Directing my way through Shakespeare's canon . . . one play at a time. Perhaps the project could be subtitled: "Me and Will: A Love Story."
Thank you so much! That means a lot to me. Shakespeare has such a rich and exciting body of work, so I’m glad that you are willing to look into it more and give yourself the awesome opportunity to discover it all. I encourage you to seek out good productions of his work that really bring to life all the bad-assery there on the page. Othello is an amazingly heart-breaking tragedy. The Kenneth Branagh version of the movie is pretty good as a way in. As a comparative perspective on the play, I always suggest reading Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. Anyway, please let me know how your studies go! That’s awesome you’re into science. I’ve always been interested in physics and biology, but not very good at it myself. I really admire people with a proclivity for those disciplines! Good luck and feel free to keep in touch with me about your adventures in Shakespeare.
I have been meaning to write about the experience of the run … but, perhaps very telling of the nature of making theatre and subsequently taking it apart, that has been a rather difficult task … luckily I take notes.
Opening was, of course, very exciting. We were SO very ready for an audience. As always, tech week was completely exhausting (this fact comes back to haunt us shortly). The weather was not the killer heat that we experienced the previous summer, but the actors were exposed to the elements and the numerous, extremely physical fight scenes was likely to take its toll on fragile human bodies. In many ways were were lucky we did not experience any heat exhaustion or dislocated limbs as we had during Twelfth Night and opening really went on without a hitch.
In the opening funeral procession the “family” looks on at one of their fallen.
We left the Quad that night feeling satisfied with our work and excited for the next performance and audience we were about to encounter. After the performance, Matt and I went out to celebrate over dirty martinis and nachos. It seemed as if our hard work and dedication had paid off and we had definitely earned a couple of cocktails. Of course, we discussed the performance and came to the conclusion that the crowd was enjoying our concoction of the aforementioned “dirty, sexy fun.”
Macbeth (Matt Holland) takes aim at the defeated Macdonwald (Rowan Russell) as the injured Macduff (Dan Mueller) looks on in triumph.
Perhaps I should not have taken the idea of a Macbeth curse so lightly. The next day, close to call time Gibby informed me that Matt was sick and could not go on that evening. “What?” Simply put, we can’t put on a performance of Macbeth without a Macbeth. After a phone call to Matt, it seemed his voice was shredded, he worried that if he pushed through another night he might do more damage and have to miss more performances. Although the situation was not ideal, the show had to be called. The vocal and physical work had taken its toll. We gathered the cast in the spot where we usually warmed up and explained the situation. They were disappointed and concerned for Matt, but looking at the big picture, it seemed like the best choice. I told them all to take the night to rest so that we would not have to do this for another performance.
Then, of course, we had to deal with the fallout. Awkward conversations with Robert, the head of the Speech Communication department, phone calls to the ticket holders to explain the situation. As I said, it was not ideal, but we had to do what was best for the show. Luckily, most of the patrons were completely understanding and willing to exchange their tickets. We probably lost some, but there was nothing we could do.
Meanwhile, Matt’s mom and sister were trying to get him healthy with concoctions of vitamins and health smoothies. Really, he needed rest. And probably more rest than one night off. But, the show must go on. And it did.
Banquo (Andrew Atkinson) and Macbeth (Matt Holland) discuss their supernatural encounter with the Weird Sisters.
After the unfortunate first Thursday night, things seemed to pick up and, as happens in the theatre, the show grew and became stronger as the performers became more confident.
We began to experiment with the small details, from my end, it was blood packs. I like to give myself a little task to do during the run to keep me from hovering, getting nervous about the show. In this case, it was preparing blood packs and capsules for the various fight scenes.
Macbeth (Matt Holland) stands triumphantly over one of Macdonwald’s nameless thugs (Alex Johnston). Finally on closing night, we got Alex to successfully barf up a sufficient amount of blood.
We attempted various sizes and methods of detonation. Would they palm the packs or tape them? Really, it wasn’t until closing night when we really got the blood down and dirty. Poor Gibby had to hose down the steps of the MU at night to try to keep the public space from looking like a crime scene.
Ross (Rowan Russell) voices his concern for Macbeth as he stands between a chorus girl (McKenzie Miller) and the Ghost of Banquo (Andrew Atkinson).
The blood effects made a great impact on the show. On one evening in particular, the slaughter of Baby Macduff was particularly disturbing and Macbeth got an amazing squirt from his neck blood pack right before the brutal beheading sequence. I was satisfied and honestly, the more horrified gasps from the audience, the better.
One of the most exciting nights of the run happened in the second week. A couple of weeks before opening, a group of around 400 International students had arranged to see the show. This was on top of the other ticket holders. We had an audience of nearly 600 spread throughout the Quad. It was amazing. The audience was full of a little bit of rowdy energy just right for the tone of the show.
I look on with a hint of incredulity as the Quad fills with nearly 600 audience members.
The audience that night, being mostly fairly young patrons enjoyed the show in a different way than typical Bard patrons. On some level, this was the type of audience this production was for. They ate up the sex and violence, cheering after fight scenes and erupting in laughter and applause after some of the more over-the-top sexual content.
Macbeth (Matt Holland) and Lady Macbeth (Erin Cunningham) concoct their dastardly scheme.
In the Lady Macbeth/Macbeth sex scene where they ruthlessly plan to murder Duncan, I had interpreted some of the lines to play up the palpable sexuality between the husband and wife. After taking his wife against a wall, Macbeth pulls her down to one of the lower plinths to finish the job. He stands up and delivers the line, “I am settled” as he zips up his pants. The double meaning here is that he is sexually satisfied and made the decision to go along with Lady Macbeth’s murderous plan. While that moment usually got applause from the audience, that evening it literally stopped the show. Cheering, rolling laughter and applause. Matt had so much time to cover, he reached into his pocket for his trusty lighter and cigarette case to off her wife a post-sex smoke.
The huge and appreciative audience of over 600!
I was so thankful the cast got to have the experience of an audience like that. Sure, it drove Angie absolutely crazy. Large and unpredictable groups can have that impact on a house manager, but it was an amazing experience for the performers.
Closing was, as always, a bittersweet experience. The run was absolutely exhausting but so very satisfying. I knew I would miss this show very much for many, many reasons. One of the more personal reasons had to do with saying good-bye to some good friends I had made during my time at OSU. Dan Mueller, one of my best friends, was moving back to Texas to be with his girlfriend, Miller. Dan and I had worked together on four shows and had become very close over the past couple of years. We had the cast party to look forward to, but I knew that he would soon be in a different time zone. Shows are like that though, they open and close, you say “hello” and “goodbye” to new friends and old friends over and over again.
Me, Dan Mueller, Rob LaFever, and Sarah McKenny riding in the back of the truck from the Quad to Withycombe, hauling set debris.
