Complicity, Catharsis, and THE CURSE

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In this episode of Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast, Artistic Director Eric Ting has a conversations with a few members of the cast of Macbeth. Above: Set rendering by scenic designer Adam Rigg.

Alicia C
Hello, everyone. This is Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast. I’m Alicia Coombes, the Creative Content Manager. This time Artistic Director Eric Ting is talking to members from the cast of our upcoming show Macbeth. They’re going to talk about the rehearsal process, this production’s really exciting casting and design choices, and “The Curse”. Enjoy.

Eric
Hey, everybody, this is Eric Ting. I’m here with members of the cast of our production of Macbeth. I’m going to ask you all to introduce yourselves and maybe say briefly the roles that you’re playing. And if you’ve done… what was the last thing you did here at Cal Shakes, because all three of you are Cal Shakes veterans!

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Oh, yeah.

Liz Sklar
Well, my name is Liz Sklar. And I’m playing Lady Macbeth and I’m part of the ensemble as well. And I was last year in Othello playing Desdemona.

Alicia C
I’m Joseph Patrick O’Malley, I’ll be playing Malcolm and we all play witches in the play. And the last thing I was in was War of the Roses, where I played Henry the Sixth.

Catherine Luedtke
Hi, Catherine, Cat Luedtke, and I am playing Ross and ensemble, one of the witches, the gentle woman to Lady Macbeth, and a lord. I was last year also in War of the Roses where I played a nasty priest and a queen. It’s great to be back.

Eric
Fantastic. So we’re here to talk about Cal Shakes’ 2019 production of Macbeth. It’s directed by Victor Milana Maog. And, the three of you are part of the cast of how many is it? About 10 actors? Yeah, we like them small. I wanted, why don’t we just start off with, let’s start off with this—what was you all’s first encounters with this play?

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Hmm.

Eric
I know Liz has a very good story. So

Liz Sklar
Do I? I mean, yes, I do. I did. I did this play. I did this play about 10 years ago in New York. And I got to play Lady M. And, but even before that, I do have to admit, I don’t know if I should admit this or if…Okay, anyways, I did write a letter while I was in grad school to the then-Artistic Director of Cal Shakes saying that I thought he should produce the play and that I should play Lady Macbeth. So I’m very happy to have made my dreams come true.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
He clearly got your note and passed the buck…

Eric
Oh, note to Alicia, let’s find that letter. Yeah,

Liz Sklar
I know, I don’t know if actually send it might have just been an assignment. But I recently found it.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
I’ve never been in the production of Macbeth. But I’ve seen a number of them over time and seen that film with Patrick Stewart. And it’s great to step into the production because all I ever remember of the play—and I doubt that I’m alone—is the first two acts, all of the murder and those great first speeches, and then how it all shakes out kind of disappears for me. And I’m stepping into Malcolm, and most of what happens for me is in that latter part of the play, so I’m really kind of getting to approach it like a new play.

Catherine Luedtke
I agree. I have never been in it myself. But I think it’s the Shakespeare that I have seen the most. I am drawn to it.

Eric
What draws you to it?

Catherine Luedtke
The darkness and the beauty of the language. I just think it’s one of the most beautiful presentations of death and war and tyranny. All the fun subjects. Also, like you said, I don’t remember who on earth Ross is. And I, you know, I had to comb through and a lot of times those roles get conflated, you know, because there’s 46 people in this play. We’ve got 10 people playing 46 plus a witch each and then. So it was really exciting to actually go through and find out who this person was, and what he meant to the story.

Liz Sklar
I’m having a flash of another memory. Actually, I encountered this play when I was in high school at… doing a doing a summer program. And we were doing all Shakes, all these different Shakespeare pieces. And we did one of the witches things in this old rehearsal studio. And we were doing the “toil toil bubble and trouble” speech over and over again, like a chant. And all of a sudden thunder struck, and lightning and then rain started pouring in the sides of the walls, like inside the building. And so I think part of what strikes me about this piece is that I really do believe that it’s connected to some other… some other world is connected to it. So it’s chilling.

Eric
My wife keeps telling me I have to watch the second season of Slings and Arrows. I refuse to watch it until I’m done with this season, because I don’t want it to become like a self-fulfilling prophecy! But like, you know, this has been a crazy season at Cal Shakes, right? We had, we had the first… the tech for Midsummer Night’s Dream was almost practically rained out for the first four days. Yeah. We’ve had to like recast roles, the last minute, in multiple instances. It’s been kind of a crazy thing, kind of a crazy season. And I like to think that I can blame it all on the presence of this title! Is there is there you know, talk a little bit about, you know, I’m always interested, especially when we have actors in the room. I’m always interested in processes, if that’s okay, and just to get a sense a little bit about what might feel unique about your processes. And what might feel unique about this process? Is there anything there anything unexpected or surprising or different about being in the room for this play? This production?

Liz Sklar
What’s it’s such a fascinating play, because it has so many different sort of worlds inside of it. And so it’s been really fascinating to be working in the three… I sort of get to be in three different worlds. There’s the witches world, and then there’s Lady M and Macbeth’s world. And then there’s this other world of everyone else, you know, and so it has really felt like, in some ways—because we’re still at the beginning of the process—that I’m rehearsing three different plays. And so I’m really excited today, because we’re going to do a stumble through to see what it means to like, kind of thread those things together.

