In our production of Macbeth, our concept will be one in which we still exist in a violent, medieval world. It is a world, however, that will be stripped down and barren, and remains relevant to our own lives, desires and nightmares.
Why this play now?
Macbeth is a nihilistic masterpiece. It will always be a popular play for a myriad of reasons. The language is mesmerizing. It has a musicality and muscularity that drives the dramatic action of the play. It touches on so many wonderful themes to play with on stage: obsession, power, ego, privilege, sex, marriage, love, hate, good, evil. I could go on and on. There seems to be no end to the paths Macbeth chooses in his devolution into a black oblivion. And we follow him with bated breath, because he is, or was, our hero at the very beginning of the play.
And why do we relate to Macbeth? Because he is us. He almost immediately shares with us, presenting a compelling duality within his character. He is a good man. Yet, he goes bad. And as such, we are forced to ask ourselves the same questions Macbeth struggles with throughout. We are encouraged to consider what lengths we would go for a status upgrade. What if we were told fortune and fame were within our grasp? What would we do to get what we want? Would we choose to follow our blackest desires? Would we end a life, to gain a better one?
In our current zeitgeist, and particularly with respect to American audiences, we’re collectively attracted to the pastiche of the good man gone bad. The reason contemporary audiences relate to the anti-hero, both classical and contemporary, perhaps, has more to do with the innate dramatic richness of flawed characters more than anything else. Until recently, simple black-and-white characterizations were most often portrayed on broadcast television, where appealing to a wide audience was necessary for survival. Yet, having gone through a “Golden Age” of serials, we’ve been introduced to a litany of morally flawed characters that are incredibly compelling to watch: from Tony Soprano, to Jimmy McNulty (The Wire), Al Swearingon (Deadwood), to the litany of amoral characters on Game of Thrones. We can look to the Tellers from FX’s Sons of Anarchy, or even our friends the Underwoods on Netflix’s House of Cards. Network and cable television is rife with characters that are increasingly morally ambiguous. Even Don Draper from Mad Men has attained an antihero status. And perhaps the best example is the one of the most successful television characters ever: Walter White from Breaking Bad, a character that has all the best intentions at the beginning, who ultimately devolves into a murderous, hardened criminal by the end.
I use television characters as examples, because recently, there has been a premium on presenting characters that are both protagonist and antagonist. We’re also seeing it on film, and in the theatre (Mark Rylance’s Richard III practically had the audience cheering his massacres on). When we see a little bit of ourselves in these characters it makes it difficult not to watch. Are these our new myths? Contemporary screenwriters and playwrights are creating characters that are not only well-developed, but more importantly, identifiable. The audience might not be able to identify with a brilliant man who transforms himself into a drug kingpin, but they can identify with a man struggling to find peace with missed opportunities and what could have been because we’ve all experienced those emotions on some level. Shakespeare certainly understood this, and understands that in Macbeth, when he provides the audience a window into the soul of his character, they’ll usually forgive a lot of sinning.
So… Why this play? It will always be relevant, but we’re certainly in a moment where Macbeth resonates in a way that is very fresh. We’re also lucky in that in the last two years, Shakespeare’s works have been getting a lot of play. As such, our production will try to bridge the gap between the given circumstances of its medieval world, and our own contemporary society.
Costumes: Our costuming will be medieval, but light-weight necessitated by the physicality of the piece, our performance space, and unique (and sometimes viciously hot) setting. In some cases we may transcend cultural boundaries of a particular era and region in costuming to serve both our unique staging, as well as give a commonality to the design. It is neither gothic, nor steampunk – but it will maintain a neo medieval edge to it. This will certainly be reflected in how we costume the witches. Compliments to our Resident Costume Designer Brittany Belz who has continued to provide amazing costume designs for our company year after year. Here is a link to some of the initial research images that I provided Brittney. Here is a link to Brittney’s full research page.
Scenic: Our production design will involve scarce, medieval motifs. The use of metal in our weaponry and accessories will be picked up and echoed in our scenic design which is be both skeletal and minimal, providing a neo-medieval, almost post-modern backdrop and tone to the proceedings. Kudos to Artistic Director and Scenic Designer Lary Opitz for providing some wonderful ideas and vision for the piece. Here is a link to some research images I provided for Lary. Below is Lary’s design sketches. Note that the pipe and rail structure center stage is a turntable that will spin. The lower portion will allow us to make witches, murder victims, etc. disappear and will also function as our skene during specific moments in the play.
Sound: We will create a lot of sound and underscore with the clashing of swords, in addition to metal clashing, scraping, and echoing off a two-story pipe and rail turnstile center stage. The swordplay, metal on metal, ritual fighting, etc. may also serve as a primary constituent of a visual vocabulary I’d like to develop for our transitions, in addition to some of the choreography and world we create for the witches. All those parallels in sound will be picked up in, what I hope will be, a very dissonant, effective sound design played LIVE by our Sound Designer Griff Jurchak. Yes, live. Very cool, right? Thank you Griff in advance of what should be a thrilling and sensory score.