In November, one of the few remaining original copies of William Shakespeare’s “First Folio” — the first publication of his plays — will be in Louisville. In the meantime, Derby City will get a veritable feast of Shakespearean events, including plays by several companies and guest lectures.
It all kicks off this weekend, when a feast of a more sordid sort is retold in an unorthodox form as Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company presents a radio play of “Titus Andronicus,” one of Shakespeare’s earliest, bloodiest and least performed plays.
Kelly Moore, Savage Rose’s artistic director and the director of this version of “Titus,” tells Insider this novel approach came from a combination of several factors.
“I met with a gentleman from a group called Foreward Radio … they were looking for ideas and things, content,” she explains. That meeting didn’t lead to a collaboration, but it got Moore thinking. “We were looking for some new outlets, new ways to try new media, reach new people, particularly young people who tend to be maybe a little intimidated by classical theater.”
At first glance, it may seem counterintuitive to resurrect the form of radio drama in order to reach younger audiences, but there really isn’t much of a difference between a podcast and a long-form story told on radio. And setting “Titus” as a radio drama isn’t just a staging gimmick; when the production is over, you’ll be able to listen.
“We’ll be recording it during performance, and it will be available for download on our website, then we’ll kind of shop around and see if anyone else wants to use it as well,” says Moore.
To prepare for the production, Moore started researching.
“I’ve listened to a couple of examples, just to get an idea for radio dramas and how others do it,” she says, noting she was particularly interested in several BBC-produced radio dramas of Shakespeare’s plays. The aural action can be just as exciting as seeing murder and revenge play out on stage. “I’ll tell you, hearing someone get killed and gurgling and drowning in their own blood, right in your ear, is really effective,” she adds.
Adapting and script cutting is almost always a concern when companies produce Shakespeare, but Moore found that the radio drama presented unique challenges, especially since she’s trying to serve two artistic goals.
“So, it’s thinking what will be interesting for a live audience to see,” she says, describing aspects special to a live radio drama performance. “It’s kind of a challenge for the actors. You get up to the mic and your instinct is to talk to the person you’re in the scene with. No, no, no — you gotta keep it out in front of you. This is a radio drama, it’s a whole different thing.”
At the same time, Moore had to create a script and performance that works as a purely aural experience. “What’s going to work for those who are just listening, for them to really visualize and see it in their mind, too? (Adapting the script) was marking all those spots where we need to help them visualize by creating that atmosphere and sound.”
While some of Louisville’s favorite Shakespearians will be performing — the cast includes treasures like Abigail Bailey Maupin and Neill Robertson — much of the performance will rest on the shoulders of the sound-effects team.
The three-person unit includes Moore, Ashley Beck Heimbrock and Sterling Pratt. Pratt, who has worked on multiple radio dramas, mostly with The Alley Theater, showed Insider a couple of the instruments used to create sound, including an adorable tiny door. Pratt “plays” each instrument briefly as he describes them.
“Here we have what I call the dinner xylophone,” says Pratt, pointing out a plate, cup and bowl with several pieces of silverware. “So you can grab a couple of things, and you have people sitting at a table, and you create ambient noise behind the whole thing.”
Pratt admitted to being a “radio drama nerd,” and as he shared other instruments, Moore and Tom Schulz, one of the show’s actors, maybe gave away the fact that they’re nerds, too. “One of my personal favorites is this little guy, called the thunder tube, for truly dramatic sound effects,” says Pratt, playing the sound as Moore and Schulz simultaneously started making ghost sounds from different places in the room. There was a sense of play and fun, despite the play’s violent and upsetting subject matter.
But a zeal for the theater has always been in Savage Rose’s DNA. In the six seasons of producing shows, the members of Savage Rose have established themselves as theater nerds as well, offering Louisville audiences a chance to engage with rarely seen classical works.
“Titus” will continue that trend and possibly offer a format for other rarely seen gems to come not only to Louisville audiences, but also anyone with a computer. Moore says she already is eyeing other plays for the radio drama treatment.
“Titus Andronicus: The Radio Play” runs Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23-24, at Vault1031, 1031 S. Sixth St. Tickets are $10 for the show, or you can catch the preview performance on Thursday, Sept. 22, for $5. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., and you can purchase tickets online.