Macbeth - Notes from the Director

DARKNESS, BLOOD, AND LOVE (the greatest of these is…)

Notes I sent the actors before rehearsals started:

  • The stage directions in the Folio set up a situation where torches exiting the stage leave Macbeth in the dark to “see” the supernatural special effect of a dagger that leads him off the stage, Lady Macbeth enters in the dark, Macbeth joins her onstage with the bloody daggers in the dark where neither one of them can see each other for a decent number of lines.
  • We will have torches onstage with us (in addition to candles) and we will milk the Elizabethan/Jacobean technique of “acting the darkness” while the entire stage and audience are lit up like they would have been in the 2:00 pm sun of the Globe theatre for the first performance of Macbeth.
  • What an awesome challenge we have in carrying the torch (so to speak) of doing Macbeth using Shakespeare’s staging conditions to gross-out, freak-out, surprise, delight, and scare our audiences without light/sound boards or fog machines.
  • We will create a live, acoustic soundtrack:  creepy sounds/voices that will help an audience imagine the heath, the castles, the backdrop for the battles in ways that Shakespeare’s company did for the play’s first audiences...remember, Shakespeare designed this play to be done without sets, without special lighting effects, electricity, etc.
  • I want us to use a good amount of blood (and not ruin the costumes): witches, bloody captain, bloody daggers, bloody hands, bloody Banquo’s gory head.
  • I want great stage violence that has some brutal stuff (former ASC actor Benjamin Curns will be our Fight Director and we will work our butts off to have safe, but thrilling fights).
  • The Ghost of Banquo is the actor coming out on stage (with a lot of blood on him)...Macbeth can see the ghost, the other characters cannot (like the Ghost of Hamlet, Sr. in the closet scene)...Macbeth’s “dagger of the mind” is a Jacobean special effect written in the lines that Macbeth can see leading him through the darkness to the murder (and no one else can see); it is not a prop knife hanging by fishing line flying across the stage.
  • The witches have the power the script gives them: no more, no less.
  • We won’t be making Lady Macbeth one of the witches; we won’t be making Macbeth the Third Murderer (or one of the murderers who kill the Duff family); we won’t have the witches costumed as cheerleaders/priests/nuns/children/topless-Hooters-Girls and appearing in other scenes; we won’t be doing a lot of things that a lot of productions do.
  • If our production is not filled with big love, the story/tragedy doesn’t work.
  • If Macbeth is just an evil s.o.b., a) it doesn’t match the words and b) who cares about his thoughts/feelings/guilt/journey?
  • If Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth don’t love each other truly/madly/deeply, who cares about the ride that rips them apart?
    • I want Macbeth to be as thoughtful/introspective/intelligent as Hamlet, but also a warrior who is part Henry V, part Titus, part Richard III, part Wolverine, and part Captain America.
    • I want Mr./Mrs. Macbeth to be in an awesome/sexy marriage of equals.
    • I want Macbeth’s heart to break when he gets the news that his Soul Mate/love-of-his-life is dead.
  • If Banquo and Macbeth DON ’T love each other like the war-scarred, blood-brothers they are in the text, who cares about the descent into jealousy/doubt/murder?
  • I want Duncan to be a great king that everybody loves, including/especially Macbeth.
  • But I also want a deserving Malcolm rather than a nerdy weakling that we all think would make a horrible king.
  • I want three-dimensional characters that allow us to care about them.
  • We need to find the rhythms, the reasons, and the ride Shakespeare has written for us; then we can invite the audience to join us.
  • We can be great at playing the darkness, creating the supernatural, and grossing out the audience; but if we’re not great at finding the love, telling the story, and giving the audience characters to care about, then nothing else matters.

JIM WARREN, ASC Co-founder and Artistic Director