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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

A Tour of the Newly-Reopened Folger | Part 1

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 238

On June 21, the Folger reopens after a four-year renovation. The reimagined Folger has brand-new public exhibition spaces where we can introduce visitors to Shakespeare and his plays, as well as showcase some of the treasures of the Folger’s collection. Behind the scenes in the original building, we’ve also completely revamped the way we serve researchers visiting the world’s largest Shakespeare collection.

In this episode, the first of two parts, celebrate our reopening with us and join Folger Director Michael Witmore and Shakespeare Unlimited host Barbara Bogaev on a tour of our building’s public spaces.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on Apple Podcasts, YouTube Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published June 18, 2024. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. Leonor Fernandez edits our transcripts. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

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Next: A Tour of the Newly-Reopened Folger | Part 2: Research at the Folger



MICHAEL WITMORE: On today’s episode, we take you inside the Folger Shakespeare Library for a preview as we get ready to reopen our doors.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger Director.

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s founders, Henry and Emily Folger, wanted to build a monument to Shakespeare in the nation’s capital. They worked with architect Paul Phillipe Cret to design a building that wrapped a white marble neoclassical exterior around Tudor interiors. The Folger officially opened on April 23, 1932—Shakespeare’s birthday.

Now, we’re about to re-open the Folger, after a four-year break for construction and renovation. The reimagined Folger has brand-new public exhibition spaces where we can introduce visitors to Shakespeare and his plays, as well as showcase some of the treasures of the Folger’s collection.

Behind the scenes in the original building, we’ve also completely revamped the way we serve researchers visiting the world’s largest Shakespeare collection.

To celebrate the Folger’s reopening, and to give you a preview of what’s in store when you visit us in person, I invited our host, Barbara Bogaev, to come tour our renovated building for the podcast. I met Barbara outside the gardens at the Folger’s new west entrance.


WITMORE: All right. Here we are at a busy intersection on Capitol Hill: Supreme Court, Library of Congress, and the Folger.

BARBARA BOGAEV: Mike, I have not been here. Since, I think, 2018 or 2019? Tell me about the entrance. This is all new.

WITMORE: Well, looking at this, you would have seen a parking lot and you would have seen a magnolia tree and you would have seen a dark building that needed some refresh in terms of cleaning, etc.

But you also might have been a little reluctant to walk right in because you had to ascend the stairs. And, there wasn’t any real clear sense that this place was open to the public and it was there for you.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I thought you had to be invited.

WITMORE: Right. We needed a clear invitation. We’re looking out over a beautiful garden with a ramp that takes you. You can walk around the sides of this garden. You can hear Puck’s Fountain. You can see these beautiful plantings that are beautiful all four seasons.

There’s a Rita Dove poem that starts right at the corner. The first line of this Rita Dove poem is, “Pocket your calendars.”

BOGAEV: Yes. We had her on the podcast. She was talking about how you and she talked about what your vision was for a welcome. What did you say? What did you tell her?

WITMORE: I said we need a poet’s touch to extend the palm open and say, “Come on in.” But, also, to let people transition from the official world we’re looking at to the west to this beautiful green other world.

I think of Shakespeare’s comedies, you know? They start out with people in a knot. There’s some blockage somehow. People can’t connect. Then, they have to leave the official world, go somewhere else like the woods or a garden, and the knot becomes untied, and by the end, they come out, and it’s a happy ending. Yeah, come on, let’s go down.

BOGAEV: So, we’re going into… the entrance is a little bit underground.

WITMORE: We are going under the terrace because, in Washington, this building is within the viewshed of the US Capitol, so highly regulated. To permit this, we had to talk to seven different permitting bodies, including the Commission on Fine Arts. It was very clear that going down, on this site, was the only place to go, because we don’t want to interfere with the historic building. And that was where the landscape architect and the architect collaborated. Because once the architect said, “We’re going to create a new set of rooms for the Folger”—he knew that the original building is a series of beautiful historic rooms: a great hall, a theater, a library—and the garden designer, Hallie Boyce—I just, I remember this meeting so clearly. She said, “The first rooms will be garden rooms.” And his—Steve Kieran, the architect—his eyes widened, and he said, “Yes. We’re going to pass the landscape straight through the new building.” So, that was when the design really clicked.

So, Steve Kieran designed the single continuous wall that goes under the terrace, through the building and comes out the other side. You can actually see from garden to garden.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s so interesting to see the process. How they each—how they play off of each other: the landscaper and the architect. Yeah.

