Ask A Director About … Macbeth!

Here’s a fun new feature for everybody. You may recognize Alexi as one of our most frequent commenters here on ‘geek. Well, Alexi also happens to be directing The Scottish Play coming up, and we had an idea for a feature called (obviously), Ask A Director. What sorts of questions do you have for Alexi? I know I’d like to get the inevitable curse question out of the way by asking whether there was any particular bouts of bad luck on his set? Any injuries?
What else would you like to know? No boundaries, though of course Alexi’s not required to answer, either :). Let’s try to keep questions to the subject of directing this particular show, if at all possible – we’ve all got plenty of opportunities to voice our opinions on general issues of the day in other posts.
Who’s got a good question?
Ambition. Deception. Guilt. Madness. Shakespeare’s most harrowing tragedy has it all. See a twelve-person cast bring the rise and fall of Macbeth and his Lady to life in this innovative production.


Thursday, March 17th, 6:30 PM

Friday March 18th, 6:30 PM

Saturday, March 19th, 11:00 AM matinee

Saturday, March 19th 7:00 PM evening show

and Monday, March 21st, 6:30 PM

Location: St. Colman Church, 11 Simpson Road, Ardmore PA.

Admission is $6. Tickets can be pre-ordered at [email protected].

The ShakesPEER Group is a not-for-profit student-run theatre group. Previous productions have included Othello, Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
The production’s Facebook page can be found here:
View a trailer on Youtube here:

14 thoughts on “Ask A Director About … Macbeth!

  1. No bad luck, except for standard setbacks like scheduling snafus. No one's lost a limb OR their mind yet… though regarding the latter, ask me again on tech week. 😉

    My mantra about the "curse" is that it's bad luck to be superstitious. I personally think evidence for the curse tends to arise from people wanting to find it–"Oh, something bad happened during this production of the Scottish play! I'm sure bad thing never happen during productions of OTHER plays!" Obviously, keeping my actors safe is a top priority, so I make sure to block and rehearse all the fight scenes with care… but I would do that no matter what play we were putting on!

  2. 1. What edition of the play are you using?

    2. Are you making cuts? If so, how did you go about deciding? (I'm venturing to guess that Hecate was an immediate casualty.)

    3. Did you look at any film or video versions of the play in preparation? If so, which ones, and what did you think?

    Thanks for this opportunity!

  3. Thanks for your questions, Jon!

    1) I copied/pasted the text from Open Source Shakespeare into a Word document. OSS cites it's source as the Moby Shakespeare/Globe Shakespeare. I primarily picked it because it was the most readily available free digital edition of the text.

    2) Yes, I did make cuts. Working through the OSS text, I put it in my preferred script format. Along the way, I marked lines and passages I would consider cutting. My motto is "liposuction, not amputation." With the exception of Hecate's two appearances (which I don't doubt were interpolated by Thomas Middleton for a revival) I have retained every scene. Most of the cutting was a line trimmed here, a speech pruned there. The purpose was primarily to ensure a fast enough pace.

    All cut lines were still in the script, just marked-through. I did this so actors could read the full line if it helped them to understand the meaning, and so that it would be easy to add back in a line if necessary, which we ended up doing in one instance.

    3) The main film versions I saw were: the old Ian McKellan/Judi Dench production, filmed in black-and-white, which is riveting and dark; and the newly-aired Patrick Stewart/Kate Fleetwood production, which is well-acted and transposes the action of the play to an evocative, chilly cinderblock, fortress with vaguely Soviet trappings.

    Other films I enjoyed which are less traditional productions were ShakespeaRETOLD Macbeth (with James McAvoy); Scotland, PA (a white trash America-set variation on the play with non-Shakespeare dialog that frequently verges on gallows humor); and the creepy animated version from Shakespeare: The Animated Tales.

  4. Andrew: Excellent question!

    While I wouldn't call it "conceptualized," our production is not set in Medieval Scotland. Rather, the setting is a gaslit Victorian nightmare recalling Jack the Ripper, Mr. Hyde, and the work of Edgar Allen Poe. Our costume budget isn't huge, but we've been able to pull together enough 19th-century costume items to convey the location. Take a look at our trailer on Youtube for a glimpse of the production's "look."

  5. Alexi, the Globe edition is rather old (1866) and much critical study has gone on since then. Have you read any other editions of the play, and if so, did you consider modifying your text based on anything you read in later editions? Also, do you find what editors have to say about the text to be helpful in directing?

  6. Experience with this tragedy has shown me that actors–especially those in the leading roles–can sometimes be over-burdened by the sheer vaulting lyricism of this almost wall to wall poem.

    Have you found this to be the case at all? And if so, how are you addressing what might be perceived by some as a difficulty in negotiating the "non-realistic" aspects of this imagery-laden play?

