YouTheatre conquers the tragedy in ‘Macbeth’
December 8, 2015
William Shakespeare’s tragic "Macbeth" is chock full of adult themes, including bloodshed, political ambition and war.
The story surrounds Scottish general Macbeth who, after three Stygian Witches tell him that he will become king, is helped by his wife, Lady Macbeth, to murder the current king and take the throne himself.
Things only get worse. He becomes guilt ridden and paranoid and kills more to hide his crime.
So, to have 27 youths, ages 11 to 16, present the work for the Egyptian Theatre’s YouTheatre performances this weekend, Mary Anderson-Bailey, who co-directed the play with her husband and set designer, J. Michael Bailey, needed to stylize the production in order to keep its point, but also make it palatable for families.
"There was a lot of concern going into the project regarding how we were to deal with the dark elements of ‘Macbeth,’ which is probably Shakespeare’s second-bloodiest play next to ‘Titus (Andronicus),’ Anderson-Bailey told The Park Record. "So, we took a very artistic approach to it."
First, the directors cut the script so the production runs just over 60 minutes.
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"Secondly, a lot of battles and hand-to-hand combat are done in a way so there is no real weaponry used," she said. "We use four-foot quarterstaffs that are multi-functional. They work as guns, cannons, swords, daggers and walking sticks."
Anderson-Bailey also culled the Kabuki and Suzuki theater philosophy in some of the more intense scenes.
"Anything that has violence is either done off stage or done in a very slow-motion, dance-like effect," she said. "There are also a lot of silhouettes that are highlighted by music and light."
In addition, the production doesn’t feature any stage blood.
"We are using red gloves and scarves to suggest the wounds," Anderson-Bailey said.
The set is also minimalistic.
"We wanted it to feel like an actors troupe," she said. "We wanted the kids to focus on the language more than the props, so the set pieces are skeletal and have multi-purposes."
The YouTheatre production takes place during World War I, instead of during the 1600s.
"It was the only war that combined the old-style warfare with the new," Anderson-Bailey explained. "We thought that was quite appropriate."
Rehearsals began right after Labor Day.
"We’ve been rehearsing every Tuesday and Thursday and added Saturday rehearsals just after Halloween," she said.
The idea for YouTheatre to present "Macbeth" hatched during its summer camp workshop at the Egyptian Theatre.
"The program had added some more Shakespeare classes with combat, monologues and scenes," Anderson-Bailey said. "The kids did so well handling the material that myself and a couple of the other instructors went to [YouTheatre director] Jamie Wilcox and said we thought it was time for the kids to delve into a Shakespeare show."
When Wilcox asked which show, the instructors all said, "Macbeth."
"All of the kids were so excited when we announced what we were doing, because they have had so much exposure and training in these programs," Anderson-Bailey said. "They really wanted to finally delve into the actual Shakespeare material."
Other than addressing the adult nature of the play, the biggest challenge was casting.
Kelton Laurence plays General Macbeth. CoCo Berwald is Lady Macbeth and Jayden Harrold is Malcolm.
Emily Fine, Caroline Waldmann and Kasey Kirklen portray the three witches.
"We also only have two boys in the show, which made things a little difficult," Anderson-Bailey said. "So, my husband and I decided to cast the show similar to what we did with ‘The Wind in the Willows’ last year. So, our Macbeth and Malcolm are two boys and the other roles are portrayed by females, but the costumes and acting are androgynous."
Another concern was making sure the cast would understand the script.
"I think there is a stigma when it comes to Shakespeare that you either get it or you don’t," Anderson-Bailey said. "I think that has a lot to do with whether or not the actors know what they are saying and doing."
To help them, the cast and directors took a couple of weeks to read and study the script.
"We did a couple of weeks of tablework and just broke things down," Anderson-Bailey said.
The kids not only read through the script, but also got to know the language structure.
"They learned how punctuation changes the language and how certain words have a musicality to them," she said. "That helped the actors not only deliver the lines, but also helped them actually understand what Shakespeare was trying to do.
"Many of these kids study ‘Hamlet,’ ‘Macbeth,’ ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in their junior high and high school classes and they study the actual text and what we did is really not that far off from studying in the classroom and writing a paper," Anderson-Bailey said. "We broke it down, memorized it and perform it. Our approach was that Shakespeare is as accessible as any other script. You just have to understand the fundamentals."
During those tableworks, the cast realized that Shakespeare invented many common sayings that are used today.
"We’ll read lines like ‘something wicked this way comes’ and they would stop and say, ‘I didn’t know that was Shakespeare,’" Anderson-Bailey said. "That only got them more excited and once the kids got a handle on things, reading the script became a fun activity."
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present its YouTheatre production of William Shakespeare’s "Macbeth" on Friday, Dec. 11 and Saturday, Dec. 12. Friday curtain is 7 p.m. and Saturday’s curtains are 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets range from $9 to $14 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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