Strike was quick and dirty and went relatively smoothly. Overall, I felt happy with our work and the show. Saying good-bye to a show makes me a bit sentimental, but I had already moved on to the next project as I had began to rehearse for The Glass Menagerie for Bag&Baggage up in Hillsboro. The overlapping rehearsals made me miss doing warm-ups with the cast one of the nights, I had Matt act in my stead, but it was still a little strange not to be there. I like being there with them, supporting them.
But, as always, I had to say good-bye and let the show go. I had the cast party the next day and floating down the Alsea river to look forward to as a relaxing reward for all the hard work. Leaving the space that night for the end of Bard 2010, I couldn’t help but think, “Two down. Thirty-five to go.”
Because directing a show isn’t nearly enough work (please read sarcasm here). Because I am admittedly somewhat of a control freak. Because I enjoy participating in many aspects of making a story come to life on stage … For whatever reason, I like to give myself a “special project” when directing a play. Some little detail among many details that offers me a unique challenge among many challenges and that can serve as a refuge when other aspects of making a play become stressful. This way I can still be productive, but also find some sort of retreat from the inevitable anxiety of trying to communicate a constructed “reality” to an audience. Besides all that, I’m a rather crafty kitten, and several years experience as props master during my undergrad has left me with the desire to make a tangible contribution to the ultimately ephemeral production.
Last year I constructed two puppets for Twelfth Night. The (not-so) terrifying Illyrian Sea Monster and a cool papier mâché bird, later affectionately named “Tootles the Illyrian Sea Bird.” Long before casting the show, I knew I wanted to construct a very gruesome Macbeth head for the triumphant Macduff to carry on stage in the last moment. But how to do it?
I had some experience in casting faces, but an entire head presented a whole new set of challenges. Through a bit of trial and error, I ultimately came up with a satisfactory product. I learned a lot through this experience and hope to share some tips on how to do this process successfully and efficiently for anyone in need of a realistic looking severed head.
Matt Holland, preparing for a long night ahead.
- plaster of Paris (it’s cheap, I just bought a 20 lb. bag)
- aliginate (a non-toxic material dentists use to make oral impressions)
- plaster bandages
- acrylic sealant
- foam brushes
- liquid latex
- cold foam
- cardboard boxes for setting the molds in
- spatula (for stirring)
- large plastic tubs for mixing
- latex paint
- a wig
- hot glue
- scissors, matte knife
- something to weight the prop (I used a link of chain)
- a swim cap or bald cap
- 1 extremely patient actor
One of the biggest challenges of casting was simply figuring out how the hell I was going to go from a human positive, to an aliginate negative, to a plaster positive, to some unknown negative, and ultimately to a latex positive. Because the human face has so many crevices to it, it’s extremely difficult to go from a plaster positive to a plaster negative without destroying both molds. I originally dismissed creating an alginate negative to work a latex positive because for all its great casting properties, aliginate is very fragile and starts to shrink in a short amount of time. Ultimately, however, I found a way to work from the plaster positive to a reinforced alginate negative.
Matt, all lubed up with Vaseline, and ready for action.
Before I say anything else, I will admit freely to mistakes I made very early on which ending in two casting sessions, when one should have been enough. I attempted to cast the head in two pieces, front and back. This, however, resulted in a failed mold and Matt was forced to sit through another long night of sitting still with goo all over his face.
First, I did my best to create a comfortable spot to work. The props storage was raided for pillows and blankets since he had to lie still. Apparently, he just fell asleep after a while- better than having a claustrophobic panic attack, I suppose.
I did the mold of the back of his head first. This was accomplished by covering his hairline with Vaseline, then putting on a swim cap so that the aliginate wouldn’t pull out too much hair. I mixed the aliginate with warm water so that I had more time to work with it. Aliginate is a tricky material to work with with a short shelf life. It’s hard to get the slower drying version anymore, so anything to slow down the drying process helps. The back of his head was slathered with the gooey pink substance. Then, to strengthen it, I used plaster bandages. Without this step, the alginate would just crumble when I pulled it off his head. After the plaster dried, I carefully removed the mold and set it on a cardboard box, the filled the alignate with plaster.
His face was another challenge all together seeing that he needed to be able to breathe. I couldn’t really have a successful production of Macbeth with an asphyxiated Macbeth on my hands. The standard trick to keeping an actor thoroughly oxygenated during the casting process is inserting straws into the nostrils. Matt quickly decided, however, to trust that I would keep the passages open and we nixed the rudimentary breathing apparatus.
I carefully covered his face and ears with what I assumed was a thick enough layer of alginate and then covered the pinkish goo with plaster bandages. Then we waited. And waited for the plaster to harden as the hour grew later and later. At some point Matt fell asleep on the floor, he was snoring. Around 10:00 pm it was time to remove the cast. We were SO careful … but FAILURE!!!! The alginate was just too thin around the nose and tore. The cast was unusable and had to be redone. Not that night, however, as it was just getting later and later.
Take Two: Upon reflection, Matt and I determined we just got overzealous in our attempt at efficiency and we needed to respect the properties of alginate. Therefore, I decided to attempt the second face casting in pieces and did the ears separately. This yielded a usable result.
Matt’s ears in plaster, coated with a double layer of acrylic for protection.
I poured the plaster into each alignate mold and the allowed ample drying time before moving on to the next step. With the head now in four separate pieces rather than two, I knew I would have to figure out some clever method of attaching everything smoothly.
Matt’s head in a cardboard box. People coming through the costume shop found an unnerving surprise for themselves!
After removing the plaster pieces, I took some time to sand off any minor imperfections, then coated each piece with an acrylic sealant. First, I wanted to protect the pieces. Second, I wanted to find a way to make them as smooth and slick as possible so that when it came to pouring negatives the materials wouldn’t stick to each other.
There was a good deal of debate about how on earth I would make a proper negative mold in order to get the latex positive I wanted at the end of the process. The answer was pretty obvious from the beginning, but I had avoided attempting it because of my experience working with alginate. The two inherent problems are that it’s extremely fragile and it shrinks. The greatest virtue, however, is that it makes and excellent cast and will not stick to plaster.
Mixing plaster can be a messy business.
I decided if I somehow reinforced the alginate with gauze strips and a plaster coating, I would be able to get what I needed as long as I worked quickly and did not give the material time to shrink. I covered the outside of the plaster layer with more gauze to increase the structural integrity of the materials.
I covered the plaster pieces in a thin layer of Vaseline, prepared the alignate, covered the alginate with gauze and then more plaster, and left the castings in boxes to dry. When I removed the plaster pieces the following day I found excellent negative molds. But, the latex needed to be poured immediately. I layered the molds with Vaseline then carefully built up thin layers of liquid latex inside the alginate molds. Using a hairdryer, I sped up the drying time between layers. I made about 8-10 thin layers of latex, then poured each mold with the wet cold foam.