WITMORE: Yeah. It was great. I mean, it was like watching… I don’t know, like watching a Beatles song happen, you know? It was like, “Yes. Wow. That’s how you guys do it.” And then they put the Puck Fountain here.

BOGAEV: Okay. So, the Puck Fountain.

WITMORE: Puck Fountain.

BOGAEV: It’s very well known to you Folger folks, but to us, tell us about the Puck fountain.

WITMORE: Puck is a sculpture of the spritely character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was designed by Brenda Putnam, daughter of [Herbert] Putnam the Librarian of Congress, who helped the Folgers actually get this lot and build on it.

Puck is surrounded by water and then this great inscription, one of two that face the US Capitol: “Lord, what fools these mortals be.” Now, if you look up on the top part of this building, the other quotation from Shakespeare is, “For wisdom’s sake, which all men love.” That’s from Love’s Labor’s Lost.

I think these are significant and intentional. It faces the Congress and it faces the Supreme Court. Those are the places where words really, really matter. I’m not saying they don’t matter onstage or in someone’s study reading poetry quietly alone. But I think these inscriptions, which are pointed at the court and the Congress, are there to say, “Have a little bit of humility.”

I also think it’s hugely important that a library that contains historical records, poetry, history, theater, is located at the place where words matter so much. Because it’s a statement that the arts and the humanities belong in the process of getting along in a democracy. What a great idea.

BOGAEV: Yeah, what better idea can you come up with? None.

Okay, we’re at the door.

WITMORE: Yeah, so now we’re standing where there was a lot of dirt. To create this, we had to dig—I think it was 30 feet down. We actually had to excavate under the building, and we had to hold the building up while we were excavating. The engineers built this special structure to hold the building up. Then they demolished what was underneath and they poured new foundations. Then they set the building onto these new foundations.

It’s an incredible metaphor for fortifying the foundations of a place so that it’ll be stronger for a long time. And what was so—

BOGAEV: It’s like the Brooklyn Bridge over here.

WITMORE: Yeah. We had a robot on the corner that would shoot a laser at targets all over the building and then do the trigonometry problem to figure out if it was moving at all. And the building never moved a millimeter.


WITMORE: Which was, I think, an engineering triumph. But I think it also says something about how much we want to take care of this place to shore it up and prepare it for much more.

But we really did need to create a front door. From that corner when you’re looking at the Capitol and you’re looking at the Supreme Court—You’ve got a straight line of sight into this door. And, as soon as you enter, you can see all of the things that are for you. It’s an invitational approach to the building.

BOGAEV: Here we go.

WITMORE: And here we go.

BOGAEV: Thank you.

WITMORE: Welcome to the new Folger.

BOGAEV: Oh, this is nice. Look at the wood paneling.

This whole area, where you can check in with a visitor’s desk, you can store your stroller. You can hang out and look at the garden. There’s a beautiful shop just to our right.

BOGAEV: Right.

WITMORE: And we’ve got some beautiful, beautiful things. Really great merch.

BOGAEV: I’m sure.

WITMORE: But straight ahead is the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall. Directly in our line of sight is the piece that we commissioned from the artist Fred Wilson.

BOGAEV: Oh, I can’t wait to see that, since we just talked to Fred Wilson on the podcast.

WITMORE: Did you just talk to him?


WITMORE: We asked Fred to create a piece that would be particularly resonant in a space that was showing and displaying the source texts for Shakespeare. Fred has been thinking about Shakespeare and Blackness for 20 years. We also wanted it to be a place where the present talks back to the past, and that’s what you see straight ahead.

BOGAEV: So, you probably come into this room first, and then you wander the riches here.

WITMORE: We would love for people to go on a wander. There’s no specific beginning, middle, or end. But they will always, I think, be attracted to the Wilson mirror on the west side. They will also be attracted to what we’re looking at now, which is this very large display case containing all 82 of the Folger First Folios.

BOGAEV: Okay, give me a minute here. First, lights up. It looks like… I don’t know, it looks like a giant floor to ceiling flat screen TV set, right? It’s dark and then different spots in it light up under the shelving under First Folios. Tell me about that.

WITMORE: Well, we wanted to display the First Folios as a collection, because the Folgers collected them, and, I think wisely, they understood that every First Folio is different, so it’s important to have multiple copies so you can compare them.

Now this group of truly wonderful books was underground for over 85 years and hidden from view. Showing it as a collection is a way to give insight into the idea of collecting period, the varieties of printed books. And, you know, folks don’t know that printed books can be different. We’ll get into that.

