“I’m so glad to be here tonight,” one woman as she checked in with the group. “Everyone on my unit is on ten!” After check-in and warm up, we got right down to reading. We’re very eager to finish this up and get the play fully cast!
We began with Act III Scene i, in which Macbeth plots the murders of Banquo and Fleance. Our Macbeth and I had made some cuts that we apparently forgot to share with the others, including Macbeth’s long “Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men…” monologue. “What, you didn’t want to list all those dogs?” Kyle joked. “I HATE that speech!” she laughed.
“Lady Macbeth didn’t have to push him at all to kill the king,” said our Lady Macbeth. “This shows his true colors… He just wanted her support. All along he just wanted to make sure she was on board.” Our Macbeth gazed intently at her as she said this. “How do you feel about that, Macbeth?” I asked. “I like it,” she said. She went on to say that she felt that Macbeth is feeling very powerful in this scene, and that she agreed that that was in him all along. “They’re both working hard to pull the spike from the train they’ve derailed,” said another woman.
Our Lady Macbeth disagreed. “It’s solely based on what the witches said—not Lady Macbeth.” She continued, “He’s not listening to me. I’ve lost my mind!” Whether or not that’s true, we decided that the witches are important because Macbeth relies on their prophecies. I suggested that we try running the couple’s scenes with a few different interpretations to see what would work best for those two actors. “It’s awful funny he doesn’t include Lady Macbeth. She’s been his ride-or-die all along, and now he’s doing this on his own,” said one woman.
As we continued, it became apparent that the ensemble is taking more and more ownership of the play, and that they feel truly passionate about it. One woman quietly read aloud with our Macbeth—not loud enough to disturb anyone, but enough that she could feel that language and understand it better.
Another woman asked if she could share an idea that “might be controversial.” Her thought was that it would be interesting and potentially powerful if the witches were never seen at all—if we merely heard their voices. She felt that this would give a feeling that they’re spirits or as if Macbeth is hearing voices. Another woman questioned how the audience would know that they’re witches. We agreed to keep this idea in mind as we continue to develop our concept. We think we can combine it with others.
We then returned to our ongoing discussion about whether or not we should cut Hecate. Having now read the entire play and worked it a bit, most of us are in agreement that those scenes should go. It’s very clear to us that they weren’t written by Shakespeare and don’t further the plot, and, since we need to perform our play in 90 minutes or less, we need to cut all the low-hanging fruit we can.
One woman did not agree and spent several minutes outlining reasons why Hecate does enhance the play. “Question: if the playwright did not write that—“ I said, and she cut me off, leaning back in her chair and throwing her hands up. “Aw, [expletive-too-colorful-for-this-blog deleted]. I take it back. Damn it all to hell.” We laughed with her. “Keep reading—it solves the riddle. Don’t add shit to Shakespeare!” she said, and then, “Put that in the blog! Don’t. Add. Shit. To. Shakespeare.”
We moved on to a brief discussion about the visual concept of our play. Our Lady Macbeth began by saying that she envisioned her character in a white dress that was extremely dingy. “Ooooh,” I said, “You just gave me the idea of every costume being dingy. But that’s probably not it. Anyone want to build on that?” Our Macbeth suggested that she and Lady Macbeth begin the play essentially put together, but that their costumes grow more ragged as the play progresses. Another woman then suggested that the color palate for the entire show could be dark colors—at first, we were all thinking of gray and black, but then we remembered that those colors are restricted. “What about dark earth tones?” asked one woman. “Oh, yeah!” said another. “We could go with a whole Druid thing. Those are Druid colors!”
We’re going to keep brainstorming, but this was a great start. We have quite a few costume pieces in stock that could be used for this, which makes gathering anything we don’t have much easier! Of course, we are always happy to receive in-kind donations of costumes and materials. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
We welcomed back a longtime ensemble member tonight. She left the ensemble before performing last season but is clearly thrilled to be back and firm in her commitment to follow through this time. It’s wonderful to have her in the room with us again.
We dove right back into our reading. When we arrived at the scene in which Macbeth’s mercenaries massacre Macduff’s family, we paused to discuss. This is a highly sensitive scene for some in the ensemble, and I don’t ever want to treat it casually. So I asked the group why they thought the scene was in the play. We all agreed that its function is to show Macbeth’s progression as a killer. “We see how far gone he is: he’s willing to kill women and children,” said one woman.
Kyle then pointed out that Duncan is killed off stage, but everyone else is killed in view of the audience. Why is that? “Duncan was his friend—someone he valued,” said one woman. “Off stage, to me, was him not wanting to do it… ‘I’m gonna do this and try to hide it because I really care about this person… After that first taste of blood, he gets into a blood rage. He just can’t stop. But now he puts it out in the open.” She clarified that the violence grows more explicit as Macbeth grows bolder.
The conversation made me realize something I’d never thought of before – the only murders that Macbeth commits with his own hands are those of Duncan and the guards—which happen off stage—and Young Siward; someone he doesn’t know in the course of a battle. Interesting! “It makes me wonder whether he’s really the great warrior they say he is,” said one woman. “He seems afraid of actually doing the deed.” Another woman disagreed, saying, “Killing in war is less intimate. It’s his job.” A third woman built on that: “Maybe it’s what invited his killing spree.”
Another woman pondered whether Macbeth employing people to kill on his behalf parallels the work he used to do as a subject of Duncan. “Was he a mercenary, though?” I asked. “I totally see Macbeth as a mercenary,” said another woman.
We got to Act IV Scene iii, which is a very long scene mostly between Malcolm and Macduff. “All right,” said our Malcolm wryly, “Kyle is fired for making me take this part.” I told her not to worry, that we’d cut the scene down. Our Macduff objected, and I told her that we have to make cuts wherever we can. “We HAVE to pay taxes,” she said, “We don’t HAVE to cut the scene!” But when we’d finished it, she said, “That was the longest scene ever!” I laughed and said, “Yeah! That’s why we have to cut it!” Several others jumped in, “But not the end!” referring to Macduff’s reaction to the massacre of his family. “The end is beautiful. There’s so much emotion,” one person said.
We then arrived at the famous sleepwalking scene. We can’t touch this scene without talking! One woman felt that Lady Macbeth knows that her husband had Banquo and Lady Macduff killed. “She’s saying, stop!” said another woman. “No,” said our Lady Macbeth, “She wants him to stop being so obvious. I don’t think she’s against the murders—it’s she’s worried about being caught.” She said she thought that Macbeth fills his wife in on what he’s been doing between scenes—we as the audience just don’t see it happen. Our Macbeth countered that she didn’t think Macbeth explicitly tells Lady Macbeth that he ordered the murders. She thought that he is vague about it, and Lady Macbeth puts two and two together.
We noted more of Macbeth’s evolution as we read through Act V Scene iii. Our Macbeth pointed out that when the character talks to the doctor about Lady Macbeth, he never calls her “my wife.” Another woman said that he’s completely shut down at this point. “He don’t see her that way anymore,” she said. “He’s done so much horrible stuff; he’s trying to suppress what he’s feeling.”
One ensemble member then said, “Frannie, my body is falling asleep.” She asked if she could teach us an improv game she’d seen on TV, and it turned out to be extremely fun. One woman in particular wowed us with her sharp instincts and timing.
We’re almost at the end of the play! Our plan for Tuesday is to finish reading, cast the remaining roles, and move forward with staging. We should be able to stick to it!