The alginate mold ready for a thick layer of cold foam.
Cold foam is an interesting material to work with. It comes in two parts that need to be mixed and then poured into the mold. It becomes thick and has a consistency of cake batter. The interesting thing about it is watching it expand. I worried I wouldn’t have enough with each mold I poured, but was rather pleasantly surprised with how it grew inside the molds.
The cold foam, I found, is a very strong material. This is great because the head was not fragile in its final state. Once the material was dry, I removed the pieces from the molds and set to work. First, trimming the excess cold foam away so that the front and back pieces would fit together. I also carved a large chamber in the middle of the foam so that I could weight the prop.
The trimmed pieces of cold foam covered in latex in an unpainted state.
There was a fair amount of carving and trimming involved in order to get the front and back pieces to fit together properly. Being a strong material, ordinary scissors would not do the trick and I ended up sawing the excess foam away, being careful not to shred the latex covering in the process.
The fleshy ear pieces were a bit unsettling to behold. But they looked cool.
Beforeit came down to attaching all the pieces, I had to figure out how to add the ears smoothly. In the end, I hot glued the front and back head pieces together and then using liquid latex attached the ears. I used thin layer of liquid latex to cover the seams. Although, in the end, you could see some ridges, the process worked fairly smoothly and certainly good enough for a prop that would been seen from distance.
The head propped and and ready for the final steps of painting.
The painting process was really a lot of fun. I started by covering all the flesh tone with a very pale shade. Matt later argued that he wasn’t that pale. Sure. But, I figured since Macbeth’s head was draining of blood, it needed a deathly pallor. Being creative, I mixed different shades of blood and used a combination of brushing and stippling on the paint to create textures.
The head begins to look more and more gruesome.
I shadowed the insides of the ears and nostrils to give the head more dimension and, when I was finished, I covered it with a final coat of acrylic glaze for extra protection. I found a ratty old wig in our costume storage and cut it to resemble Matt’s haircut. To add a further level of detail, I added eyebrows and eyelashes (just a set of fake eyelashes from the drug store) attached with superglue. The wig was attached with hot glue.
A girl and her severed head. A long process nearly completed.
The head served the production effectively in the end. On performance nights, it always got a reaction when Dan (Macduff) re-emerged after besting Macbeth in a climactic battle lugging on a bloody head.
Fleance holding the head of his father’s murderer, encouraged by the victorious Macduff.
This was a very long process, but I felt worth the effort in the end. I learned a lot about what does and does not work in the casting process and could certainly craft another similar prop much more quickly in the future!
Matt and Matt post-show. A fairly good likeness!
ACT II: “Out, Out, Brief Candle!”
Macbeth’s mental unraveling becomes clear at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet. This scene marks the characters transition point from methodical and rational, to increasingly paranoid. At the very beginning of the scene, Macbeth commands the room with grace and charm. The appearance of the murderer who explains that the plan to murder Banquo and Fleance was not flawlessly executed changes Macbeth’s demeanor. At the news that Fleance escaped, Macbeth snaps, “Then comes my fit again.” For a brief moment, he believed all his planning and calculated murders would help him to escape the premonition. Fate, as always in Shakespeare’s world, took the upper hand.
(Banquo’s ghost is an unwelcome guest at Macbeth’s estate.)
Not one to give up easily, Macbeth attempts to calm himself, aided by Lady Macbeth and manages to do so with a degree of success. That is until the ghost appears. No longer able to contain his fear and rage, Macbeth explodes in a terrified rant to the ghost that only he can see. The banquet attendees watch on as their newly crowned king exhibits signs of madness.
Ever-clever, Lady Macbeth takes the lead in controlling the situation and dismisses the befuddled party guests. She attempts to calm her husband, but he has gone to a place where she can no longer follow. He descends into an even more treacherous plan to save himself and circumvent fate by running towards it:
I will, to the weird sisters:
more shall they speak; for now I am bent to know,
By the worst means, the worst. For mine own good,
All causes shall give way: I am in blood
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
returning were as tedious as go o’er.
Macbeth’s first encounter with the Weird Sisters was complete happenstance. His second signifies a shift in his character. Rather than chance encounter with the supernatural, he seeks their advice to see if he can somehow divert from the path he saw so clearly stretched before him. His methodical calculations failed, and now (in his mind) he must rely upon mystical forces. It is also at this point that Macbeth turns completely from his dearest partner upon whom he relied for most of the play.
(Macbeth seeking advice from the Weird Sisters.)
These significant shifts in who and what Macbeth trusts demonstrates that he is changing. A man who was, at first, bold and decisive has become paranoid and rash. Things continue to spiral from this point on. After hearing from the apparitions that “none from woman born” shall harm Macbeth and that he should beware of Macduff, Macbeth becomes simultaneously cockier and even more anxious.
Through the rest of the action of the play Macbeth is constantly pulled in two directions: his basest most animal survival instincts and an increasingly fragile super-human sense of invincibility. The tension increases, pulling upon him until he eventually reaches a breaking point in Act V, scene 5. At the top of the scene, he struts around, believing himself to be utterly indomitable. Amidst his displays of pride, he hears from within the palace the cry of a woman and is momentarily taken out of his carefully constructed fantasy of power and pure masculinity. “I have almost forgot the taste of fears,” he remarks, catching himself in a grim reminder that fear is a part of the human condition and one that he has felt in the past, but he has chosen to suppress those feelings: “I have supped full with horrors. Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts, cannot once start me.”
A mere moment later, he receives the news that his wife is dead … and in that moment, his whole world comes apart. At his most vulnerable Macbeth experiences as existential crisis, so masterfully articulated in some of Shakespeare’s most powerful word-images:
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(“Out, out, brief candle.”)
As he talks himself through the reaction to the news, he grapples with the transient and futile nature of life. All the poor human players in this play of life “strut and fret” and when the show is over … it’s over. No matter how the play ends, it does end and is ultimately meaningless. Macbeth has committed countless terrible deeds in order to create a legacy for himself, something that will live beyond his own “brief candle” and, yet, it will come to nothing.
(Macbeth, relishing in his final moments of life before Macduff snuffs out his “brief candle.”)
After so eloquently articulated the tenuous nature of life and death, Macbeth
sloughs off his philosophical human nature in order to survive. He fiercely battles in order to hold onto what remains of his meaningless life. He believes that he will be able to make it in spite of Birnam wood moving toward him. That is, until Macduff delivers the news that he “was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” At this point, Macbeth lives beyond hope, refusing to yield and battling until the bitter end.
His story is one of tragedy without hope. He is a maddeningly complex character: brilliant, bold, powerful, flawed, and fragile. He is consistently inconsistent and, therefore, one of Shakespeare’s most completely human characters.
