By Brittany Ann Meister
Anyone with even a passing relation to theatre, has heard that you don’t say “Macbeth” in a theatre,unless, of course, you’re performing it. Some go so far as to avoid discussing it or using particular lines from it as well. But why is this?
Well, to start off with, the Scottish Play has its own fair share of bad luck urban legends. Starting off with the play’s first performance, the young actor originally cast to play Lady Macbeth allegedly died, forcing Shakespeare himself to take the role. However, since we’re not even sure exactly when the play was written or performed for the first time, this is hard to confirm with records. Around a century later, an actor playing Duncan was supposedly killed in front of his audience when the prop dagger was replaced with a real dagger. In 1947, Harold Norman, who purportedly did not believe in superstition, died when his stage battle became a bit too realistic during his run at the titular Thane. Add in some riots, one in 1721 and one in 1772, and a third one caused by the fans of two rival actors at one’s production in New York in 1849 (with 22 dead and over 100 wounded), with the countless other stories of accidents over the years, and you have quite a bit of bad luck attaching itself to one little play.
How did Macbeth bring such bad luck on itself though? There are a few theories. To start with the most supernatural ideas: some think that the devil himself is present in the play. As who, you might ask? Why, as the porter. Some believe that Shakespeare brought the curse upon it himself, by using authentic spells in the witches’ dialogue, with King James I going so far as to have the play banned for over five years because of its incantations. However, witches were a popular component of drama in the 1600s and Shakespeare was hardly the only writer to implement them. In fact, Thomas Middleton’s The Witch was written around the same time, and used direct passages from The Discovery of Witchcraft, a book which, purportedly, contains real spells. Yet we never hear about any curses on his work. And to top it off, Shakespeare’s witches bear no solid correlation to other literature from that time period.
This leaves us with more realistic explanations. Most people will say that any play that has been put onstage for 400 hundred years, particularly one as bloody as Macbeth, will have its fair share of accidents. Many actors have stories about someone they knew who nearly fell off the stage. Rather than blame it on being clumsy or losing their footing, it is, of course, easier to blame it on someone saying the dreaded name. There is another idea though, that states that actors have grown to fear the name in the theatre due to it potentially signalling their unemployment. Theatre owners would often replace struggling productions with Macbeth-a real crowd pleaser. Therefore, hearing it the theatre outside of an actual production usually meant the owners were considering cutting your run short, or someone was rehearsaing to replace your show.
If you dig further still, you can find that a lot of the urban legends and stories surrounding Macbeth actually originated with Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, a play about the titular doctor making a pact with the devil and playing some practical jokes, before ultimately being dismembered and dragged to hell. Stories of accidents and even deaths plagued Dr. Faustus and eventually, the same stories were being told again, except with the name Macbeth.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to let go of superstition and live life free of the cursed play. But, as it is, most thespians won’t take the chance. Even in rehearsals for VFR’s production of Macbeth, it was agreed upon that outside of performance, a nickname should be used, with a favorite being Mackers. Superstitious or not, if you find yourself uttering the name on accident, be sure to follow this remedy: exit the space, spin around three times, spit over your left shoulder, and either speak a line of Shakespeare or yell a profanity. No matter what you believe, at least you'll have your bases covered.
By: Brittany Ann Meister
Our VFR Family is very busy! In these posts, we're going to focus on some of the projects and accomplishments from our former and current family members.
Kira Renkas was with us from the very beginning, as Juliet in VFR's premiere of "Romeo and Juliet" and returned with us again this summer as King Phillip in "The Life and Death of King John."
Recently, Kira has finally gotten a passion project of hers off the ground. We caught up with her and asked her to share some of her project with us.
Okay, so let's start off with a bit of basics about your project. How did you get it off the ground? How did you decide to do it?
K:Well it took a LOT of persistence to be honest. I asked many local theater companies around town to see if they would be the umbrella theater company as I don’t have one of my own. A couple were kind and gently turned me down, the rest didn’t respond, and Outskirts was kind enough to say “yes”. I think I had reach out to at LEAST ten but I do believe there’s more, unfortunately I’ve lost track because I started in July right after ‘King John’ closed. I decided to do it because I really think ‘The Children’s Hour’ is a story that still needs to be told and I realized it wasn’t going to be told in this city unless I took it into my own hands and created my own opportunity.
So, what makes you so passionate about "The Children's Hour?" I'm not very familiar with it unfortunately.
