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The Folger Spotlight

Gravedigger's Tale on the Road in West Virginia, DC, New York, and Virginia

Actor Louis Butelli is traveling the world in Gravedigger’s Tale as part of the First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare tour. Read an update from his travels below!

Hello once again from your intrepid Gravedigger, Louis Butelli. It’s been some time since I’ve written you and, believe me, it’s not because we haven’t been busy with “The Gravedigger’s Tale,” currently touring the nation in conjunction with Folger Shakespeare Library’s exhibition, “FIRST FOLIO: The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare.”

The last time I wrote you, I had just returned from an engagement in Hawaii, at the Honolulu Festival of Books and Music. Have a look at that post, and try not to be too jealous of the stunning scenery on the island of O’ahu.

This time, I wanted to catch you up on where we’ve been and what we’ve seen and experienced since then.

img_0228-flip-minWheeling, WV
Set on 1,650 acres on the outskirts of Wheeling, the Oglebay Institute is a cultural powerhouse dedicated to providing its community with educational, performance and recreational activities. Given to the citizens of Wheeling by industrialist Earl W. Oglebay in 1926, the Institute is home to the Mansion and Glass Museums, the Stifel Fine Arts Center, the Schrader Environmental Education Center, and the Oglebay School of Dance.

Also on-site is a world-class hotel and event center. I was fortunate enough to stay in the hotel for my visit: in the morning, I sat out front with a coffee, looking over the hills as a small herd of deer grazed nearby. Perfectly idyllic.

The Institute was host to three performances of “Gravedigger’s Tale,” two of which took place inside the Mansion Museum, surrounded by American art, and scale models of the park grounds and its structures. These were lively performances, with spirited Q&As following.

The final performance was of greatest interest – perhaps the most unique venue of the tour to date. Underwritten in part by Wheeling’s own Kepner Funeral Homes, we performed the show outdoors, in the late afternoon, in the historic Greenwood Cemetery.


I can’t begin to tell you how moving it was to tell this tragic story – it begins with a ghost, Hamlet contemplates his own death, Ophelia drowns herself, just about everyone ends up dead – in such a solemn location. Obvious to say but, as a Gravedigger, it was chilling to relate the tale in an actual graveyard. Directly behind our performance space, I noticed a grave with fresh flowers on it. I went to investigate: it turns out it was the final resting place of a 29 year old man, a soldier, who had recently lost his life in Afghanistan. As Hamlet asks, “what is this quintessence of dust?”

Folger front with signFolger Theatre, DC
Later that month, it was my deep pleasure to return to the Folger to perform for students and grown-ups alike for five sold-out shows.

Having created, work shopped and premiered our show at Folger, it is always a pleasure to return to our spiritual home.

While back in DC, we took some of our props out to Georgetown where we held a cross-promotional event at the beautiful Molskine boutique. Snacks were served, new items from the Molskine collection were displayed, and I had a chance to share bits and pieces of our show for the folks who came by.

With any luck, I’ll be back at Folger again very soon. In the meantime, friends in DC who would like to see the show can come to a performance at Gallaudet University on October 22. Click here for details.

Lincoln Center Education, NY
Next up, I returned to New York City, where we played as part of Lincoln Center Education’s Summer Forum. From LCE’s website:

For three weeks during the summer of 2016, Lincoln Center opens its doors to artists, educators, teaching artists, and participants from around the world who are interested in the intersection of arts, education, and community. At Summer Forum, Lincoln Center Education hosts workshops that explore the process of imaginative learning and best practices in arts education and community arts. As part of your workshop experience, you will attend live performances, compelling keynotes presentations, and plenary discussions led by international leaders in the field. 

For Gravedigger, we filled the 199-seat Clark Studio Theater with teachers who were participating in the Forum. They were raucous and excited – one of the most energized performances we’ve had to date.

Based on this engagement, the teachers will now return to their classrooms and talk about the work of art, with a mind towards bringing their students, mainly high school age from the five boroughs of New York City, back to Lincoln Center in the fall, where we will perform “Gravedigger” for them.


Photo: Corey Strickland.

VA Shakes, Williamsburg, VA
For this gig, “Gravedigger’s Tale” represented the third and final mainstage production of Virginia Shakespeare Festival’s 38th season. Founded in 1978 by faculty members from the College of William and Mary, the festival has produced all but 5 of the entire Shakespeare canon.

During the daytime, the VSF Educational Department was rehearsing, prepping and performing their version of “The Tempest.” It was my pleasure to spend time with these excellent students and to give them a pep talk and a little bit of coaching. It was even more fun when some of them returned at night with their parents in tow to see “Gravedigger’s Tale.”


Getting into trouble in Williamsburg. Photo: Corey Strickland.

Above all, it was delightful to spend time in beautiful Colonial Williamsburg. I hadn’t been since I was a boy, and it was great fun to see all of the original buildings, the capitol, and to eat “authentically” in one of several local pubs. I had the Welsh Rarebit.

So there’s a little whirlwind update on our comings and goings. For those keeping score at home, keep an eye out for the following…


Thanks for reading, more soon!