Making a Play
I frequently say, “I have the best job in the world” or “I love making plays because I get to tell stories.” I mean these things. I really, really do. But that does not mean it isn’t hard work or that an artistic process can’t be a struggle. The more plays I direct, the more I discover about the nature of process. Turning a script into a performance is a collaborative alchemy. The text is simply ink splatters across paper until actors and designers bring them to life. The process requires focus, discipline, creativity, trust, and oftentimes failure along the way. I need to remind myself of this aspect of making theatre when I have one (or two or three) “bad” or “unproductive” rehearsals. Failure helps us all learn what doesn’t work and what can be changed. It’s part of the process. As long as we stay focused on the story we want to tell and relate all choices back to the dominant concept, the pieces should eventually fit together.
(Working the banquet scene and the appearance of Banquo’s ghost.)
The past couple of weeks have included a variety of successes and failures as we continue to put the pieces of this violent, tragic tale together. I adore this play. It’s one of my favorites and I’m ever-determined to do it justice. One of the problems I keep running into right now, however, is striking the balance I want between the flash and spectacle and Macbeth’s discovery of humanity. I told Matt the other day, “You need to earn that existential crisis in Act II.” It’s true. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are difficult characters because they are not immediately sympathetic. In fact, through most of the play, they are outright unlikeable. While their vulnerabilities are hinted at in Act I, the payoff does not occur until Act II: Lady Macbeth’s fragile humanity is revealed in her sleepwalking scene and Macbeth’s occurs through his “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. Both instances remind me of what Tony Kushner does so successfully in Angels in America with Roy Cohn’s character. Roy is despicable throughout most of the two part play. In the moments before his death, however, Kushner reveals a brief and poignant glimpse at the human being beneath his monstrous persona. Even Roy Cohn is a person too. I want the Macbeths’ unraveling to have a similar impact- a grim and bittersweet reminder of the preciousness of human life … even among the cruelest of us.
The Macbeth Thread
Sometimes I wonder if the way I typically rehearse a process is the most effective way. I block a show in pieces, usually out of order. Then I go through and meticulously work sections piece by piece and hope that the narrative thread will make sense when we start working the show as a whole. This allows room for focus and discovery in the “working rehearsals” but sometimes (at first) character arcs seem uneven.
(Macbeth is seeing ghosts and Lady Macbeth does not quite know how to handle the situation.)
Macbeth as a character has been problematic for me. I continue to muse over the question, “Where is he now emotionally?” Matt and I have been working to provide hints as Macbeth will transform from a focused and methodical cold-blooded killer into a vulnerable man, utterly spent and yet desperate to cling to life and legacy. Strides have been made, but there is still work to be done. We go back and forth. He can’t be too friendly or charming in the beginning. He is a killer and he has accepted this part of his life. Perhaps he believes this is it for him. There is no hope for redemption at this point and he has convinced himself that he wouldn’t want it. This is an extremely difficult role to play. From the beginning I’ve been telling Matt, “emotional gymnastics” when describing the character. We’re finding that balance, but as with everything it can be a process of trial and error.
When I initially came up with the New Orleans jazz concept, I thought a definite “no” on the idea of using dialect. For weeks people (involved in the show and not involved) have asked, “So are you going to do dialects?”
I thought about it a lot. On drives. On runs. Dialects. Hmmmm. Without a doubt, the addition of an appropriate dialect can enhance the world we are creating. On the other hand, it can become distracting and come off as silly if not done well. Throwing caution into the wind I thought, “Well, why the hell not? Let’s try it.” I spent the better part of last Saturday night coming up with a variation of a New Orleans (of which there are MANY) dialect for the cast to try. I developed something that would be relatively easy to learn and still be understood in the enormous and vocally challenging space. On Sunday night, I had Matt and Dan over for dinner to attempt the dialect. We went over the “rules” and they read through their Macbeth/Macduff dialogue from Act II. The result? I kinda liked it. Something about Shakespeare’s text sounded almost natural with a bit of Southern flair. I liked it enough to try it out on the entire cast who (in general) met the idea with a mixture of fear, incredulity, and a “my-director-is-crazy.” But, in the spirit of adventure and fun, they tried it anyway. I liked it enough to want to pursue it another night.
Tuesday’s stop/start of Act I, however, did not go as smoothly. I don’t know if it was the dialect, the weather, or a general lack of focus … but something was off. The act was uneven, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth seemed way to kind and friendly, things looked sloppy … “it was a rough night.”
With a deep breath, I decided to refocus on the concept. “What story am I telling here?” I spent some time figuring out what needs to change in order to make this work. We can’t stray too far from the path or else things will become muddled and confused. The show needs teeth. Like all shows, things must be tight and precise for them to work best. We soldier on!
(Working the porter scene with my prop gun. Directing with a gun can be quite empowering.)
The following evening’s Act II stop/start was much more productive. I think we found our direction again. We’ll see more tonight as we put together the entire show with (I hope) a renewed and focused energy.
Experiments in Latex
I enjoy having projects to work on besides my work in rehearsal. Last summer it was constructing the famous “Illyrian Sea Monster” and “Tootles the Illyrian Sea Bird.” I’m a crafty kitten and enjoy the process of figuring out how to construct cool props. For Macbeth I eagerly volunteered to craft the severed Macbeth head.
It’s an exciting prop to build and (I’m convinced) will look super cool when I get it finished. As with all processes, however, there is a certain degree of trial and error. At the moment … there is admittedly a lot of error.
After putting every more miles on my trusted Toyota Camry in search of the proper casting materials, I finally drew together enough of what I need to make this head right. I have done face casting in alginate before and am familiar with the process. But, this is a bit more consuming than before because I need to do Matt’s entire head.
I decided to do it in two parts. Once I get the latex/cold foam head halves complete, I can glue them together and cover most of the seam with a wig. It should work. I did the back of his head first because I thought this part would be an easy way into the casting process.
(Casting the back of Matt’s head. He said this was the worst part as the plaster and swim cap constricted his head in a rather uncomfortable fashion.)
Making a cast is a messy and time-consuming process, as I was reminded late Wednesday night. We started at about 9 right after rehearsal and didn’t get out of there until about midnight. I began the process by cracking open a couple of Coronas with lime … might as well enjoy ourselves if we need to be working late. My other motivation for the beer was to make sure Matt was relaxed. Having your face cast can be a weird and claustrophobic experience. Eyes, ears, and mouth are completely covered with only two little nostril holes. It’s important to keep the person you’re casting comfortable. The alginate, a great casting material, is messy and extremely fragile. While it sets quickly, it must be bonded to a layer of plaster which gives it structure. The plaster takes much longer to set and thus requires the actor to be patient and still for 20-30 minutes. We successfully got the back piece cast and I poured the mold for the back of his head. Easy enough.
(Matt getting greased up and ready for the face cast. He looks like Wolverine from X-Men. Two days later … there is still Vaseline in his hair. What a trooper.)