K:To give you a very brief plot, ‘the Children’s Hour’ is about two women that worked very hard to follow their dreams of becoming headmistresses of an all girls’ boarding school. After eight long years of working and scrimping and saving things finally come together, however a troublesome student starts a rumor that sends their success shattering to pieces. That wasn’t taken off the back of the script I promise lol What makes me so passionate about it is how it still relates to us as a society even still despite the play being written in the 1930s. It looks at how precarious a woman’s success is: how she has to work twice as hard to make it happen and how it can be taken from her even twice as fast and in this case, from a mere rumor. We as women can absolutely STILL relate to that as even in 2018 we continue to fight for our place in the world. It also looks at other themes of femininity as well as homosexuality, and class distinction. Lillian Hellman, the playwright, sculpts brilliant female characters (and of all ages as is apparent in this play) and she has such sharp wit alongside such a brilliant display of observation. She really was ahead of her time as she was one of the few prevalent female playwrights in the 1930s.
Wow! Thanks for that. I had never really looked into it previously even though I had heard of it. So, why do you think this has been difficult to get picked up?
K: It’s difficult to say. Possibly because it’s a bit dated, but I hardly think that’s a good enough reason. It’s not that it never gets done— a version was done in 2011 with Elizabeth Banks and Keira Knightly and of course there’s he movie version from the ‘60s with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McClain. People that do know of the play always speak of it with passion and enthusiasm....The story is so brilliant and beautiful, I find it hard to figure out why it’s not done as frequently as it should.
How has it been working with a theatre company to produce something you feel so passionate about? How is the process coming along?
K: It’s been amazing! Outskirts has essentially given me free reign with my production and it’s coming along famously. The artistic director and I make a great team, in my opinion.
That's amazing! What's your timeline for the production?
K: We’re still in the fundraising phase. In April we have a fundraising bingo night at This is It, auditions will be held in May and the show will go up in July at the Brumder Mansion.
That sounds really great! Is there anything else you'd like to mention about this project?
K: Absolutely! OnMilwaukee has expressed interest in covering our story so I encourage folks to be on the look out for that. The more people at This is It, the merrier, that date will be April 12th. The LGBT Center has made a presence in our planning and the purpose of all of this is that we really want to have community engagement because of the dense material present in the script. It can bring all sorts of people together and raise awareness and camaraderie in the way that theater does so well. Not to mention, it’s just a great story that still deserves to be told .
If you would like to find out more about "The Children's Hour" with Outskirts Theatre, feel free to check out their gofundme below, and even donate while you're there!
By Brittany Ann Meister
Hannah Tahtinen has been very involved in the creation of "Oedipus" from the very beginning. Aside from being very involved in the movement exercises used to develop a large portion of the show, Hannah has also been responsible for the masks, synonymous with Greek theatre. I asked Hannah to talk a little bit about these elements ahead of the show's opening this weekend.
Q:How has devised movement shaped this story?
A: So, for the first few weeks, the goal was to create a common physical language, to give the actors the opportunity to figure out how they move individually and as a unit. So, we would use a lot of movement exercises. We used a number of different exercises as a framwork to make ourselves make discoveries and stronger choices. Eventually we would know what would Achillian plus Nick's movement would look like. A lot of effort was put into moving with intention, and to say more.
I think the movement makes up for the part of the story that we do not necessarily see. Oedipus is King and his country is sick and dying. And so the story of Oedipus surrounds his own downfall. A big pieces of that is missing though. What are his people going through? What is a king without his subjects? The chorus steps in there and physically tells a lot of the story. I think it adds a lot of context.
One thing that Nick [the director] did that was really ingenious was, he looked at the Chorus lines and categorized them into five different speakers. Although the names of people speaking are generic, we found that many of the Chorus lines dealt with truth and justice. Many of the lines had to do with Oedipus' role as a leader and judgement and mercy. Each of these actors were given roles of Truth, Mercy, Country, Panic, and Gods. It works out really well. I think it gives autonomy, while keeping the unity of the Chorus. They are often the talking pieces of the Gods but they still have their individual voice.
Q: You also made the masks. Can you tell me a bit about those?
A: I made the masks out of a lot of household items and plaster strips. Each person was fitted for one or more masks and sculptural details were added on top, as well as details and paint. There were masks for each chorus member, Oedipus, Jocasta, and the government officials. The Gods have their own masks as well. It was a way to keep in touch with the roots of the storytelling and making it a little more obvious who was who and who was speaking. There's a lot of really charged emotions and the masks allow the audience to bear that empathize a little bit more. I think withou the masks, it might feel like too much. This the world you're entering in to, and there are a few times in the show were we break that, and the masks come off.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add about the show in general?
