The Wonder of Will: Creating New Work

Celebrating 400 Years of Shakespeare

The Folger commissioned several major new works of art, in fields ranging from drama to music to the visual arts. Inspired by the creative spark of Shakespeare's work, these projects were an ideal way to mark his legacy—and to shine their own new light toward the future.

Among the highlights, described below: Aaron Posner directed District Merchants, a new variation of The Merchant of Venice; Robert Richmond directed Louis Butelli in a traveling, interactive solo piece, Gravedigger's Tale. Derek Jacobi and Richard Clifford headlined Measure + Dido, a Folger Consort project that combines Henry Purcell's music and readings from Measure for Measure, and Caroline Shaw composed The Isle, a new vocal work that premiered at the Folger, evoking the sounds of The Tempest. Visual artist Carrie Roy produced In Touch 52, a soft textile map of the First Folio's travels to 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC, and Nearly Ghosts 18, which represents the 18 Shakespeare plays that appeared for the first time in the First Folio.

District Merchants

A new variation on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, written by four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Aaron Posner, District Merchants brought the tale of money, merchandise, and mercy to a post-Civil War Washington, DC. May 31-Jul 3, 2016

Watch the District Merchants trailer

This Folger Theatre-commissioned play also sparked conversations about race, religion, and identity as part of CrossTalk: DC Reflects on Identity and Difference, a community engagement initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

A CrossTalk DC participant on why the project matters

Gravedigger’s Tale

Throughout the First Folio tour in 2016, thousands of people across the United States also saw a special Folger Theatre production that accompanied the traveling exhibition to select sites. In this short performance piece directed by Robert Richmond and starring Louis Butelli, the Gravedigger, a minor character in Hamlet, appears with a trunk and a book to answer audience “questions” using the text from Hamlet.

Actor Louis Butelli blogs about the tour  |  Watch the Gravedigger's Tale trailer

Measure + Dido

In September 2016, Folger Consort staged its world premiere of Measure + Dido in Napa Valley, California, before bringing it to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. The production, which starred Derek Jacobi and Richard Clifford, combined dramatic readings of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with excerpts from Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Measure + Dido was the fruit of a 2014 collaboration between Folger Institute, Folger Theatre, and Folger Consort to explore Restoration Shakespeare: the adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays that were popular with audiences from 1660 to about 1710.

The Isle

In November 2016, the Folger welcomed Roomful of Teeth, the Grammy-winning vocal group, to perform a musical celebration of Shakespeare that included a Folger-commissioned piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Isle evokes the sounds of Prospero and Caliban’s island using human voices.

In Touch 52

Eighteen of the Folger’s 82 First Folios traveled to 52 cities around the United States during a yearlong national tour. Artist Carrie Roy's In Touch 52, a textile map of the First Folios’ travel paths created from wool and mulberry silk, was displayed in the Folger exhibition First Folio! Shakespeare’s American Tour (Nov 19, 2016 - Jan 22, 2017). The exhibition showed how American communities celebrated Shakespeare during the annivesary year, as it highlighted the unique attributes of each First Folio, and the overwhelming relevance of the plays it includes.

Nearly Ghosts 18

Eighteen of Shakespeare's plays appear for the first time in print in the First Folio, and without it might have been lost. To represent these plays, artist Carrie Roy created Nearly Ghosts 18, a light box with 18 translucent blocks, each engraved with one of the play titles. Each block varies in thickness reflecting the length of the play. It was displayed in the Folger exhibition First Folio! Shakespeare’s American Tour (Nov 19, 2016 - Jan 22, 2017) and will be installed in the Founders' Room at the Folger.