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Hello once again from your friend Louis Butelli, most recently Feste in Folger Theatre’s Twelfth Night. We closed our show on June 9 after a great run: thanks to everybody who came out to see us.

I’m back at the Folger to participate in an exciting new project – immersive audio recordings of the full Folger Editions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Published by Simon & Schuster, and edited by Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, the Folger Editions of Shakespeare are widely considered to be among the very best anywhere. In working as an actor on Shakespeare plays all over the country, I’ve found that one can always rely on there being a Folger edition in the rehearsal room. Featuring excellent notes, essays, and illustrations, they are an invaluable resource for anyone working with Shakespeare, professionals and students alike.

Now, we’re going to go to work on creating dynamic, exciting audio recordings of the full, unabridged text of the Folger Editions of selected plays. Directed by Robert Richmond, some of Folger’s favorite actors will come together to rehearse and record: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, and Macbeth. Once the actors’ voices have been recorded, Robert and the Folger team will edit for flow, add sound effects and music, and deliver a bold, sweeping version that brings the text to vibrant life.

FSL Editions 7.9.13

We’re also thrilled to announce that a smartphone app, with access to the recordings themselves and some other cool bells and whistles, will be launching very soon. It’s an exciting way to interact with Shakespeare’s plays in a variety of new ways, right on your phone, and will be a great new resource for actors, directors, teachers, and students alike. Check back here and in your e-Newsletter for updates on our progress.

We’ve actually completed work on Othello, and the full recording is already available for purchase by clicking here. Back in November of 2011, the cast of Folger Theatre’s stage production of Othello went to Airshow Mastering to record the play. Click here to read my post about that experience.

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer's Grammy Awards

Louis Butelli with one of Charlie Pilzer’s Grammy Awards

Meanwhile, those who have read my posts in the past know that, when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a kind of soft spot for the clowns and fools. One of the roles I’ll be recording is Peter in Romeo & Juliet. I’ll close out this first entry about the recordings with some thoughts on him.

Appearing in only three scenes, in one of which he doesn’t speak, Peter is a personal servant to the Nurse, and is frequently cut from stage productions. Indeed, given the fact that he doesn’t have impact upon the plot, and given how little Shakespeare gives him to say in his script, one understands why Peter often faces the chopping block. However….

Peter is known to have been played originally by an actor named Will Kemp. The house clown for The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (Shakespeare’s production company), and most likely the original Dogberry, Falstaff, and others, Kemp was a popular comedian in his own right, and was probably an audience draw. Moreover, he was also known to have performed his famous “jigs” (highly improvisational song and dance routines) in the middle of Shakespeare’s plays as comic interlude during breaks in the action. For reasons unknown, Kemp left the company in 1599.

What I find fascinating about Kemp is the way he influenced Shakespeare’s text – not only with his presence, in terms of Romeo & Juliet, but with his absence, Henry V and Hamlet, for instance.

To explain: Shakespeare writes an odd stage direction in the 1599 Quarto version of Romeo & Juliet towards the end of Act IV, scene 5. This is a fairly climactic moment, following the Capulets’ discovery of their seemingly dead daughter Juliet on the morning of her wedding. The Nurse, Friar Lawrence, and County Paris, Juliet’s betrothed, are all in attendance. The scene is a huge lamentation, with the whole family shrieking and wailing, and off they go, with Lord Capulet giving an order to change the wedding celebration into a funeral.

Right on the heels of this, Shakespeare writes, “Enter Will Kemp.” While later editions correct the stage direction to “Enter Peter,” it is telling that in this very early edition, at this very moment, the author brings on his great clown – by name. What survives in the text is a fairly amusing scene between Peter and a group of musicians. By precedent, one might guess that, in performance, Kemp went off script and presented one of his “jigs,” as a “palate cleanser” before the rollercoaster ride of Act 5 began.

By 1600, Kemp had left the company. In Henry V, the much beloved character Falstaff never appears on stage and, in fact, Mistress Quickly has a touching speech reporting Falstaff’s death just offstage. In Hamlet, one might consider Hamlet’s speech offering “advice to the players:”

And let those that play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them, for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh too, though in the mean time some necessary question of the play be then to be considered. That’s villainous and shows a most pitiful ambition in the fool that uses it.

One spies a little ghost of Will Kemp in this “advice,” and one wonders if there isn’t a little clue as to why Kemp ultimately left the company.

In any event, for our recordings, I promise to stick directly to the script. I hope that you’ll follow along with our journey here in this space, that you’ll pick up a copy of our Othello, and that you’ll enjoy our new recordings as they become available.

OK. Thanks for reading! Until next time!

Catch up with Louis on the Folger Theatre blog!

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