet a caricature of him might, for the sake of impressing him physically on the listener without giving the listener a physical example. Attaturk has a deep, booming voice because of his military nature, and his association with power and force. His voice should be jarring to the listener, in the same way that his actions and person would be jarring in battle. These sorts of tricks allow the listener to create an image of a character in their mind.

“Additional voices,” or voices which belong to a mob or crowd of people, should never be too distinctive. The visual would probably be a large group of basically indistinguishable people, and so the voices should be equally indistinguishable. Finding a group of people with very similar voices and styles of vocal expression is actually very difficult, and will perhaps prove the most frustrating task for anyone who wishes to actually turn this graphic novel into a radio play. Most people, especially those who are used to using their ears instead of their eyes, naturally distinguish voices without thinking about it, and are more likely to pick out one voice from another than to take in several voices together.

For the sake of setting the scene, sound effects are absolutely crucial. In some of the panels of Sartrapi’s graphic novel, there are fires burning. Those scene should have the sound of crackling frames. Other scenes include people walking away, or exiting through doors. The only way to properly indicate that is to allow for the creaking of door hinges and the patter of footsteps. Since we do naturally associate these sounds with movement, when we listen to them, we create the proper images in our mind of people leaving or entering a scene. It is important to make sure that the footsteps fade away, or get louder depending on whether or not the character is leaving or entering. This will otherwise be very confusing for the listener, and they may associate the footsteps with the wrong character, thus messing everything up.

Sartrapi’s graphic novel includes several scenes in which one character is speaking, while another character reacts solely through facial expression. Her facial expressions, while simply drawn, are really quite brilliant, and should definitely not be overlooked, as they establish very effectively what one character is thinking or feeling about another’s discourse. It takes a competent voice actor to properly establish emotion with a single grunt or murmur, and yet such noises must be included. When Marji’s father is telling her a story that surprises he, the voice actress must emit surprised exclamations. When the mother is sad, the listener must hear the sound of sobbing. Marji very often looks inquisitive, or confused, and the voice actress must create one distinctive murmur which indicates confusion or desire to know more. This sound must be repeated every time that Marji exhibits that same sort of facial expression, so that the listener grows to associate that sound with Marji’s mother or father saying something confusing. It is also important that Marji and her mother, for example, do not make the same inquisitive sound. Otherwise, the listener might be confused as to which character is trying to puzzle out another character’s words.

The final dilemma I will discuss here involves scene changes, and transitions in between dream sequences. In a graphic novel, it is easy to determine when one has gone from one place to another, as the setting and backdrops are very different. There is an obvious difference between a picture of Marji and her father sitting on a couch, and Marji’s Grandfather sitting on a horse. It is significantly more complicated when it comes to portraying such a difference through sound alone. Since Marji’s father narrates both of the two aforementioned scenes, the listener may have troubled determining that the scene has changed. It is therefore important to employ a musical interlude, in order to clue the listener in to the fact that something has changed. I believe that the same music should be used every time there is a scene change, so that the reader gets used to it, and becomes fully aware of what that musical interlude means. It is true that, if the same music is played every time, the music will not clue the listener in to exactly what new scene they have entered into. It will, however, encourage the listener to be aware, so that when a new voices speaks, or a new sound effect can be heard, the reader understands that he or she has entered into a different part of the story.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this system is not ideal. I do not have the right amount of talented voice actors, and so I cannot record the entire book several times, as I might wish to. If I had that ability, I would, I think, be able to more effectively work out the kinks. In the meantime, I hope that this discussion gives you a better sense of how one might be able to convey an image entirely through sound. 

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