  7. I'm curious about "vaulting lyricism of this wall-to-wall poem", JM. I don't think I've ever heard Macbeth described like that. Care to elaborate? This is not Richard II or even Midsummer we're talking about. Is Macbeth really known for its poetry more so than other Shakespearean and I've just never realized it?

  8. JM and Duane: I agree with JM. The lyricism in the play is astounding. In fact, Dr. Ralph Cohen has called it "Shakespeare's best poem." Not sure if I agree, but I certainly am cognizant of the poetry permeating the play. The only major prose segments thus become emphatically prosaic: the Porter's drunken monologue and the domestic scene between Lady Macduff and her son (before the murderers enter). Interestingly, these are the two scenes that one could see transposed into a different play: a problem comedy or a romance, perhaps.

    The verse has been a challenge for some of my actors. Not as much my leads, as they have ample experience working with major Shakespearean verse-speakers (Claudius and Portia, respectively). I've done my best to help all the actors use the verse to their advantage, finding clues for delivery in the meter, in end-words, and shared lines. It's nice that the Witches get their own meter, which helps define their characters as otherworldly.

    Mostly it comes down to getting people to enjoy saying the lines. "Tasting" the language. It sounds corny, I know, but it seems to be working.

  9. Catkins: O definitely. As I said, I went through the script putting in my preferred format. This is also the point where I combined smaller characters together, such as a assigning some appearances of servants and messengers (including the Third Murderer) to Seyton, and making the Porter the messenger who warns Lady Macduff. During this time, I also modified line readings when they were unwieldy, using my handy-dandy copy of the Folger Shakespeare for reference. The Folger Shakespeare tends to have lots of critical information, even including a appendix showing what they've changed from the original texts and which editors first made those changes.

    Regarding editors and directing: It's hit or miss. Certainly scholarly commentary on the play helped me in the cutting process ("Better keep this line of Banquo's: it begins the thread of bird imagery running through the play") but for readings of tricky lines I preferred to hold discussions with actors than to stick with a single editorial viewpoint. Also, well-meaning editors have occasionally done more harm than good, such as moving Macbeth's entrance in 2.2 (the post-murder scene) to where his wife notices him. What they didn't understand was the effect of theatrical darkness that is achieved when two characters are onstage together but cannot see each other. That's why I have disregarded the editors on this point and restored Macbeth's entrance to its Folio location, slightly earlier in the scene.

  10. It's not a contest. It doesn't negate, supersede, or overshadow the poetic qualities of other plays. It's simply that more so in the tragedies in general, and in this, his most compact play, chocked full of stream of consciousness metaphor and hyperbole, Shakespeare explores human nature in unconventional ways and modes employing gigantic imagery which can many times be problematic for the modern actor. One only has to look at any of Macbeth's musings to realize that this is so.

  11. I agree with JM. "Tasting" the language — or "savoring" or "relishing" it, as I seem to remember John Barton and Peter Hall have said in their writing on the subject — is basic to putting the plays over. Somehow or other, the actors have to convince us in the audience that they talk this way as a natural means of communication.

    Alexi, sometimes actresses playing Lady Macbeth have expressed the thought that the role feels incomplete — a transition is missing on the way to the sleepwalking scene, which makes a throughline hard to play. Has yours said anything like this?

  12. "I had else been perfect,/ Whole as the marble, founded as the rock,/ As broad and general as the casing air:/ But now I am cabin'd, cribb'd, confined, bound in/ to saucy doubts and fears?" It is very hard to say that line without adopting something of a frantic delivery, letting the alliterative section (cabin'd, cribb'd, confined) be propelled by the crunchy consonants. Also, saucy is just a fun word to say.

    So yeah, I am a fan of savoring the language.

    Jon: Yes, you can definitely get a sense of a missing scene. In fact, I realized that if I put intermission after the banquet scene, Lady Macbeth wouldn't appear between the end of intermission and the sleepwalking scene.

    In a way though, Lady M's extended absence IS part of the throughline. Like Hamlet's disappearance from 4.3 to 5.1, the offstage time marks a change in the character. It also gives us a chance to see how far apart the Macbeths have grown, which is of course part of what leads Lady Macbeth to her guilt-sick handwashing. After becoming king, Macbeth starts both idealizing and isolating his wife–"Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck…" We know Lady M is not 'innocent," but Macbeth seems to want to forget that, to keep her on some kind of queenly pedestal and away from his later dirty work such as killing Banquo. So, I think the sense of a missing transition can be put to good use, if we the poignancy of Lady M's absence from earlier scenes as symbolic of the widening gap between her and her husband–by the end, he cannot sleep and she cannot wake up. They're each trapped in a personal, ever-so-murky hell.

  13. "Tasting" the language.

    Alexi, I don't think it even 'sounds' corny. It's a very good way to put it and more literal than many might imagine. Break a leg! I hope it's a great success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *