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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
The actors stood next to a props table, covered with a motley assortment of swords, scabbards, vials, ropes, goblets, plastic branches, cloths and pearls.
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.
In the next post, I’ll talk a bit more about the challenges and opportunities of presenting Shakespeare on sound.