Literature Live from the Bay Street Theater !, a BOCES-approved arts in education program featuring performances of famous literary works to middle and high school students, returns with a wild take on Shakespeare Macbeth, a new method of distribution and a relentless effort to make it happen.
While Bay Street Theater reopened for in-person performances this summer, local schools weren’t quite ready to sign their students up for theatrical outings, so Bay Street had to get creative. They decided on a pre-recorded performance that would be rehearsed in three days, toured in less than a week, and available on demand in early November. At first glance, it seems like a brutal, almost impossible battle, but the Bay Street army was filled with titans.
Director Allen O’Reilly (King Duncan), Director of Education and Community Outreach for Bay Street, led the charge, recruiting six other actors to join him in 24 roles: Matthew Henerson (Macbeth), Erin Margaret Pettigrew (Lady Macbeth), Genevieve Simon (Malcolm), Joe Pallister (Macduff), Teresa DeBerry (Ross) and Gabe Portuondo (Banquo). As associate artist with Georgia Shakespeare for 24 seasons, with a dozen Macbeth productions to his credit as an actor and / or director, O’Reilly was well suited to the difficult task at hand.
For the setting, Scotland of 1963 was chosen, as it is both a distant past for teenagers and recent enough that the Bay Street collection of contemporary costumes come in handy. As O’Reilly explains, “If you can tell the story with Armani as well, if not better than armor, go with the Armani.”
Inspired by Flight over a cuckoo’s nest, Castle Inverness has been replaced by a barren sanatorium, where Macbeth resides as a mentally ill living the nightmare of this classic tragedy. Witches are also changed – now functional nurses and orderlies harvesting limbs and viscera from the battlefield to use in their disreputable brews.
While O’Reilly had to shorten the play to a comfortable screening time – plus the extra conversation between the show’s creators and cast – none of Shakespeare’s English was altered in any way.
Despite the shorthand script, the challenge of memorizing his role in just three days was an ambitious goal, especially for the lead character actor who (in the original script) speaks a total of 715 lines, versus the second most frequent of the room. speaker, Lady Macbeth, at 259 lines. Wisely, O’Reilly chose a Macbeth veteran, Henerson, who had performed in the show five times before Bay Street and twice as Macbeth himself, and he was eager to get back to the play.
“That’s the wonderful thing about these pieces: every time you come in contact with them – whether you watch them, read them or do them – you pull out something new,” Henerson shares, adding that his image of Macbeth after watching Jon Finch’s performance was that of a talkative thug. “This time I realized that I don’t know if Macbeth is a thug, but he’s much more comfortable with the physical world than the mental world. In fact, it is the world of the mind that destroys it.
Henerson praises all of the cast and crew, saying this seemingly impossible job “could have been a nightmare process, but it was pure delight.” And the dreaded choreographed sword fight between Macbeth and Macduff at the end of the play? Combat director Rick Sordelet trained Henerson and Pallister and filmed in about half an hour. “A real magician! Henerson calls him.
O’Reilly shares that the themes he chose to put forward were how people deal with death, with an emphasis on the implicit death of the Macbeth’s child and the empty nest he left for them , and free will. “It may appear, in this production, that we are highlighting the functions of witches and the influence they have on Macbeth,” he says. “They are perhaps more ubiquitous than in most other productions, which in my opinion worked well for that, but that being said, they don’t put the knife in his hand.”
Whether Shakespeare pushes definable lessons to be drawn from these themes or simply ponders them is up for debate, but doing so may miss the point.
“I don’t think Shakespeare was in the lessons business. I think it’s tempting to think of Shakespeare, because he’s a surprisingly good writer, as sort of writing for the ages and writing for people to think about his great thoughts hundreds of years into the future. He wrote to make money, ”says Henerson, adding that the playwright’s goal was largely entertainment and that’s what will keep young people engaged today. “I would like the students to find the play exciting and suspenseful. I want the students to lean towards Shakespeare, because there is so much in Shakespeare both directly but mostly seen in the theater – there is so much that he has to offer us when it comes to understanding the human condition, and as far as good, solid fun goes.
Bay street Macbeth completed filming on October 22, and students will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor via free on-demand streaming for schools from Monday, November 8 through Sunday, December 5. The general public can access on-demand streaming for $ 20 starting Tuesday, November 9.
Tickets are available at the box office by calling 631-725-9500 Tuesday through Sunday or 24/7 at baystreet.org.