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"I Will Hear That Play": Using Sound to Enhance the Text

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  4 ratings

John Smith. The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles. London, 1624 (Detail)

September 2000
Sarah Hicks teaches English at Surrey Public School, Surrey, North Dakota.

Plays/Scenes Covered
A Midsummer Night's Dream
(This lesson could be used as a final project for the play.)
What's On for Today and Why

In Shakespeare's culture, people went to hear plays. Our culture is increasingly concerned with visual media—we go to see movies, plays, and concerts. Our fast-paced world is filled with quickly changing images and often we do not hear all of the sounds that complement these images. This exercise seeks to open students' ears and help them hear what is happening in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Students will listen to a scene from a film of A Midsummer Night's Dream to analyze how sound influences the overall film.


Students will learn about Foley artists and sound effects artists in the film industry. They will become familiar with the basic terminology, the techniques Foley artists use to create sound, and the use of recording equipment. Students will analyze the text and make realistic sound choices to enhance their performance of the scene. Ultimately, they will use comparative listening skills to comment on classmates' recordings.


This lesson will take 3–4 class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Tape recorder and tapes
A film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Items to make sound effects
Foley Handout
Sound Handout

Foley Handout
Sound Handout
What To Do

1. Students will listen to a scene in a film version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The first time through, students will watch and listen. Students will note what sounds they hear. The second time you play the scene, students should close their eyes and listen. They should note any additional sounds they hear. The class will discuss the differences between the two screenings and compare notes.


2. Discuss the role of a Foley artist in the editing of a film. Explain that a Foley artist is responsible for all sound in a film that is not dialogue or computer-generated. When movies are filmed background noises mar the recording. Actors wear microphones so that their dialogue is picked up directly, but often the sounds of footsteps, bottles on the table, or the soft rustle of a dress are lost in the commotion. Foley artists recreate these effects on a special sound stage. Foley artists need to be creative in the materials they use to recreate sounds.


3. Distribute copies of the Foley Handout (see below). Discuss the terminology and the three major categories for Foley artists' sounds.


4. Ask students to review the notes they made about sounds in the film you watched. Instruct them to try to recreate some of those sounds with objects in the classroom, either as a class or in small groups.


5. Assign students into groups of three or four. Explain to the students that they are going to become Foley artists and sound effects specialists. They will need to read a scene of their choosing (1.2, 2.1.62-194, and 3.2 are good examples), block the movement of characters, and look for moments when sound will enhance the scene. These scenes will be recorded and played for the class.


6. Distribute the Sound Handout. This handout will give the students prompts to use for creating their sounds. Students will find their group and begin to do a close reading of their scene. They should make setting and sound choices at this point. Students must use textual clues for making their sound choices. While the setting of the scene is open to interpretation, sounds must fit the setting. If they choose to set the scene in outer space then the sounds must be believable and appropriate.


7. For teachers and students interested in audio editing software instead of tape recordings, a tutorial in using Audacity editing software is available here.



Students need to map out when characters enter or exit or when they move from one point to another. If a character is moving while delivering a line, the students need to make the noise of footsteps and clothing rustling.


Allow some class time for students to make their choices and practice reading and "sounding" the scene.


7. Students will record their sounds on a sound stage. Any room in the building will work as a sound stage, as long as the students are alone in it. Simple recording equipment such as a tape recorder and tapes can be used. Some schools have more sophisticated equipment, but that is not a requirement for this project.


Students will need to record their sounds while reading the scene. Although the students need to read the scenes so that everyone can hear and understand their words, their delivery of the lines is less important than the sounds they have created.


8. Students will play their recordings for the rest of the class. The audience should write critique sheets for each recording. Students will comment on the validity of the sounds, the believability of sounds, and whether specific sounds added to or detracted from the scene. 

How Did It Go?
Were the students able to understand how Foley artistry can shape a scene? Did students use innovative ideas to create specific sounds? Did students work collaboratively to create a satisfactory end product? Did any of your students want to find out more about the film industry or Foley artistry?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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