Working ‘Macbeth’

Whenever I do something new or have a powerful experience, I take some time afterwards to do a recap. I write down things that worked, things that didn’t work, and what I learned.

A couple weeks ago I spent the day on the campus of St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral with a group of 5 other talented theater artists exploring the text of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and I learned some things about the nature of ensemble work that I’d like to share.

photo by Alex Seyum, Carnival Photos

photo by Alex Seyum, Carnival Photos

Collaboration Can Take You to New Heights

They say that three’s a crowd – but I think that six makes a powerful ensemble. There are depths of a story and dark crevices that are difficult to reach alone. Within the support and safety of a group, there is a space to take a deep dive into realms that can be really uncomfortable and scary because we don’t like to look at them normally.

What drives a person to murder? What makes it “okay” enough in your mind that you can take such an extreme action? We all have the ability to inflict great harm, but choosing to go there on purpose can be frightening. The structure of ensemble makes it possible.

Intensity is Refreshing

In everyday life, I notice people constantly diffusing tension in an effort to make others more comfortable. I do it. You probably do it. It’s a kindness sometimes, a way to prevent someone else from feeling uncomfortable.

As soon as we began our warm up for the workshop (Droznin movement to Supertramp, thank you Rachel Jett) I felt the group begin to slip into a track of focus and intensity that isn’t usually part of normal life. It was refreshing. I rediscovered a desire for that fierce intention and let it inform my work. It made me feel alive.

photo by Alex Seyum, Carnival Photos

photo by Alex Seyum, Carnival Photos

Macbeth is Not Evil

There is a tradition of portraying the character Macbeth as a crazed lunatic with a blood-thirsty wife. Our anti-hero meets three witches who trick him into destroying himself and those around him… but I don’t think this tradition is useful.

When we create Macbeth as an evil and insane person, we create separation between him and ourselves. We stand on the outside and look in on this horrible thing that’s happening, but which we would never do (right?). It’s un-relatable. I can’t understand a man who is labeled as Evil. I can’t connect with witches who are hissing, seething temptress monsters. And when this version of Macbeth is produced, I believe it is a sorry waste of time and resources.

I want to relate to Macbeth. I want to be there, right with him, the whole way – I want to want him to be king. I want to be horrified at what I have done, once it is done. I want to be a woman of the earth who plays with witch craft and tests it out on this poor thane to see what happens. I want to be a human being who is playing with fire and accidentally gets burned – badly.

I believe Shakespeare wrote a play that explores the depths of human capacity for extreme action so that we could examine our darkest secrets. Who hasn’t fantasized about murder? Who hasn’t frightened themselves with wondering what it would be like to do something “evil” and realizing how easy it would be?

Macbeth is not evil, he’s human.

I’m very much looking forward to (and a little bit anxious about) taking this journey with The City Shakespeare Company this fall.

Do you have any thoughts on Macbeth that you would like to share?