The Macbeths are Coming to Skidmore
Double, double toil and trouble! The Mainstage production of Macbeth opened the 20th to the 22nd of November, and will also run from the 3rd to the 6th of December, so you better not miss it! I got to meet with Rigel Harris ’16 and Woodrow Proctor ‘16 to talk about Shakespeare’s play and their roles as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
First, is it the first time you’re playing Shakespeare?
Rigel Harris: I was first exposed to Shakespeare on stage when I did wardrobe for a production of Hamlet in high school. After that, I performed in the Saratoga Shakespeare Company – which exists here during the summer time – in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Comedy of Errors (which was also directed by Holly Derr, Macbeth’s director). In addition, both Woody and I went to London and studied with the British American Drama Academy’s Shakespeare Programme.
How do you explain that Shakespeare’s plays have such a tremendous impact and are still being done and redone, especially Macbeth?
Woodrow Proctor: The way Shakespeare’s plays are written hasn’t quite been matched I guess. There are so many little things you start noticing the more you work on them. One example of this is how a lot of his words use sounds that reflect the situation. For example, when characters are whispering, he used a lot of words with -s in them. His plays are also just timeless stories that people will always relate to.
RH: In addition, their themes are universal. You know, they deal with love, revenge, grief, familial ties… Shakespeare contrived some of the best stories of all time, and newer works such as West Side Story would not exist without Romeo and Juliet.
Is getting into Shakespeare’s verse still challenging for you?
RH: It’s gotten easier with practice, but it still takes time.
WP: I definitely remember being in high school reading Shakespeare and being like: “I have no idea what this means!” and it’s surprising how once you start working on it, you relatively quickly get to a point where you can hear it and understand it. But at the same time, it always poses difficulties because you can’t just speak it as you would speak in your normal life. Moreover, even though you, as the actor, might know exactly what Shakespeare meant with certain phrases, the audience might have no idea, and it is your job to bring life to those words, which may no longer have an apparent meaning today.
RH: That’s also part of what makes it so enjoyable to do I think. It’s unlike anything you do in your regular life, and it’s personally my favourite thing to perform.
Did you watch the numerous adaptations of Macbeth on screen, and if so, did you take any inspiration from them?
RH: I have watched the Judi Dench/Ian McKellen and the Patrick Stewart/Kate Fleetwood versions, but since getting cast, I’ve kind of tried to move away from watching other actors.
WP: In fact, we’re putting on a story which is very different. Our script has been altered in certain ways that the words are still the same, but there’s a lot of gender-swapping, as some characters that are usually male are now female, and some characters that are male are being played by females as males. I feel like all of your choices need to be based on who else is in the cast with you, as well as the choices that are being made by the director, so even if you have amazing ideas that are coming from other places, they might not work with specifically this production, even if it’s the same script.
Speaking about gender-swapping, Lady Macbeth seems to be somehow the main character in both the play and most of the film adaptations. Do you think that the fact that genders have swapped gives this production a kind of feminist undertone?
RH: Our director’s vision is that Malcolm (in our play, Malca), Donalbain, and MacDuff are all women and leading the rise of the matriarchy over the existing patriarchal society. What I’m finding interesting is that since the Macbeths failed in having children, Lady Macbeth has to examine what can she do to give herself respect, power, and in a sense, immortality. The only way that she’s going about it is through the only way she knows how – her husband. The gender-swapping has certainly affected our play, and in interacting with Macbeth it's been really interesting to see what tactics Lady Macbeth uses to achieve power, and whether or not being a woman affects those tactics.
How do you think that it impacts the relationship between your two characters?
WP: Having a manipulator and a manipulatee has been sort of working for them until now. Seeing them fall apart is really at the core of this story.
Would you tend to see your characters more as the puppeteers or as the puppets?
WP: I feel like they're almost the original antiheros. We’ve talked in rehearsals about how the antihero has recently become more and more popular. Take Breaking Bad or House of Cards. I think there's something about society right now that has put people in this mind-set where they love seeing people who feel the same way they feel and go about getting what they truly want through terrible actions.
In your version, the emphasis seems to be less on envy and jealousy than, let’s say, Welles’ version of Macbeth?
RH: Envy and jealousy certainly exist, but they manifest themselves more as greed and a desire for respect. As far as our characters are concerned, our relationship in rehearsals has begun to feel like a choreographed dance. We're on the same page, then we diverge a bit, come back together, and the trend continues. Envy and jealousy breed impulsive, often reckless behaviour, and we both have to check in with one another to make sure that we stay on the same page and the right track.
WP: I agree!
Speaking about Macbeth, what is your opinion on what Michael Fassbender said about Macbeth suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder?
WP: I think everyone who takes on a giant Shakespearian role like this is going to have different ideas about it.
How did you approach your roles, with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth being such epic characters in an epic play?
RH: First and foremost, they’re human beings. And secondly, Shakespeare has done so much of that work for you! That’s one of the many things that are so phenomenal about him. Our characters are epic, but so is the whole world they live in.
WP: Even if you’d wonder why they would do this or that when reading the play, they are just people and there is a real reason for every choice that's made, for every word that is spoken. Also, I had someone come up to me the other day, and ask me if it was difficult to separate myself from the emotions of the character, and I really believe that being thrown into something and doing a role that's got all these big emotions is all in service of the story. The thought process isn't so much that I have this character and I need to do this and to feel these things, it's more important to see how we can all work together as a whole cast and contribute the elements of the story so that in the middle, we can all come together and create something that tells the audience what they need to know.
RH: I also think that in theatre, what is great is that to certain degree, stakes are stakes. A play about someone in a small town with desperate desires should feel as epic and full of high stakes as Macbeth.
WP: And even though we've never plotted to kill anybody together or separately…
WP: …you can always find things that you know you can relate to. Even though we don't understand the feeling of plotting to murder somebody in real life, we know what it's like to sneak behind people's backs, you know, things that all humans do without even realizing it. We know what it's like to want something really bad, feel guilt, feel mistrust or feel connected; you just take those experiences that you understand and magnify them to show them to everyone on stage.
Will there be deaths on stage?
WP: We're sticking mostly to what Shakespeare wrote, you know. In the play, certain deaths are on stage and certain deaths are off stage. Actually, we're adding in a few deaths on stage, but not all of them.
What would you say to people to make them want to come and see Macbeth?
WP: This is a very difficult question! I would say something like 'Don't think about Macbeth as just the play everybody has read in high school. Come and see it because we're making it a story whose concepts relate to nowadays’ society.' The whole cast is coming together to make a story that is individual to this production of Macbeth, so whether you have or haven't read or seen it, it's going to tell the whole story on its own and it's going to be something unique to what you may have seen before.
RH: Well, I'm going to second what he said, and in addition, I think the design team that we have on the show is phenomenal. Gary Wilson is the scenic designer, Patty Pawliczak is doing the costumes, and Jared Klein is doing the lights, and they've created an incredible world for us to play in.
**This interview was done on November 17th and was conducted and edited by Jessica Saval