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PROPOSAL - Macbeth

Updated: May 23

The Tragedy of Macbeth

By William Shakespeare

Directed by: Arlee Olson

Music Direction by: Patrick Gross

Vision Statement

I see the Scottish play as a story about war, and its psychological effects. I want to draw on the horror genre to elicit a chilling response of dread as the audience contemplates the effects of war on humanity and community. 

At the opening, Macbeth is lauded for his prowess as a warrior. He has fought the righteous fight and killed the enemies of King Duncan. Witnesses describe him in glowing terms, but the deeds they describe are bloody and horrific. Who is this man? 

We are never told what the war is about. Only that it is being fought on two fronts, against two different enemies, that we also have traitors undermining the war efforts from within, and that Macbeth is there in the middle of all of it – a hero. While we can do the research and look to Holingshed for who the historical Macbeth fought, I prefer to stick to the script where it appears that Macbeth’s Scotland is involved in the kind of forever wars that will be familiar to a contemporary audience.

Macbeth, the victorious warrior, leaves the battlefield expecting to reintegrate into society: to be a husband to his wife, a loyal Thane to his King.

But then there is the prophecy. On the way home from the battle, Macbeth and Banquo encounter three witches who predict his future: Macbeth, already Thane of Glamis, will become Thane of Cawdor, and King after that.

Thanks to this prophecy, Macbeth the soldier is unable to transform into Macbeth the civilian. He is told of a shining future, and his instinct is to make that future happen with the same urgency he used turning the tide of the battle. Can we expect the man who “unseamed [a disloyal Thane] from the nave to th’ chops/ And fixed his head upon [the] battlements” (I,2) to patiently wait for events to play out?

Perhaps he would have, were it not for the ambitions of his wife. Lady M. has been waiting at their castle – alone, lonely, and anxious, her husband torn from her by war. She hears of the honors and glories conferred upon him, and she wants more. If the prophecy comes true, if he becomes king, perhaps her emptiness will be filled.

And who are the witches who make this prophecy? Shakespeare depicts them as beings outside of society. They are often shown as old women – scary, wrinkled hags. In contemporary culture, there is another societal element that many find far more frightening than old women: the teenager. I would like to explore the concept of the witches as young people who are too old for childhood games, but not fully accepted and integrated into the adult world with purpose and responsibilities. I don’t picture of them presenting as any particular gender or ethnicity, but I do see their costumes and make-up as contemporary goth. Like Greta Thunberg, they are full of anger at the adults and the horrible world they will inherit, the money and resources spent on forever wars and not on health care or climate change mitigation. Unlike the Greta Thunbergs of the world, who have an international platform, these three have no recourse but to lash out and destroy.

I envision a lot of music, and to that end, Patrick Gross is excited about being the Music Director. He has a vision of turning the witches into an indie rock band and will create music for some of their spells. He would like 3 musicians onstage – two guitars and a keyboard, or possibly one guitar, one drum and a keyboard. These would be in addition to the witches, and placed onstage somewhere unobtrusive, but visible, possibly adding incidental music, and definitely sitting in judgement.

There is also opportunity for three dances. 

1.  A stylized “battle dance” in Act I while the captain reports on the battle. Like a dumb show set to music.

2. The demon, Hecate, does a dance in the original script – I would like to keep that.

3. The battle in Act II would also be a stylized dance.

We would also need a fight coordinator for the many murders and the final sword fight between Macbeth and Macduff.

I am enthusiastic about actors of all backgrounds auditioning for all parts. This is an important play when discussing inclusivity, because it is about the violence of war devastating not just the men and women fighting the war, but the lingering effects haunting an entire community – all ethnicities, all genders, and all generations, so I would like to cast people of many different backgrounds. Shakespeare’s plays are universal; therefore most characters can be any ethnicity or gender. I would love to see a wide range of backgrounds represented.

I envision a set, props and costumes that fall easily within the resources of The Majestic, as follows:

Set: The action is set either indoors or outdoors at or around various castles. I see a wall of stone with arches stretching across the back of the playing area. The wall could be the interior or exterior wall of any castle. Actors upstage of the wall will be plainly visible as they cross back and forth. No dialogue will be delivered from beyond the arches, but actors will be in view to indicate that they are in another space. Indoor scenes will use light that focuses on the empty center of the stage. Outdoor scenes will use lights evenly across the whole stage to illuminate gravestones on either side of the central playing area. They will not disappear entirely when the light is focused centrally for indoor scenes, but attention will be drawn away from them.

I would like to draw on images and sounds from horror movies to further convey the horrors of war, and PTSD. I would love to employ the smoke machine, and to enhance the murders with atmospheric sounds and shadows. Projections of lightning, clouds, flying bats or ravens could go above the castle wall, as the script indicates that even the weather is affected by the evil events. I would like to emphasize the darkness of the horror genre, without making the overall aesthetic dull, or difficult to see.

Props: will be minimal. Chairs and goblets for the banquet scene, and lots of swords and daggers – maybe a cauldron, maybe all the gruesome stuff the witches put into the brew, or those might be projections.

Costumes: I see most of the characters wearing costumes inspired by the late Middle Ages, with a nod to the Scottish origins of the play in the trim. In the beginning, however, when we see the troops returning from the battle, and later in the “battle scenes” I would like to costume some of the ensemble players in military wear from different times and different countries. I’m hoping to search the costume room, and to connect with ACT to find modern camouflage, WWII uniforms, samurai outfits – whatever will fit our actors. This would show the universality of war. The universal difficulty of transition from soldier to civilian.

The Scottish play will work well for community theater because the cast size is flexible. It could be performed with as few as ten actors, with lots of doubling, but it would be better with many more. There are so many small, but meaty roles, and many opportunities for an ensemble.

Shakespeare has been an effective draw at The Majestic, especially now that we have a proven track record and fan base from Wars of the Roses and The Tempest. Macbeth could potentially bring an even bigger audience as it is one of the bard’s most frequently studied plays. Many people in the community will be familiar with it, and we could also reach out to high schools to encourage school groups, or extra credit for seeing the show.

Additionally, because I am looking to cast a wide variety of ages and backgrounds, we will likely attract a large and varied audience. There are 2 parts that could be filled specifically by children (Fleance, and the child of Macduff) and several that would ideally be teenagers (the witches, Malcolm & Donalbain).


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