All greased-up and ready to go, we set to work on the front of his head. I had to do head and neck in order to get what I need to really make the prop correctly. I whipped up more aliginate and set to work.
I layered the plaster bandages on. Matt stayed relaxed and calm. He assured me beforehand that he was not claustrophobic. He was, in fact, completely relaxed. Maybe even a little too relaxed. About halfway through as I waited for the plaster to cure, I was pretty sure he was snoring.
When the plaster was ready, I had him sit up, face down with his hands holding the cast to catch it. I loosened it around his ears and we pulled it off … FAIL!!!! The alignate was torn in several places and, therefore, unusable. Blast! Nearing midnight we decided to call it for the night and try again Sunday. We’ll see. Trial and error. Trial and error.
Shakespeare says few encouraging things to say on the topic of marriage. The marriages depicted in his plays, in general, are not the “happily ever afters” one might expect from the passionate love stories developed in his comedies and tragedies. In general, Shakespeare seems more interested in the courtship aspect of love and gives little regard to married couples that are actually in love with each other. Marriage is most often portrayed as a disappointing and stagnant end after the flirtation and excitement of courtship rituals. As You Like It’s Rosalind expresses the anti-climatic end to the hot pursuit: “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed. Maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives” (IV. 1. 124-127). Speculations arise that Shakespeare’s unflattering portrayals of marriage arose from his own unsatisfying life with Anne Hathaway. Or perhaps he felt that happy marriages are just not theatrically interesting … That is unless the couple in question is bound together in passion and mutual ambition.
(Macbeth and Lady Macbeth doing their favorite activity … planning murder.)
It may seem odd for a couple capable of such evil deeds to treat each other with such love and respect. The way they interact other demonstrates that they are not crazed and heartless sociopaths. The passionate partnership between the couple adds depth and poignancy to both characters and a powerful narrative thread to Macbeth’s discovery and loss of humanity. The relationship also seems to suggest the strength two people can draw from each other … it is that bonded partnership that makes them at so dangerous and so richly human.
In Act I, Macbeth expresses his ambitions and desires while talking through the dangerous and bloody path that lies ahead. He is often self-reflective, musing over his fears and dangerous desires that he does not (or cannot quell). Based on his interactions with Duncan, his apparently jealousy of Banquo, his reactions to the premonitions, and his killing prowess, it seems as if he cares little for humanity. It isn’t until Lady Macbeth appears reading his letter from the battlefield that the audience encounters Macbeth’s vulnerabilities. The letter implies a devotion to his wife that he does not have for Duncan. In it he refers to her as his “dearest partner of greatness” elevating her to his own status, which would have been uncharacteristic in Elizabethan-era marriages. Later, when she convinces him to go through with the plan, he pays her another compliment by masculinizing her: “Bring forth men-children only; for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing by males.”
Lady Macbeth’s response to the letter also demonstrates how they show each other parts of themselves that no one else sees. Excited at the prospects expressed in the letter she fantasizes about their future, she quickly confesses her fears that he will not be able to go through with a power-grab as his nature “is too full o’ the milk of human kindness.” Clearly this is a part of him he does not expose to the world, but a part that she knows intimately. The absence of a living heir and associated sorrow is palpable throughout the play through Macbeth’s obsession with Banquo’s line succeeding and his own “fruitless crown.” The lack of a child seems to drive the couple, ever-desperate for meaning in life, to so arduously seek a legacy. While this is never spoken about directly, it seems to explain the lengths to which they go for Macbeth to take the crown.
Their marriage is one of mutual support and admiration. They take turns assuming strength in the relationship when the other is vulnerable. After Macduff discovers the murder scene, Macbeth becomes shaken, nervous. Lady Macbeth responds by leaping into action and “faints” to serve as a distraction to the gathering crowd. Later, when Lady Macbeth begins to falter in her dedication to carry out the plan, Macbeth spurs her on and she complies.
The way they easily pass power between each other demonstrates their shared and trusted bond. They couple is unstoppable in the strength they draw from each other … at least as long as the other is there.
(Matt Holland and Erin Cunningham work through the banquet scene as the relationship between the Macbeths deteriorates.)
Things begin to go terribly wrong when they turn inward from their partner. The last interaction they have with each other follows the banquet scene when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo. While Lady Macbeth attempts to reach him gently, appealing to him to sleep (which would require moving on from their deed and associated guilt), he focuses on the next step: appealing again to the three sisters. He chooses, at this point, to turn away from the help and support of his wife and, instead, reach out to supernatural forces.
The next time the powerfully focused and seductive Lady Macbeth appears, she is sleepwalking and seemingly living simultaneously in the past and present. What happened in the interim other than the disappearance of her “partner of greatness”? Without him by her side, she crumbles inward, consumed by guilty thoughts of “knocking at the gate” and “the smell of blood.” The same goes for Macbeth who becomes increasingly erratic in Act V, moving between confidence and complete paranoia. When the news is delivered that his wife is dead, he experiences a profoundly moving existential crisis expressed through the elegant poetry of the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech. While he has seen and caused many deaths, it is the death of his wife and partner that brings the weight of his actions and the fragility of human life to his mind. But, he is given little time to mourn and must spring into action in order to preserve his own fleeting life.
ACT I: An “Anti-Hero” Discovered
(Something wicked this way comes … oh shit! It’s Macbeth with a gun!)
Many productions of “The Scottish Play” focus on Macbeth’s alleged fall, rather than a moral transformation and re-humanizing journey. While this perspective is dramatically compelling and comforting in its familiar tragic mode, it presents several problems. First, Lady Macbeth is portrayed in these instances as Macbeth’s manipulator, spurring him on to commit evil deeds. The text, however, demonstrates that many of Macbeth’s darkest thoughts occur long before he and Lady Macbeth interact. While she encourages him and supports his murderous power-grab, she does not plant any thought into his head that wasn’t already there. This more traditional character narrative gives too much credit in vilifying Lady Macbeth (who, quite frankly, has her own set of problems to cope with). The second problem is that it blunts the potential for a more fully-realized and complex character transformation and ignores Macbeth’s initial introduction to the audience. This “Act I” (as defined by the 2010 Bard in the Quad act-break) demonstrates how Shakespeare sets up a subversion of the classic tragic hero in the first half of his play.
Macbeth’s construction as an “Anti-Tragic Hero” begins in ambiguity as other characters express widely conflicting views about him. In the opening scenes, Shakespeare presents several perspectives on the play’s eponymous character and provides the audience with the image of a darkly inconsistent figure. While on the surface, Macbeth seems to embody loyalty and bravery, his interactions with the Weird Sisters, his wife, and himself reveal his cold ambitions and his own impulse to kill. The audience, being privy to the conflicting aspects of his nature, is left with a man who has done bad things and will continue to do bad things until he is confronted with the desire to change. This differs from a traditional tragic hero who begins the story as unquestionably “good” and whose flaws and weaknesses surface through the play. “Act I” of Macbeth’s transformation presents an unrepentantly morally compromised man while offering subtle hints of his humanity and weaknesses and, therefore, inverts the expectations of a tragic hero.