BOGAEV: Well, we’ve talked a lot about the history of the First Folio, particularly with the anniversary year. And my husband was saying, “Oh, there’re 82 on view at the new Folger. What’s so great about seeing one first volume?”

And I said, “Oh my God, the path that they took to being found or being, yeah, being unearthed or also being printed. It’s all so different.” Is that what you’re—?

WITMORE: I agree completely. Greg Prickman and his team, the designer Wendy Joseph, they were—and Peggy O’Brien—they were thinking about, how do we tell this almost romance tale, of 750 being printed somewhere in London, dispersing in the oceans and then coming back together?

I think of a First Folio as a message in a bottle. It’s not addressed to anyone. It’s floating along, but for some amazing reason, when you pull it out, the message seems to be addressed to you.

BOGAEV: The lights, they light up under folios that are connected in some way.

Exactly right. We decided that we wanted to allow visitors to explore the folios and to assume different persona.

You could be a detective looking for clues about who owned it. You could be a storyteller looking for a way to relate to a person, a character. Or you could be a collector who’s evaluating a possible book for acquisition. That takes you through different paths of the Folios on display. So, you can learn about the Folio that way.

The lighting also cycles through different sets of folios. So, we illuminate only the ones that were collected in the early years from 1897 to 1902.

The year 1903, the big year. This single year the Folgers bought eight copies.

Most recent purchases.

The ones that were bargains.

BOGAEV: Bargain basement folios.

WITMORE: Absolutely. The most expensive. The ones that were—

BOGAEV: The ones that were in people’s sheds or something, yeah?


BOGAEV: Water damage?

WITMORE: Some of the best Folios come from sheds.

The ones that were owned by women.

So, you get a pathway through this collection that demonstrates why—you don’t… one book tells a story, a collection of books will tell you more.

BOGAEV: So how do people react to seeing this many First Folios, or any First Folio for that matter?

WITMORE: Yeah, so when we sent the First Folio around in 2016 to 50 states and two territories, the reaction was very interesting. You know, in some cases, people would just stand over the book. It was open to the, “To be or not to be,” speech. And, you know, you could see tears coming down their eyes. In another case, someone proposed marriage in front of the book.

So, you know, it is a resonant object. The words in the—that are preserved in this book are resonant for people, and they prompt them to do things.

We took our intuition from that experience to say, you know, “750,000 people encountered our programming that year through this book tour. Clearly there’s something here that is not just us saying, ‘This is an important book. You should know more about it.’ There’s demand.”

And, as someone who’s worked in the humanities and the arts and knows just how fragile the art of theater is, poetry, the study of literature, the shrinking infrastructure… You know, it’s important to point out that there is demand for this.

BOGAEV: This is an object that you can hold in your hands. Maybe, if you’re like—this is an object that has endured. This is an age of no objects.

WITMORE: It’s in a virtual age where everything dissolves into air and pixels.


WITMORE: It’s a reason for optimism.

BOGAEV: You know what I’m thinking? You see the Gutenberg Bible, right? When you talk about printing presses. You see maybe one First Folio that’s making a big tour through your town, or might live in a place like the Huntington Gardens, say, in Pasadena, where I live.

But you stand in front of it and you think about the people who’ve paged through it, through history. That’s really evocative. But the story kind of ends there. You often stand in front of it and go, “I don’t know what to do with this thing.”


BOGAEV: And this is so dynamic in comparison. It’s a story.

WITMORE: I think unless you interact with rare books and manuscripts, in some way, you miss half the story. Because this is a place where these documents are still used.

We have 22,000 linear feet of collection material, and if you unfolded all the pages and put them together, you’re talking about a massive surface area. You’d need a satellite to take a picture of that. And only a fraction of it has been looked at, you know?

I find that so exciting, that if things will turn up about Shakespeare or other Elizabethans or Jacobeans, the likely place will be downstairs. But you need a person to want to look at it and to page through it, page by page, to really get that.

So, Barbara, here come Greg Prickman and Peggy O’Brien. Greg Prickman is the Director of Collections and Exhibitions. Peggy O’Brien is the Folger Director of Education. The two of them have collaborated over years to create the experience in this exhibition hall and the one across from us.

BOGAEV: Oh, great. And they’re going to tell me about their process. Thank you so much for taking the time. We’ll see you later.


BOGAEV: Peggy. Greg. It’s really nice to meet you.

PEGGY O’BRIEN: Nice to meet you, too.

