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The Folger Spotlight

Researching a Role at the Folger

Danny Scheie from The Taming of the Shrew here. Remember back in my first blog, when I talked about the Folger being a mythic realm in Shakespeare’s cosmos, or something like that? Well, somewhere twixt the little nerd and the old nerd was the rebel-anti-nerd. To him, fellow actors who tried to preserve even minimal iambic pentameter were “folio freaks.” She who tried to put a pumpkin breech on his butt was a necrophiliac. Aspirated “t”s belonged on Planet Shakespeare. The Folger would have been a mausoleum, where Shakespeare went to die again, now and forever.

That period definitely served its purpose, but how wrong I was.

Folger Shakespeare Library’s Gail Kern Paster Reading Room

A couple of years ago, I was preparing to play Feste, and got a grant to do research at the Folger Library for a few weeks. My first day I felt like such a charlatan: like Esmerelda the Gypsy walking down the center aisle of the nave in the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, lip syncing to Bette Midler singing “God Help the Hopeless.” I told Betsy, the most kind, killer librarian ever, what I was doing: that I was an actor; that I was doing Twelfth Night; that I had to sing all those songs. She pointed me in some remedial directions, all brilliant as it turned out. Each little lead led to another lead and the time flew and I found so much cool stuff, that I did the grant again for Bottom (with Aaron Posner) and then again for Dogberry, Gremio, and Grumio. I have never felt so prepared going into rehearsals since discovering the reading room of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

The Folger is such a great place for an actor to go to prepare. I still feel intimidated, as if Charlton Heston is going to come back to life as a Folger librarian and scream “Get your damn dirty showgirl hands off that Smock Alley promptbook!” I have worn flip-flops that were too flappy. I have been told to put my hat in a locker. But, we actors shouldn’t be intimidated. We are the ones, after all, who are doing the truly primary research in Shakespeare. We put it to the test (through performance) immediately. The actor is the fact-based scientist of Shakespeare scholarship; the Folger is ground zero with the library down the hall from the laboratory animals, in this case, the shrew.


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