As written, Macbeth does not appear on stage until Act I, scene 3. He is, however, discussed extensively by other characters. The first mention occurs in the first scene when the Weird Sisters, gathering to create mischief and mayhem, plan to “meet with Macbeth” upon the heath. This reference to Macbeth by a trio of witches reveals his own (at best) moral ambiguity. Witches in Shakespeare’s context would have been regarded as evil women who sold their souls to the devil in exchange for clairvoyance. The fact that the Weird Sisters plan to associate with Macbeth suggests his susceptibility to “evil” and signals to the audience that Macbeth may not be a trustworthy character.
In immediate contrast to this image, Duncan and Malcolm express their reverence for the brave Macbeth in the play’s second scene. Duncan cries out, “Worthy gentleman” at the thought of Macbeth’s loyalty. The stark juxtaposition of these images confirm that he is not a reliable character even before he first enters. To further strengthen his connection to the witches, his first line of dialogue, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” echoes the Weird Sister line, “Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
Macbeth’s immediate reaction to the Weird Sisters’ premonitions reveal two things about him. First, his preoccupation with Banquo’s premonition that he “shalt get kings” hints at one of Macbeth’s deepest buried weaknesses- his lack of an heir and his subsequent feelings of shame and failure. While a more traditional tragic hero would perhaps reveal this aspect more readily and suppress outrageous pride, Macbeth wears his hubris proudly and attempts to hide what makes him most human. Macbeth wears a mask of strength, ambition, and invincibility throughout “Act I.”
The second trait Macbeth’s reaction reveals is that his ambitions towards greatness are rooted within him. After Ross delivers the news that he has, indeed, been made Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth fixates on the yet-unfulfilled prophecy of becoming king. The thought of succession plays upon his imagination. Although he attempts to dismiss these thoughts and allow chance to crown him, his first instinct was to entertain the notion of speeding up matters. His desire bubbles up (like so much toil and trouble) in the next scene when Macbeth encounters and ruminates over another stepping-stone in his path to kingship. Duncan names his son, Malcolm as his heir and Macbeth muses in an aside, “The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies.” He sees a linear path ahead of him and a series of actions he must overcome. It is not enough to get rid of Duncan, he must do it in such a way that eliminates Malcolm as successor. Although murder has not yet been committed, Macbeth demonstrates that he is methodical and calculating in the way that he rationalizes step-by-step the path before him. This foresight contributes to the second-thoughts he experiences shortly before committing the first murder:
If it were done when ‘tis done ‘twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; but in this case
We still have judgment here: that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor.
Macbeth knows that one murder won’t be enough and that a proper cover-up requires a long road ahead to ensure his safety from detection.
Long before Macbeth assassinates Duncan, he plans the murder. While Lady Macbeth plays an active role in the murder, encouraging her husband and working out the details of laying daggers ready, Macbeth’s mind was set early on in the story. Macbeth is a killer after all, as a warrior on the battlefield he has killed many, many times. The killing, however, must be different in that it makes him a traitor and he is aware that committing it will require careful planning in order to avoid the consequences. He displays the clear-headed rationale of a cold-blooded killer, seeing the consequences of his actions, but deciding to go through it anyway.
After committing the murder he is overcome by a feeling of regret that he had not anticipated. He dares not look upon what he has done after forgetting to plant the daggers in the hands of the sleeping guards. Lady Macbeth, then, takes over the role as the clear-headed and methodical killer. She does what he cannot do and chides him for showing weakness, “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white.” While these pinpricks of vulnerability appear in the first half of the play, Macbeth resolves to strengthen himself and carry on with his plan, which requires more murders. It wasn’t enough to simply frame the guards and send Malcolm and Donalbain fleeing. Soon after Duncan’s body is discovered by Macduff, Macbeth slays the guards so that any remaining witness to his crime has been eliminated. Through these three murders, Macbeth sets the stage for a final clear-headed act of violence before the mask of confidence slips.
Going back to the premonition that Banquo’s heirs will reign, Macbeth works to outwit fate. In his outrageous hubris, Macbeth chooses to believe, follow, and embrace fate when it suits his desires. He wants to be king and, therefore, carves a path towards seizing power. Macbeth being childless will have no heir and he becomes increasingly obsessive over this as the play continues. He muses bitterly about the premonition, “Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, and put a barren scepter in my grip.” Nearing the middle of the play, Macbeth enlists the aid to hired assassins to end Banquo’s line once and for all in an attempt to secure his crown and the power over succession. Fate, however, intervenes and Fleance (unbeknown to Macbeth) escapes thus ensuring the prophesy as originally expressed.
The curtain falls upon Act I and Macbeth has enacted, what he believes, the perfect crime. Proud, confident, and feeling secure in his misdeeds Macbeth, the yet unrepentant killer, is poised for exposure and a discovery of humanity.
And now … a brief intermission.
(Working through the Act I attack on Banquo and Fleance.)
We are about halfway through our rehearsal process and bringing in more and more elements to further complicate and enhance what I hope to be a bloody and violent spectacle of dirty, sexy fun. As a director I like to come into the rehearsal process with a clear, conceptual vision (in this case the frantic pace, dark humor, and violence of a Tarantino film). I want to know the characters like a group of old friends. I do my homework and try to become an “expert” on the script. But, I also want to leave room for growth, surprises, and discoveries that emerge within the process itself. This is one of the many things I love about making theatre … seeing the story reveal itself through collaborative work. Over the past week, I stumbled upon a couple of key discoveries.
The first is about Macbeth’s character and the way that Matt and I are putting him together. From a script analysis standpoint, I’ve been developing him as a backwards anti-hero. I don’t want him to be particularly sympathetic in the beginning. I want him, instead, to come off as morally ambiguous which (I hope) will allow the audience to discover his profoundly-human flaws and vulnerabilities as he discovers them through the course of the play.
In choreographing Macbeth and Donalbain’s showdown in Act II, Amanda, Jon, and I were musing over horrific ways for Macbeth to deal Donalbain a final blow. We decided on a combination of slamming his head against the pavement and then breaking his neck. Alex (Donalbain), by the way, has been a remarkable trooper getting his ass kicked day after day in the hot summer sun. Somewhere in that evening’s rehearsal Matt commented offhandedly, “This is brutal.” He’s right. It is. And, it seems, fittingly so. I went back to the script and reviewed the text and confirmed my impulse to embrace the “brutal.” At this point in the play, Macbeth is torn between two inner forces. On the one hand, he is unhinged by his wife’s death and realization of his own mortality. On the other hand, he is pumped up by the witches’ premonition and believes (or at least hopes) himself to be invincible. He knows his castle is being stormed by his enemies and he, in many ways, he responds like a cornered animal in a savage act of self-preservation.
