Tonight two of our ensemble members checked in to let us know that they are temporarily leaving the group. One is a new member who has apprehensions about working specifically with Macbeth, and she says she’ll be back in the fall. The other is a woman who stayed on from last season. Her reasons for leaving are personal and have to do with taking the best care of herself that she can right now. She also intends to return next fall.
In cases like these, we regret that we won’t be able to work with these folks anymore, but we celebrate their decisions because they reflect empowerment – and that is our goal. These women know what they need right now, and Shakespeare is not part of that. And that’s completely fine.
We read Act V scene i, in which Malcolm tests Macduff, the latter finds out that Macbeth has massacred his family, and the two decide to get revenge. It’s a long scene, and the only one that takes place outside of Scotland. Why is it here?
“Maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” said one woman. “And then they go back to the darkness.” Another woman built on that, saying that it reminded her of a superhero movie in which the bad guys create a state of doom and gloom, and the good guys make a last ditch effort to save everyone. “It’s the turning point,” she said.
“It’s a safe zone,” said the first woman. This inspired a riff from me (facilitators will absolutely contribute to these discussions and spitball while welcoming others to jump in and build). I pondered the consequences of Macduff’s leaving – his being in a safe zone while leaving his family behind – and how that space is polluted by the news of his family’s deaths. Nothing is clean in this play – the fog and filthy air follow him. The chaos is so intense that one can’t get away from it – it follows one everywhere.
The ensemble liked these ideas and kept building on them, which led to a discussion of how that chaos is created. “Macbeth goes total kamikaze,” said one woman. “He wants to destroy everything. We still get to that point as people… ‘Let’s kill ‘em all.’ I know I do. But I don’t think about the consequences. I just think I’m tired of the headache, people getting killed… It’s a good thing I’m not God.”
The conversation continued, fleshing out what she’d said. And she continued to wrestle with her thoughts. “He has no counsel. You need counseling – people who will motivate and calm you down and convince you not to do that crazy thing. You’ve gotta have counsel. I don’t do that stuff because I have you guys.”
He has the opposite of good counsel. One woman asked if the witches could have put a spell on him. Lauren pondered that such a spell could have been simply words or actual magic; either way, they’re playing puppet master. The woman who had been more or less leading the conversation said that the witches narrow things down in a way that is typical of abuse. “People manipulate you to think you have less choices than you do. They make it black and white.”
The conversation moved from the witches to the couple. Is Lady Macbeth the one doing the manipulating? One woman thought so: “It’s like… Power, money: let’s do this.” Another woman asked if we thought that Lady and/or the witches truly plant the seeds or if Macbeth has always been like this. Lady says he’s always had ambition but no drive to do the unsavory things he needs to do to accomplish his goals, but we need to take that with a grain of salt. Is it there waiting to be brought out? Or does she force this to happen?
“I know that has never worked with my husband,” said one woman. She told us a story about her husband allowing someone to take advantage of him (in a very minor way) because he felt that they needed what they needed more than he did. She smiled and said that he’s incredibly “nice” and a pushover, but that’s part of why she loves him. “Humans are humans,” said one woman. “Yeah,” said the first woman. “I’ve been trying to change him for 31 years.”
I jumped in and asked how this woman’s insight could affect our view of the Macbeths – if her husband truly does not have the ability to be anything other than “nice,” there is no way she could bring that out. But Lady does the opposite for Macbeth.
We returned to the topic of thinking before we speak and somehow controlling our rage. We reflected that while Macbeth overanalyzes at first, he progressively stops doing that and simply reacts in the moment.
We talked about the “illusion of certainty,” which led one woman to ask why, if Macbeth thought that what the witches said was certain, he didn’t just “chill and have babies.” He does at first, we reminded her. “But everything we do or don’t do changes the outcome of things,” said one woman. Another woman brought up how hard it is to just trust that things will happen. “If we as humans did that, probably none of us would be here [in prison]. You get a thought in your head – you want something – you manifest it. You get to the point where you’re just gonna do it. And then… How am I gonna keep people from finding out? And you keep doing things… Lies upon lies… If I would have just said that, I never would’ve been here.”
The conversation meandered at this point to a place where we were simply talking and getting to know one another better – laughing and poking good-natured fun. Although the topics moved away from the play, these moments are extremely valuable for building trust in the ensemble.
Somehow we got onto the topic of our performance of Romeo and Juliet years ago. One woman shared (as she does frequently) how much she loved that show. “I was jumping up and down and yelling the whole time,” she said. “When Mercutio died, I was like, ‘Oh no! He’s dead!’”
“Wait!” I said. “That was you? I’ve been telling this story for years!” We all laughed and she asked how I could not have realized that it was her. “I was back stage! I couldn’t see who it was!” I said. “Also, I’m pretty sure what you actually said was, ‘Oh, shit! That dude just DIED!’”
“You guys were so awesome,” she said. “I signed up for Shakespeare right away. That show changed my life.” How freaking cool.