By Dana Huff
Act IV, Scene 1 of Macbeth is great fun: the three witches are brewing a “hell-broth” which they will use to conjure the apparitions that talk to Macbeth.
The scene contains some of the most memorable lines of the play and lends itself well to choral reading activities. When I teach this scene, my students create a radio play using podcasting software.
Shakespeare Set Free – Volume 1: Teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth shares a fun lesson plan for teaching this scene, assigning speaking parts and sound effects to students. Podcasting software adds dimensions to this lesson that were not possible when Shakespeare Set Free was originally published.
Chris Shamburg presented a method for using podcasting software and Foley art to create sound effects as part of the Folger’s series of presentations at an NCTE conference in San Antonio in 2008.
Chris brought volunteers up to play the roles of readers and Foley artists. One volunteer broke potato chips in a bowl to mimic the sound of crunching leaves as the witches approached the cauldron, while another volunteer splashed water when the ingredients hit the cauldron.
Two popular options for recording podcasts are Audacity and GarageBand. With software such as Audacity, which is free and can be used on both Windows and Mac machines, students will first need to brainstorm ways to make sound effects. Some ideas include wind blowing, owls hooting, dogs barking, and liquid sloshing as the cauldron stirs.
Students can research ways to create these sound effects. When they are ready to record, they can create different tracks for the speaking parts and sound effects.
GarageBand, which is available for Mac and iPad, has even more options for students, as it includes a library of royalty-free music and Foley sound effects as well as robust sound manipulation tools. My students have made their voices echo or pitched them lower or higher using GarageBand’s tools.
In order to create podcasts, students will need a copy of the scene marked up with sound effects suggestions and a computer or tablet with podcasting software. Students should work in groups of three or four.
A tutorial on using the podcasting software is essential. Enlist the help of technology-savvy colleagues or students if you need help with teaching the software, but do not assume students know how to use it.
Give students two or three class periods (depending on length) to work together to create and edit their podcasts. Advise students to rehearse their parts before recording.
I am always amazed at the unique and entertaining radio plays my students create. Some are funny and some are genuinely frightening. Experimenting with reading and sound effects helps students learn the power of audio to tell a story.