The second discovery came in working through the witches’ appearance in Act II. During the run of Act I, something wasn’t sitting right with me. The witches were too loose (for lack of a better term). They seemed to languish around without a clear intention in their premonitions to Macbeth and Banquo. I couldn’t put my finger upon it until yesterday. At first I had been encouraging Chee, Jamie, and Kevin to create individual characters and while I don’t want them to abandon these entirely, the witches must act as a cohesive unit. They are much more powerful when they act and work as a whole. This will require more work, more precise choreography and vocal work. But it will pay off. I want the witches to be sexy, funny, and a little dangerous. More than that, because the characters operate as quasi-supernatural beings they can behave in a stylized fashion a few steps outside the way the other characters in the play behave. Hopefully I’m right and the contrast between the Weird Sisters and other characters will clarify matters rather than muddle them up.
Fun Quad Times
(Gibby takes it upon himself to sweep the Quad … with a tiny, tiny broom.)
There are few things I enjoy more than making summer outdoor theatre. In spite of the exposure to the elements, the sweat and sunscreen in my eyes, the constant threat of heat-stroke … there is really no other way I would care to spend my summer. Rehearsal processes are always a million little moments that put together a final piece of interactive performance. It’s exciting. And there’s just something magic about outdoor summer theatre. The fact that it’s Shakespeare only enhances the pleasure factor. Don’t get me wrong. It’s work. An incredible amount of work. But it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade.
(Chee put together a very impressive crown of flowers. She looks like a Woodland Quad Princess.)
The work done on stage, in the moment, is obviously crucial to making a show that works: working scenes, coaching actors, breaking down the beats, blocking … Duh! But there are all those other moments that come together, bond a cast, create a community, and I believe help to create a stronger story. Something about the summer (maybe it’s the extra sunshine and Vitamin D) seems to bring about these moments even more readily.
(Gibby and Matt attempt to even out their Oregon-boy farmer tans between scenes.)
The last few weeks have included a collection of these marvelous moments of inadvertent ensemble-building: Gibby’s “dick-joke” flag, Marion bringing the sweaty cast popcicles and other frozen treats TWO DAYS IN A ROW, Alex’s spectacular death scenes, doing breathing exercises in a giant circle in the middle of the grass, rehearsal going on in spite of a sudden onslaught of freshman orientation participants (and Gibby attempting to direct traffic with a machete), and certainly more and more to come.
(New freshmen descend upon the Quad. Gibby attempts to divert traffic with machete.)
I don’t want to get to tempt fate here … but the “curse” may just be broken.
(Matt Holland as Bard in the Quad 2010’s notorious bad-ass, Macbeth.)
Of all of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes Macbeth, as a character, presents a unique challenges for actors. In Witches and Jesuits, Garry Wills suggests one of the problems is the structure of the play itself. He describes the action as “frontloaded,” leaving and actor few places to go emotionally and argues that this structural issue does not allow the audience to discover Macbeth’s “inner truth.” He writes, “A frontloaded play is a back-crippled play. That is the real curse.” According to his analysis, the play does “work” when viewed in the context as a “Gunpowder play” designed as a Stuart-era propaganda piece revealing and vilifying the traitors and Jesuits involved in the Gunpowder plot of 1605. This is all well and good from a historical and academic standpoint, however, the analysis still leaves little place for a contemporary actor taking on the role.
Macbeth on the page is a walking, breathing contradiction: he is at once wily, clever, strong, and vulnerable. He is a ruthless and focused killer with the soul of a philosopher. He speaks consistently in paradox and walks through the events of the play with an ever-growing arrogance that eventually unravels the tenuously woven fibers of his being (and his “borrowed robes”). One of the major problems of Macbeth is that of categorizing him as a type. Actors tend to have an easier job when they have some reference point to draw from in terms of characterization. For example, Romeo is a tragic lover. He is romantic, witty, and seductive with his Juliet and his unchecked and naïve passions lead to his (and Juliet’s) undoing. In the case of Macbeth, he should be a tragic hero, but he isn’t. He, in fact, subverts the expectation of what a tragic hero should be and carves his own path into the dramatic canon.
Most often, Macbeth is played as a reluctant killer, as an essentially “good” man inspired by a mysterious prophecy, then spurred on by his ambitiously sociopathic wife to the throne, leaving a trail of bloody corpses in his wake. While this is a compelling narrative, it fails to capture Macbeth’s nuance, his natural proclivity to commit acts of violence, and his own existential crisis and subsequent wisdom. (Not to mention, the more traditional narrative often misrepresents Lady Macbeth by focusing on her ambition as the driving force behind the bloodshed and perpetuates the mythology of “woman as temptress” a la Adam and Eve.)
(Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1533 depiction of Eve tempting Adam- and thus a history of vilifying women as weak, immoral, and “evil” marches on through the ages.)
Shakespeare’s plays, without question, draw from Classical forms (particularly the Roman tragic models of Seneca). Shakespeare inherited the notion of a tragic hero just as his contemporaries did, and most of his tragic heroes follow the Aristotelian model of an essentially good (but tragically flawed) man who falls from grace. Hamlet, for example, does follow this model. He is essentially good, however flawed, and driven by a will to avenge his murdered father. Macbeth, however, does not fit the tragic hero mold on several accounts. If compared to Aristotle’s quintessential tragic hero, Oedipus Rex, Macbeth’s failings as a tragic hero are clear. Aristotle’s major requirement was that the hero was a “good” man. He believed that audiences would not be engaged in the story of a bad man committing evil acts and then being punished for them. Instead, the hero must have somewhat of a self-sacrificing nature, but thrown into the whims of fortune he experiences a fall so that the audience can react with “horror and pity” and somehow experience the desired catharsis.
Oedipus is set up within the context of the story as a heroic figure. He is brave and wishes to protect his adopted city from a curse. Slowly, through the events of the play, Oedipus discovers how he could not escape his destiny and that in running from the dreaded premonition that he would murder his own father and marry his mother, he encountered his fate. On the surface Oedipus seems innocent of any wrong-doing other than attempting to flee foul fortune. He acted in a way that most reasonable people would act given the information he had. He is the quintessential tragic figure. He is a good man, but he is driven by an outrageous sense of pride that he can save his city without the help and support of the gods, fate, or other supernatural forces that his culture subscribed to. Oedipus is not a bad man. In many ways he acts with a brave selflessness to protect his family and his city. If Oedipus is the model, Macbeth differs in a variety of ways including the way he interacts with fortune and premonition, his numerous moral failings, and in the way that he ultimately does grow. Macbeth is not a tragic hero, but a profoundly flawed human being from the opening lines of the play. His arc is, therefore, not one of a fall, but of a discovery of his own humanity where he faces and interacts with his own vulnerabilities, mortality, and human failings. In many ways, he re-humanizes himself by Act V, and the tragedy is that he does not have time to seek redemption.
