Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Peggy Says: A Walk on the Wild Side

Lots of buzz around the Folger these days because Janet Griffin, Artistic Producer of the Folger Theatre, and Robert Richmond, director of our upcoming production of Richard III, are taking a walk on the wild side.

You know about the theatre here, right?  Background in case you don’t:  Folks here sometimes call the Folger Theatre “an evocation of an Elizabethan theatre”… not a model of any one in particular but with features like galleries and an inner above that make you think of the Globe.

It’s a sweet little 250-seat theatre tucked right inside the Library building.  Janet and her team produce three or four award-winning plays a year, and if you haven’t seen a play here, put us on your New Year’s resolution list right this minute.

So how do we get from an Elizabethan theatre to the wild side?

Even though the set can look different depending on the play, the Folger Theatre has always, always looked like this:

FSL Interior: Folger Theatre View C

EXCEPT when Richard III opens next week, the theatre will look like this:


We’ve taken out all of the orchestra seats, built a platform stage in that newly available space, and put new seats on what has been the stage since it was built in 1932.

Wild side: for the first time ever, theatre in the round at the Folger.  (Below the platform stage, there are multiple traps and a trolley… a lot of bodies falling and ultimately rising in this play.)

The whole theatre in the round idea is anything but new… but it’s new here.  And I am fairly crazed about it because it’s that fabulous kind of change that forces us to abandon all of our assumptions and to begin to perceive differently.

Actors, audience, director, tech crews all have had to, or will have to, jettison all their previous ideas about that space and start anew.  Audience members will be much closer to the actors, and the actors must work in a 360-degree universe.

And that’s just for starters. To me—a future audience member—it feels risky and exciting, intimate and all about discovery.

So what does this have to do with teachers?  A few key things:

  • We’re eager to see how our actors do here, but really . . . teachers are always working in the round.  This close, intense kind of work where real learning happens. . . you do it all day every day.  You are working in the round always, and without a net.  Impressive.
  • Changing up the physical set-up in your classroom can be just as exciting as what’s happening at the Folger Theatre.  Encouraging new perspectives, and burying worn out assumptions.  (It’s worth thinking about, even though you might have to treat the teacher who shares your classroom to a dinner out.) Check out teacher Jennie Magiera’s perspective in Ed Week’s Teaching Ahead blog.
  • Overall, it reminds us about the huge importance of risk.  OK, so as teachers, we are all challenged with required tasks that threaten to sap our energy and innovation chops.  But if we stop taking risks, we open the door to losing our edge.  And that’s unthinkable.  For you or your students.

I’ll keep you posted on how the Folger Theatre’s big risk turns out.  Or better yet, come and see for yourself.  Click here to see a time-lapsed video of the Theatre’s transformation.

Most important: in the comment box, share a one-sentence description of the last risk that you took in your classroom. We can inspire one another this way, and none of us are ever beyond the need for inspiration.

Peggy O’Brien is the Director of Education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Follow her on Twitter at @obrienfolger or send her an email at pobrien@folger.edu.

One Comment

  • While Richard III is not someone with whom I would wish to be intimate I do remember, vividly, the way the intimacy of the theater seemed to infuse the dialogue and the actors with such power during a 2009 performance at the New American Shakespeare Tavern here in Atlanta, with Drew Reeves acting the title role. I heard the gasps. I felt the goosebumps. This is an inspired and wonderful artistic choice. Best of luck to all.

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