by Christine Nicholson
I love directing. I love being at the helm of the huge collaboration that comes together to create a theatrical production. I love working with others to bring to life the ever-continuing stories of humans – comedies, tragedies, farces, political thrillers, musicals, pantos – all the genres of storytelling that have been developed over the millennia. I love the challenge of bringing into life words that began as thoughts and images in the mind or minds of a person or persons, of working with others (in the case of this year’s Macbeth, over 40 others) to create order out of chaos, and to share that story with others. And what I love about theatre, and what is unique to it, is that it is a shared art form: those who are making the art do not exist without those who witness it in a shared moment in time. This is the essence of storytelling – whether that be ghost stories around a fire, small intimate theatres, big Broadway venues, or 5,000 people watching a huge musical extravaganza at an old Roman Arena.
But I especially love telling Shakespeare’s stories. I am always amazed how words written over four hundred years ago can still capture, beautifully capture, what I think of as the stories of humanity. Yes, he wrote about people from another time, who lived, and thought differently in many ways than we do today. And yes, he was a product of his time, with the blinders that come with it, as they do with all moments in time. But we still wrestle with how to find love and how to keep it strong, how to find and keep a healthy society, and how to harness our desires for power and status. And that is why plays like “Romeo and Juliet,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night,” Hamlet,” and yes, “Macbeth,” continue to be produced, reimagined, and relevant. And it is absolutely fascinating to me how his plays re-emerge and resonate at different times in history. “Macbeth’s” dive into the heart of the desire for power, and the pull that power has on the human psyche seems to be more profound than ever.
This year, as the theatre continues to recover from near annihilation during the covid pandemic (how can something exist when it is, by definition, a place where humanity gathers and the very act of gathering together was life-threatening), the Shakespeare Festival like many others, facing a budget shortfall, decided to produce only one production, rather than our usual two. We wanted to keep both of our summer directors employed, so we thought it was an excellent opportunity to try co-directing (I had recently performed in a production of Twelfth Night at Big idea Theatre where we had co-directors, Kevin Adamski and Leah Daugherty, whose collaboration showed how two minds can achieve so much more than one). We also decided that as we rebuild our audience, maybe we could create an opportunity to produce in our more intimate performance space, and what better vehicle than “Macbeth.”
Working in the intimacy of a thrust theatre is always a wonderful challenge. When we produced both outside in the park and in the 600-seat proscenium theatre, we had to stage our shows more like a moving painting – Actors need to face the audience for most of the staging, more two-dimensionally. But in a thrust theatre, with the audience on three sides of the stage, it is more like a moving sculpture, three-dimensional. And we need to be able to choreograph the movement so that audiences will see most of the action all the time. If we stage it conventionally, like a painting, like a proscenium production, only those in front of the actors will see the action. It’s much more of a dance. And that’s its appeal to a director. We need to keep the story activated, and with co-directors, we can view the staging from two sides simultaneously and see where we can improve the storytelling with staging.
So, both Lori Ann and I jumped at the opportunity to work together. We’ve worked together for almost twenty years in many capacities, but this was our first opportunity to collaborate as directors. We each bring complementary skills to the table and celebrate each other’s skills. We wanted to find a time where this story could exist, where witches or connections to the supernatural or natural forces were honored, where women could exist as warriors, and where ambition and desire for power could take hold and corrupt. We also wanted to appeal to a large population of actors and audiences. We had more actors audition than we’ve seen in five years. And we have a cast of thirty and a crew of around ten. And hopefully, this production will appeal to a large audience.
We’ve been working for five weeks now. Lori Ann has gathered all of the sound we are using, all of the weapons, worked with our Movement Coordinator with our witches (all 12 of them), our stage managers have been recording everything, staging, prop lists, costume changes, back-stage traffic patterns, while I have worked with our fight choreographer and with staging on a stage with audience on three sides. We put all that together last week, and this week we are adding lights and costumes. Three more rehearsals. Then we add the last piece of the collaboration, the audience. We can’t wait.