GREG PRICKMAN: Nice to meet you, too.

BOGAEV: Tell me about what happens here as we enter your creation.

O’BRIEN: What happens here is, we are at the beginning. We’re at the West Lobby, which is new. And we are at this welcome panel, which says, “Shakespeare?”—we love the question mark. “Shakespeare? He was then and there, and he is here and now. Discoveries await. Welcome to the Folger.”

BOGAEV: Why do you love the question mark?

O’BRIEN: We love—not just I—we love the question mark because people have different opinions about Shakespeare. Then, the idea that he was then and there, he’s here and now in this exhibition. But we’re here and now. So, to point that out in the very beginning and to ask that question, that kind of open question, made a lot of sense to us.

BOGAEV: Now, somebody told me that—I don’t know who you talked to, consultants or whatever people who design museum exhibits—that you should start at 1564 with Shakespeare’s birth and then design the exhibit linearly, that way, chronologically. What did… what happened?

O’BRIEN: Right. We were vociferously interested in not doing that. In not starting at 1564. In not starting with people in pumpkin pants and tights and having it not be linear.

BOGAEV: Why were you so determined?

PRICKMAN: Well, there’s one very good reason that I think really underlies a lot of the thinking. We are standing currently at one of the entrances to this exhibition hall, but there are two others.

What we hope is that people will be encountering this space from all directions. So, there is no, “Start here at point A, go to point B.” In part, it brings us back to this welcome wall. “Discoveries await.”

BOGAEV: It’s kind of light on Stratford-upon-Avon, though, isn’t it? This exhibit. Which is kind of a relief. I don’t know. I mean, Stratford can be Stratford.

PRICKMAN: It’s there.

O’BRIEN: For sure.

PRICKMAN: I mean, we have one of the documents that’s going to be on display is related to Stratford-upon-Avon, and is a significant one. That’s part of the story, but it’s only part of the story.

BOGAEV: And, it’s a part that’s been told.

PRICKMAN: Well, and there are other places that are telling it.

Part of what we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is what do we have to offer? The Folger, here in Washington, DC, right now, with this collection. So those are very specific things.

BOGAEV: Like, what is Shakespeare in Washington, DC?

O’BRIEN: So one of my favorite things in this whole collection is a story about a production that the players at Howard University in 1951. Owen Dodson was the head of the theater department. The Howard players were putting on a production of Hamlet.

And he, they—all the players—were Black. Earle Hyman. We have a bust of Earle Hyman just near where we’re standing. He played Hamlet. And John Gielgud was also in Washington, playing at the National. He was on tour with the National Theater in a Jacobean play.

And Owen Dodson got in touch with John Gielgud and said, “Could you… could we come and talk to you about Hamlet? You have played Hamlet, you’ve directed Hamlet.” And John Gielgud said, “Yes, that would be wonderful. Come to my hotel and have dinner.”

But it was 1951, and it was in Washington, and they couldn’t come to his hotel and have dinner. So they met at the lunch counter at the bus station in Washington, DC, because that’s where they could meet and talk about Hamlet. But they did. Ater that, a relationship between Owen Dodson and Earl Hyman and John Gielgud continued because of the beginnings of that conversation. That’s a wonderful story.

We wanted to start here because that’s where we are.

BOGAEV: Okay, this is a great window into your process and what was going on while you were planning it. What are your favorite parts? Let’s start with you, Greg.

PRICKMAN: So, one of the features of this exhibition hall is the printing press that is in the center of it that is situated in front of the First Folio case, the case that holds the 82 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio that the Folgers collected.

BOGAEV: Let’s go over there while we’re talking about it.

PRICKMAN: I’ve long been interested in printing and the history of printing. I contacted the maker of this press [Alan May] in 2019 to start a conversation about building a press for us that we could use here at the Folger. At the time, we had no idea where it was going to go or what we were going to do with it.

BOGAEV: Oh, so it predates this whole….

PRICKMAN: It predates the intensive design of this space by about a year. There was a moment in the design process where the placement of the press had bounced around: It was in a lobby. It was in another room in the building. And there was the moment where we placed it here in the center of the exhibition hall and that locked in the thinking and the concept, which is, this is not just about the static presentation of these books and these objects. This is about hands on: how it feels, how it smells. How these things were made, and the people that had to operate these machines, that had to set the type, and the decisions that they made, the mistakes they made, all those human elements.

That’s a huge part of the story in a way that we wanted to focus how we talk about something like the First Folio. Which is such a more interesting and complex story than just these are words that Shakespeare wrote.