A: I think that one thing that goes hand in hand with devised theatre and VFR is why this company is taking this on. It ensures every ensemble member is an equal creative collaborator in ways that aren't often afforded to actors. Oftentimes, actors are responsible for their role and they'll see how other elements come together the week before opening. With the devising process, everyone's input is valid. We try a lot of things and throw a lot of things. I think it gives actors a feeling of autonomy and I think they're able to see. In the final act, there are a few moves in a few pieces where I remember the specific rehearsals that we found those moments. Anyone's work has the potential to make it into the final product. The stage manager was also involved in the devising. Ensemble focus was stronger, and for a company like VFR, I think it's right alongside the mission for those who are thirsty for those opportunities to get the chance to make the work their own. I think there's great reward in seeing the final product after creating something out of nothing together with the human capital of the ensemble.
By:Brittany Ann Meister
Nick Hurtgen, director of VFR's upcoming Oedipus, discusses a few details about his Greek tragedy.
What is different or unique about your Oedipus?
It has a lot of elements of what you’d expect from a greek tragedy, but there’s also a lot of devised choreography, which a lot of people wouldn’t assume would go with a greek tragedy. We've included a lot of modern elements.
The whole concept is based around making the audience feel uncomfortable so there’s a lot of jarring moments and decisions both with the design and the presentation of the characters that I think is going to really bring home that effect on people. Making them feel uncomfortable.
Why do you want to make them uncomfortable?
I think that tragedies, especially familiar ones, like with Hamlet and Oedipus, knowing the end of the story, allows the audience to protect themselves from the full emotional impact of the story. And by creating that discomfort it will have the audience focus in on the moment and lose track of where the story is leading to. So that when you get to the end and everything finally clicks together and the real tragedy of the play is revealed, it will hit harder. And the moral of the story, the main point of Oedipus, shows up at the end of the script in the last line of the play, “count no mortal happy til he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain.”
And I think that line specifically is saying that you can assume that everything is going great, you can think it’s happy, but the universe will throw a wrench at you. You have to be able to protect yourself.
Keep an eye on our Facebook and websitefor more information about Oedipus in the new year!
By: Brittany Ann Meister
"Hamlet" opens next week and so I asked the cast to tell me why they think you should see our production.
Gypsy: The production is absolutely phenomenal, the sheer talent of the cast is a wonder to behold! It's a production of epic proportions: far off places, daring sword fights; a prince in disguise! Villainy! Plots! Romance! A little something for everyone!
Hannah: I think a lot of young actors and directors think of "Hamlet" as this daunting play that they are not experienced or talented enough to tackle, but one thing we've returned to over and over again in rehearsal is how relatable the story is to young people. Youth is a time of hesitation, second-guessing, self-loathing, and questioning our own existence. If a story touches us so deeply, if we understand it and identify with it, why shouldn't we tell that story? I think VFR's "Hamlet" takes the melancholy, long-winded Dane, the hot-headed Laertes, and the Barbie-doll Ophelia (to name a few) away from those stereotypes that are often associated with this well-known play. In VFR's "Hamlet," they are just kids trying to grow up, meet the expectations of their family, and somehow still remain themselves.
Caitlin: People should see VFR's Hamlet for so many reasons, but most of all, the love and passion the cast has for the text. It it no small feat to get together with any group of people and solve for a common goal. It is even more wonderful to have that goal be making language that can be difficult accessible to a modern audience. This cast does that, with heart, bravery, and a deep affection for the story. Hamlet in our hands is no longer a text from class or a movie you've sat through. It is a story about people you know and love.
Andy: Everyone at least is familiar with Hamlet but not haven't seen it the way we do. With care and truth we are going to explore this timeless story so that everyone can really understand what it means. It has tragedy, a little comedy, and everything anyone could want in a show.
Alex: 'Hamlet is considered by many critics to be the best play of the English language, yet few critics will agree as to the definitive reason why this is so.
For me, what makes Hamlet so incredible is the titular character's relatability, and the universality of his journey. While it's true that his journey involves the supernatural, his journey ultimately stems from life's greatest equalizer: Death, and the grief he feels over his late father. Hamlet faces something which inevitably all of us go through. His struggle embodies our struggles, his thoughts our thoughts; as such, we root for Hamlet to succeed, are enraptured by his soliloquies and are moved when his success comes with the ultimate price.
Brandon: To dispell the notion that Shakespeare is antiquated and out-of-reach. It is exciting, emotional, and relatable.
Tickets are now available! We'll see you next week!
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