The following character analysis to be presented in subsequent entries follows Shakespeare’s five-act structure, but will be presented in the “two acts” used in this summer’s Bard in the Quad production. The act break for the production occurs between Banquo’s murder and his re-appearance as a ghost at the banquet (according the Shakespeare’s structure- between 3.3 and 3.4.) The analysis will address Macbeth’s fall, rise, and inevitable fall and discuss his flaws, failings, and fragility that make him one of Shakespeare’s most complex and fully realized human of characters.
Taking the series of old-timey cast photos became something of an obsession during the first few weeks of prep for the production. It all started with the photo shoot I had always planned for the poster design. I had it in my head very early on that I wanted the poster to evoke the image of a Quentin Tarantino film or somehow pay homage to the iconic Scarface poster. I wanted the look to be stark and foreboding and to very clearly express that this production would be raw and violent.
Long before I cast the show, I had the image in my head of Macbeth pointing a gun directly at the viewer almost like Uncle Sam’s finger pointing out of the “I Want You” 1917 U.S. Army recruiting poster with Macduff lurking in the background ready to strike. I pulled some rudimentary costumes, asked Dan to bring in some of his own (and most terrifying looking) knives, and bloodied up the boys for a photo shoot. We took a couple of hundred individual and group shots. I sent the best to Nathan to integrate into the ultimate poster design, but then just started messing around on Photoshop with some of the others.
(Poster design by Nathan Langner. He SO good! I’m SO lucky!)
As it turned out, the first photo shoot was a lot of fun for me. I like taking pictures. I also found that playing with the images helped me to gain a clearer understanding of what I would want in the characters in production. On a long run on morning, I got the idea of creating a series of Macbeth trading cards as an experimental marketing technique. I figured, “What the hell? Let’s do the entire cast!” I thought we could create a set of trading cards that marketed the production and told a little about each character. It seemed like a slightly different way to reach and engage a potential audience and had the potential to generate community excitement about the upcoming show.
It was a lot of work. From pulling costumes, to scheduling the various shoots, editing the photos, then taking a quick crash-course (thanks Nathan) in InDesign software to put the cards together. In the end, however, I was pretty pleased with the results and I certainly learned from the experience. Whether or not this will actually contribute to bringing in more audience members won’t be known for a while.
(The complete card set or “Bard Cards” as we’re calling them.)
I feel, though, that even if it doesn’t really impact the box office, I’m glad to have taken the time to complete this “side project.” I found that it really helped generate excitement amongst the cast and provided them with a clear visual of where the production is headed conceptually.
The photo shoots all happened around the time of our first read-through on the Mainstage. It was interesting going between the first and second read-throughs. Partially because about a couple of weeks went by in between, but also not all the cast members had had their photos done before the first reading.
(Gathered around the table for our first reading of the play as a cast- complete with pizza and soda.)
There really is no way at this point to tell if there is a difference in character work or preparedness that early on based on who had already been photographed. But … I wonder these things.
I don’t believe in curses. I’m not a superstitious person and never have been. Macbeth is viewed in the “theatrical traditions” as being an “unlucky” play to produce. I have been scorned by many a director and theatre professor when I dared to utter the name “Macbeth” inside a theatre. I laughed this off, of course, and in my prep work for this production seemed to be making a concerted effort to flip tradition the bird by cutting the cast size down to an “unlucky” thirteen and freely saying “Macbeth” aloud at any opportunity. I figured this was all in good fun.
Events surrounding the production in the last couple of weeks, however, gave me pause on my, perhaps, “Mac-disrespect” for tradition. First, coming in the form of losing our rehearsal space to delayed construction and second to the potential of losing a cast member an account of an expired student-visa. Directors come to anticipate certain unwelcome surprises in a production process such as injured or sick actors, but immigration laws impacting our work? Let’s just say I was not quite prepared to deal with that one.
While most of the rehearsal processes I have done as a director and actor took place in a rehearsal space, the opportunity to work in the Quad from the get-go seems crucial to the production. The space is enormous and extremely physically and vocally demanding. The actors need to train in that space as they would train to run a marathon. In spite of phone calls, emails, and various meetings with the MU staff we were going to be out of luck for an undetermined period.
Every day I would walk passed the space and think (or grumble aloud): “When are they going to pour that concrete?” I was hoping to get out of the Mainstage and into the Quad before our first fight choreography day (no luck), before our first slop-through of Act I (no luck), before our first working rehearsal for Act I sections (again, no luck). As luck (and the tenacity of Gibby and Marion) would have it, however, our fortune soon changed …
June 29, 2010 will henceforth go down in Bard history as “Quad Day.”
(Robert LaFever and Alex Johnston being directed by Elizabeth Helman on Quad Day 2010. Note the orange fencing has yet to be removed.)
Happy Quad Day everyone! And curses to curses!
Along with the practical issues regarding the space (physical and vocal work), the psychological aspect of the space really hit me yesterday when we first got out there. During the blocking and slop-through of Act I over the last couple of weeks, I kept reminding the cast that we would have to make serious adjustments once we got into the space. They nodded like, “Uhh, yeah Liz, we know.”
We pressed on to one of the most anticipated aspects of putting the production together: Round 1 of fight choreography. One of my friends from graduate school, Jon Cole, happens to be one of the biggest bad-asses around, an excellent fight choreographer, and one heck of a good friend. He did our fights last summer for Twelfth Night which were decidedly more comic in nature than my vision for Macbeth’s brutal and bloody brawls.
Enlisting his star student, Amanda Washko, we set out to create some truly spectacular moments of violence that will help to capture the production’s vision of dirty/sexy/fun.
(Jon Cole teaching Andy how to take a fall as part of our first fight choreography day.)
(Dan and Rowan practicing their knife and chain duel.)
Watching the fights begin to come together was really exciting and made me even more eager to get out into the space where we could truly interact with the architecture and sheer scale of the MU building. I was also anxious about this particular transition outdoors due to the safety issues surrounding any stage combat.
When Quad Day rolled around yesterday, I really began to feel encouraged about the direction the production was heading in. Being outside, I think, had a positive impact on cast morale … maybe it was just the extra sunshine that contributed to the energy spike.
(This photo really shows how we are dwarfed by the size of the space as I work with the cast on Banquo and Macbeth’s encounter with the witches.)
Heading home from rehearsal last night, I felt extremely satisfied by the transition into the Quad. The actors really brought energy into their performances and the move helped to contribute to character growth and new discoveries. Looking forward to the next step … We still have a HUGE Mac-mountain to climb!