BOGAEV: You have the printing press, and then you have another exhibit where visitors can pretend to typeset. Let’s take a look at that.

PRICKMAN: Yes. Let’s take a walk and see what that looks like, because one of those moments, as I said, of clarity was placing the printing press in the center of the room. It enables us to do work with type and ink and show people all these great and occasionally messy things.

But we realized that we need to have a way for people to sort of play with this idea of words and transferring words into type onto a page, that we didn’t have to clean up after in quite the same way. When you pull that sheet of paper off of the type, and then you see on the paper the words exactly as you wanted them arranged, it’s really magical. It’s a transformation.

So, Printing with Light is an interactive that was developed that we hope gives people just a little taste of that moment. We have blocks that have words on them. The one in my hand says “ghost.” These are all words from Shakespeare.

We have a tray that you can place the words into, similar to putting lines of type together into a form for a press. They’re backwards. So if I’m going to put a word with “ghost,” I’m going to choose “fool,” which is also backwards. I’m going to put that with “ghost.” “Ghost fool.” It’s sort of a motto for myself.

BOGAEV: You’re putting it under something that looks very much like a press.

PRICKMAN: Yeah, it evokes a press. It has, like, the platen of a press.

BOGAEV: Has an arm to press.

PRICKMAN: I slide this tray in, and then I go to the arm, and I pull it. And then on a screen above us, I see “ghost fool.” So, that’s a way for people to experience the joy and the complexity of working with words this way.

O’BRIEN: What was really important to us is that people get to manipulate this with their hands, right? It’s not… you’re not sliding anything digitally around on a screen. You are actually doing, in the same vein, you are doing a version of what people did in the print shop.

PRICKMAN: So, Barbara, we actually have more to show you, which is across the hall in another exhibition gallery. There’s more to see. So, should we head over there?

BOGAEV: Great! Yeah. Absolutely.

PRICKMAN: So, in the Shakespeare Exhibition Hall, we have a lot of other ways for people to engage with topics and ideas and content. Here, we are providing a space to highlight material from the collection. To be able to bring a bunch of stuff out for people to see that ordinarily is difficult to access.

The section we’re standing in right now we call Out of the Vault, which is really that idea: Let’s get the good stuff out of the vault and share it with people.

The cases that are arrayed throughout this space all focus on different topics. There’s always this question of, okay, so you’re going to show stuff from the collection, but how do you present it? How do you organize it?

The approach that we took is to focus each of these cases on something that the Folger does or that people come to the Folger to do. So, that’s how we’re organizing our presentation of the collection.

So, what you see around you. We’re standing next to a case that’s called, “On Stage.” In this case, will always be material that relates to the productions that we’re putting on on our own stage. So, that’s something that we do at the Folger. That’s something people come to the Folger to do.

BOGAEV: Because it is kind of a mystery. Is it a library? Is it a theater?

O’BRIEN: That’s exactly right. That is exactly right.

So we have these different cases that are all… that, you know, one is—as Greg was saying—one is onstage, one is about conservation, one is about teaching and learning. One is about what the Folger’s collected, what the library’s collected since. So, people can get a sense of that.

On each one of these panels, there’s something that describes what that work is. But there’s also a voice from someone who either does that work at the Folger or who comes to the Folger to do this kind of work. It kind of… it fills in a place for us and connects it to the collection in a way that we haven’t been able to do before.

BOGAEV: It’s so interesting to see a library kind of take everything that’s inside of its vault, its archives, and throw it up in the air. And kind of, it all fell down to the ground in this completely different form. That’s what it feels like.

O’BRIEN: I love that. I love that.

PRICKMAN: I love that too. And to my mind, that’s what has always happened here. When people come to do research in this collection, that’s what happens. They pull out certain things, they throw it up in the air.

BOGAEV: Make something new.

PRICKMAN: And what… the way that it gets recombined gives us the insight and new discoveries that come.

We’re doing that same thing, just in a different format and in a different forum. But in a way that I think hopefully will have some of that same excitement of discovery.

Our mission as a library is to provide access to this collection. That’s what we’re doing here with all the items in the cases and the ways in which we’re inviting people through hands on experiences to discover these things.

It’s about opening up that access to people. I love that idea of we go into the library and it all comes down and it settles in a new way.

O’BRIEN: Yeah.

BOGAEV: Greg, thank you so much for this guided tour of these spaces.

O’BRIEN: Thank you so much. This has been so much fun.

