Skip to main content
The Folger Spotlight

Audio Recordings Pt. II or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bard

Hello! My name is Kate Pitt and I work as an assistant in public programs here at the Folger. I was also the production assistant on the audio recordings this summer and as we move into our upcoming 2013/14 season, I wanted to go back a bit and fill you in on that process.


Preferably while wearing a laurel wreath.

As Louis Butelli has previously explained here on this very blog, this summer was a marathon – rehearsing and recording four Shakespeare plays in twenty days. Each play had two days of rehearsal, two days of recording, and then on the actors’ day off, myself, our artistic producer Beth, and the director, Robert, would go back into the recording studio (well-fortified with caffeine and whatever type of cheez-covered crackers happened to be in the vending machine that day) and listen to what had been recorded. will all be okay

Shhh…it will all be okay

One play lead directly into the next – Midsummer dissolved into Romeo and Juliet, which turned a corner and became Hamlet who quietly slipped away for a coffee and came back as Macbeth. Four to eight hours a day, rehearsing, researching, listening to and engaging with these four plays. And what plays!

Ordinary conversations were often discovered, upon closer inspection, to have taken place in verse (like this). With Shakespeare wrapped around our tongues, there was a quote for every possible situation:

No more soda in the vending machine? “O weraday that ever I was born!

No coffee either? “O, From this time forth, my thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth.”

Someone made more coffee? “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!”

Too much coffee? “Methinks I see these things with parted eye, when everything seems double”.

Double double espresso. Please.

Double double espresso. Hold the eye of newt, please. On a diet.

We were lucky to have an extraordinary company of actors for this project.  Some stayed for all four plays, some for one, but they all brought their passion and experience with Shakespeare’s text to this project. They also brought a range of experiences with audio recording which, as Louis has mentioned, is a very different process than rehearsing a play for the stage. The actors didn’t need to memorize their lines, but they did need to be word-perfect in reading them off the page, which meant that instead of looking at and engaging with their scene partners, they had to stare at pages and pages of text, which tend to be slightly less responsive.

Oh right, I forgot to mention that each actor was issued a Folio to read out of.

It just wants to be loved

We did as many of the sound cues in the studio as possible, which meant that in addition to reading their lines perfectly, listening to the voices in their head(phones), and y’know, acting, the performers in this project often had to juggle props at the same time.

And sometimes you will also have to duel in the studio. Don't worry, we checked it with equity.

Don’t worry, no props were harmed in this duel.

The actors stood next to a props table, covered with a motley assortment of swords, scabbards, vials, ropes, goblets, plastic branches, cloths and pearls.

Romeo and Juliet in a box.

Romeo and Juliet in a box. (With a lid on it)

At the proper moment, Claudius could reach down and pick up his goblet to toast to Hamlet’s health, the Nurse could drop her cords, Macbeth could draw his dagger, and Helena could push through (plastic) branches while frantically chasing after Demetrius. It was amazing to hear the plays come together with such simplicity, and despite all the distractions, the actors did a wonderful job – fighting, arguing, and falling in love with witches, fairies, lovers, madmen, and poets.


Those crazy kids

In the next post, I’ll talk a bit more about the challenges and opportunities of presenting Shakespeare on sound.

‘Till then!


are these recording available for the public to listen to?

Jessica — October 4, 2013

Hi Jessica,
All of the recordings will be available later this year as part of the Folger Luminary apps. “Othello”, which was recorded at the end of last year’s run, is currently available in CD form in our giftshop and on our website here and on itunes here. “Romeo and Juliet” CDs will be available in our gift shop and online starting next Tuesday for our first “Pay What You Can” performance of “Romeo and Juliet”. We hope to see you there! -Kate

shakespearegirl — October 7, 2013

SO looking forward to these. Audio editions are very helpful when learning the text, as well as for the joy of a tale well told.

Jeffrey Fox — October 7, 2013

We are glad you are looking forward to them! One of my first encounters with Shakespeare was listening to old RSC cassettes on my Fisher-Price “My First Cassette Player” and it helped me fall in love with the text. The fact that current students may be hearing Shakespeare for the first time through the Luminary apps on an ipad boggles the mind.

shakespearegirl — October 7, 2013