How André Holland and Company Brought ‘Richard II’ to Radio

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“That was really great, man!” Ali said.

Holland smiled. Then, a moment later, he grimaced.

He let out an expletive and, holding up the recorder, said, “It’s dead.”

Even when the technology cooperated, Mother Nature sometimes had other plans. On the last full day of recording, Reza Salazar, who plays the Welsh captain in charge of an army loyal to King Richard, was reading the scene in which he wonders about the king’s whereabouts when the latter hasn’t yet returned from Ireland. But the rumbling you’ll hear in the background isn’t of the producers’ creation like the tanks and helicopters. It’s a poorly timed thunderstorm.

“It wasn’t like we could turn the rain off,” said Matt Collette, a WNYC executive producer. “So we were just like, ‘OK, it’s pouring in this scene now.’”

The Public’s decision to pivot to radio was a first for everyone involved. When Ali was looking for audio productions on YouTube, the most recent Shakespeare radio play he could find was a 1930s production of “Julius Caesar” starring Orson Welles.

Yet he enjoyed the challenge of telling a story solely through speech and sound effects. “These are some of the greatest theater, film and TV actors in the country,” he said. “But this format challenges them to think more broadly when dealing with sound.”

Holland, he said, had a particularly strong grasp of how to imbue his voice with emotion. “I’d just shut off the lights in my apartment, close my eyes and let his extraordinary vocal instrument wash over me,” he said.

For his part, Holland said the biggest challenge of his first audio experience wasn’t the limits of the format, but the possibilities. “There’s so much you can do,” he said. “It’s a question of how much you can fit into a three-inch mic.”



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