BOGAEV: It has been so lovely to spend time with you. And thank you for all your work.

WITMORE: Hi, Barbara.

BOGAEV: Oh, hey! Hi.

WITMORE: Hey, maybe it’s time for us to go see the theater.

BOGAEV: Oh, I would love that.

WITMORE: So ahead of us is the grand staircase taking us up to the historic floors. This is leaving the modern renovation and going into the historic floors.

In the center is this light sculpture by the German artist Anke Neumann, who casts paper and embeds fiber optic cable in it so that when they dry, they create these almost shell-like shapes that are embedded with light.

BOGAEV: So, this is in the stairwell. And it’s a good 10, 12, 14 feet long. And it looks like a cloud, really.

WITMORE: It’s called Cloud of Imagination.

BOGAEV: It’s cool how it looks both like the pages, the paper flowing, falling down on you. Wafting, but also drawing up, floating up at the same time.

WITMORE: I love that, Barbara. It’s like sparks going up and pages coming down.

BOGAEV: Yeah. Lead on.

WITMORE: You know, Barbara, when the Folger opens on June 21, it will never be this quiet again in the Great Hall. But we’re in a current state of intermission. The high school students are doing their [Secondary School Shakespeare] Festival and we hear cheers coming up every ten minutes from different groups.

BOGAEV: Well, the hall looks wonderful. If you’ve never been here and you’re listening, it’s wonderful. It’s, what, floor to ceiling wood paneling?

WITMORE: Yeah, over 30 feet tall.


WITMORE: So under Mr. Folger’s watchful eye will be—

BOGAEV: Mr. Folger is a bust.

WITMORE: He’s a bust on the side of the wall—will be the bar. And we’ll do seating for just hangout chill space with sofas and places to write your love poetry or your song lyrics to, or do your book club.

Then, there’ll be seating for dining and drinking. Then, there’ll be a kind of a space for intermissions. We’ll furnish the room, for multiple uses.

BOGAEV: Wow, so this incredible space now is a place that you can linger and relax in and do all sorts of stuff in rather than tour.

WITMORE: Well, when I arrived—and for good reason—these windows, beautiful windows, almost floor to ceiling, were covered in black linoleum, because they were showing rare material here and we didn’t want any light to come in. So, this room really was… it’s a shame you couldn’t see it. Now it’s on full display.

Okay, Barbara, here we are. This is Folger Theatre. We produce three shows a year in our Renaissance theater. It’s the first permanent Renaissance theater in North America.

BOGAEV: Who’s on the stage right now?

WITMORE: These are the actors for the show Metamorphoses.

BOGAEV: Oh, that I’m going to see it tonight.

WITMORE: You are going to see it tonight that’s so exciting. But you’re getting a preview of this beautiful theater with the, you know, the galleries in wood, and the beautiful scary caryatids that are looking down at us. The two columns. There’s a Pegasus on the ceiling. It’s got warm, resonant sound in this room. But it’s a great place to see a play, or hear a poetry reading, or a concert.

BOGAEV: It really is a time-travel experience.

WITMORE: It’s not a replica of any specific theater. It’s a mash-up of different theaters from the period: So, Globe theater with two columns, but there was the indoor Blackfriars Theater, which was sheltered. Then there was the Inn Yard Theater, which is a surround of an inn, and the players were down on the grounds and were watching in the balcony.

BOGAEV: What have you changed?

WITMORE: This is a historic landmark. We haven’t changed the basic fabric of the theater, but we’ve invested in new lighting. We’ve done dressing rooms for the actors. The most important thing is we created a new cooling system for the audience.

BOGAEV: Oh, well, thank you for that.

WITMORE: We were never able to have a different temperature for the stage and the audience. There are bright lights on stage making the actors hot. And, because of the new cooling system, it’s actually completely silent.

BOGAEV: That’s the Holy Grail.

WITMORE: Right? When the Consort finishes, you know, the last note of a particular movement, it’s over, and it’s quiet.

BOGAEV: I cannot wait to see the show tonight.

WITMORE: You’re going to love it.


In our next episode, Barbara will continue her tour to parts of the Fogler that the public doesn’t usually see.

The Folger’s grand reopening happens on June 21—that’s when you can come see our brand-new gardens, and exhibition halls for yourself. We can’t wait to welcome you back. You can find more information and plan your visit at our website,

This episode was produced by Matt Frassica. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer, with help from Leonor Fernandez. Final mixing services provided by Clean Cuts at Three Seas, Inc.

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Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.