Written by Kyle
All in all, it was a very productive night. There is something about this play that has the ensemble moving. We were able to complete the banquet and witches’ cauldron scenes (the famous “Double, double, toil and trouble…”), each of which I thought could take an entire session on its own. Even though we are not really blocking “for keeps,” each scene contain a lot of logistical problems that are difficult for students and professionals alike to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes need work and are far from completed, but I see a general shape emerging; we’re not moving at this pace because of the facilitators, it’s the ensemble that is pushing us along.
We discovered a lot of the usual pitfalls, though: How is it that Macbeth doesn’t see Banquo when he calms himself? Where on stage does he confer with the murderers that makes it look like the rest of the guests can see? Where does he confer with Lady Macbeth in a place that makes sense? All of these questions need to be ironed out, and I can’t wait to see the end result. Our Banquo has great instincts and continues to wipe blood from her face; there are so many references to blood, and she is really playing into them in a way that is really exciting.
The real rallying point for me came with the 4.1 (“Double, double, toil and trouble…”), which the women in the scene created one hundred percent on their own. Two groups huddled on either side of the stage before beginning, planning things out based on ideas they had a while ago. They looked more like football huddles than a theatre troupe. The women playing Macbeth and Lennox couldn’t understand why Lennox was in the scene, and came up with an “amazing, collaborative idea:” the witches “bring the cave” into Macbeth’s bedroom, and the whole interaction could be a dream—or not. It clears up why Lennox is in the scene and doesn’t manage to see the witches, and it explains how Macbeth just magically knows where to find their coven. Most masterfully, though, it places Macbeth at the center of the stage while the witches move around him, thereby making him the charm they are conjuring. It’s brilliant. I couldn’t believe how effective it was action. If that weren’t enough, IT ALSO MEANS WE DON’T HAVE TO SOURCE A CAULDRON!
The staging needs some work to bring it to where it needs to be; one woman in particular said that the witches need to own the space--that it belongs to them, not Macbeth. We all felt that Macbeth spent way too much time down stage center to give that impression, so when we go back and put together the final staging, we need to keep that in mind. The performances were great as well. All the witches seemed to really be jumping headfirst into their roles. One woman in particular, who openly struggles with low self-esteem, took some really bold risks with her physicality. She had the whole ensemble singing her praises during and after the run. It seemed as though the Shakespeare Holy Ghost visited again tonight, and is hopefully here to stay.
Tonight I talked to one of the women about some of the heavy-duty stressors that come with prison-life. There was much talk of it on Tuesday as well with another member. For the sake of anonymity, I’m omitting the details, but I feel like amidst all the success we are having with the ensemble, a clear picture of all that the program entails needs a mention. Despite all our great work in the group, ensemble members often come in with a level of stress that is hard to really describe, and even harder to imagine. Despite spending so much time with them, I’ll never really understand the daily decisions they are faced with that leave lasting imprints on their psyches, spirits, and sentences. The stakes of most of my decisions often seem so small, and the majority of what I worry about seems so trite. I feel very blessed and humbled by their willingness to share their vulnerability and to keep showing up.
We worked the Lady Macduff murder scene, which, to be honest, always makes me a little nervous. There is a very gruesome murder of a woman and her child on stage, and it just always gives me pause. I think it has the potential to be a high-voltage issue for many in the ensemble, so I always tread a little lightly whilst we work. But it also happens to be a very difficult scene to actually stage. The timing is precarious, the child actor has to be really advanced, and there can be a really high frequency of “bad guy” acting from the murderers.
It was difficult enough to wade through how cumbersome the scene can actually be that most ensemble members struggled to make much of a connection to the content of the scene. Perhaps it was for the best, as it gave whomever might be struggling with the scene more exposure to it before it’s set.
After that, we worked on the Malcolm/Macduff scene, in which the two join forces and decide to take down Macbeth. In the grand tradition of everyone who has ever played that scene, it dragged. We talked a great deal about cuts, and I was happy with the conversation. So frequently, cuts are imposed on us (someone can’t remember the lines, we have to cut for time, or any number reasons), but tonight we really tried to address what mattered most in the scene. We decided that this was determinedly Macduff’s scene, and that the climax is when he learns of his family’s massacre at the hands of Macbeth.
This led us to start to think about what the most important elements in the scene were. From those questions sprang others. At one point, the actor playing Macduff said, “I don’t even know where we are! Are we at a bar getting drinks? Are we under an apple tree? What are we actually doing?” The need for some “stage business” came up, as well as a discussion about the complete lack of consensus that the ensemble’s natural directors have about the scene’s setting. It highlights a big change from past seasons in the ensemble’s process of devising this production. I feel like, even last year, ninety percent of the cuts were done by ten percent of the ensemble. Now we had the whole ensemble chipping in and having a lively debate. It makes for such a nice change, and it’s one of the many ways in which I see this program expanding and solidifying right before my eyes.