Eric
You also play like there’s something interesting, I think about the double casting, right? Yeah, you play both Lady M. And

Liz Sklar
I play young Siward as well.

Eric
And that’s somebody that Macbeth kills.

Liz Sklar
Yes.

Eric
Right.

Liz Sklar
So and there’s, there’s echoes in the way that’s happening

Eric
Sure. Great.

Catherine Luedtke
I think what’s really unique is that everybody has their hand in the witches, and that we’re sort of discovering who they are, what they mean, how we can be… tell a consistent story with different people, and how the witches either control events or are controlled by events, and where they are born from, you know, and just see their journey through. It’s really exciting to have so many ideas. And Talli Jackson, the amazing movement coach, is working our way through how we’re going to show that

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Yeah, and Victor’s done an incredible job so far of—

Eric
So far…I say that for Victor!

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
So far…the jury is still out! We haven’t opened yet. [laughter] No, of incorporating so many different voices, and so many different departments to find where this play sits, because there are so many ways you can approach the world of the witches and these very famous speeches and these very big war scenes that we have an incredible fight choreographer, and we have a movement department, and Philippa and the dramaturgy end of it has really everybody’s provided unique ideas to the process. And it’s been really fun to come as a group and find what that golden middle ground is. And all those things.

Eric
You mentioned a moment ago, Joseph that sort of everybody plays a witch, is that true? Most everyone? Except maybe…

Liz Sklar
Victor made sure that everybody plays a witch—

Eric
just—Macbeth also… does?

Liz Sklar
I don’t think so right now—

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
No, but he does play a murderer.

Eric
He does play a murderer.

Catherine Luedtke
Spoilers!

Eric
I wonder what is it? What does it mean to you all to have that kind of choice in the room, right, that the entire ensemble, perhaps with the exception of the actor playing Macbeth, sort of steps into the role of those supernatural figures?

Liz Sklar
I mean, it makes us all complicit in the violence.

Eric
Oh, how do you mean?

Liz Sklar
You know, because, well, the witches sort of bubble, this sense of violence to the surface, they make it possible. And so because we’re all a part of it, because we’re all a witch, like, nobody’s really innocent of the violence that happens in this play. There’s, there’s nobody gets to just walk away and be like, well, it wasn’t me. Because even though we’re obviously playing witches, not as our characters, we’re still our bodies are still in the space. And so I think that’s very true of the play that everybody has a hand in the violence that happens in this world,

Catherine Luedtke
We’ve discussed too, that they possibly are born of the blood in the soil from the battlefield, you know, that the violence that begins the play, gives birth to these creatures, they are brought into being by these acts of violence. I was also thinking… outside the witches, but that, you know, the play begins with a war that sets off a tyranny. And then it ends with a war that is, potentially is bringing peace. So you know, the acceptability of violence, depending on the outcome, depending on who’s doing it, but the acts are the same.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
And to that end, it’s interesting and a lot of plays when if you play someone who is considered a villain or a bad person, you’re always kind of looking for that thread of good in the person or at least the human thread through that person. And what playing a witch is, for me being considerably the positive voice by the end of the play, is to really find where that evil and where that sin and brutality lives in the person who is going to take over because, again, like you said, no one escapes, right?

Eric
Yeah, you’re the good guy.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Yeah,

Eric
The largely forgettable good guy. It’s true, right? Like there’s any, there’s any scene that gets like cut to pieces in this play? It’s

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
It is that…Malcolm and MacDuff, yeah.

Eric
Yeah, exactly. Right. Um, you know, it’s one of the, actually, it’s one of the things that has always frustrated me about Shakespeare, strangely enough, because I don’t, I mean, we talked about it when we’re working on Othello back in the day, is that, that constant tendency, the desire in all of his work, so many of his plays, to right things at the end. So you know, so you go into this world, and the world is often upended in some way, shape, or form. But there’s always that moment at the end of the play, where they’re like, somebody comes out and says, Okay, now we’re back to something that makes sense. Again, it’s always frustrated me, because it’s simply not my experience of the world. Like my experience of the world doesn’t have that sense of closure or a sense of conclusion.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
And it’s that thing, we’re all longing for this moment in history. And we know that when we get to that moment, it’s not going to be the escape that we think it’s going to be.

Eric
Yeah, never is.

Catherine Luedtke
It was definitely something we’re exploring. It’s an exciting thing, we touched upon it yesterday. Like how that might play out.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Yeah.

Catherine Luedtke
And how complicated it is for each person in the scene.

Eric
Yeah. The other day, there’s something really interesting, I think about the the casting of you, Liz and Rey, it makes the Macbeths, a very young couple. Right. And that youth, I think, brings the loss of the child that much closer to where we are when we enter the play. Yeah. And someone yesterday was describing it as fundamentally a domestic drama, right, there is this, you know, like, what is this that’s happening between these two people. And, and I want to talk about that. And the other thing I want to talk about, as well is the sort of the notion of the use of space that Victor has, has created, right, so he’s really, some of you we made, maybe we’ll put up photograph of the set model with this. But you know, he’s really brought this kind of architectural structure, but it’s a sort of, it looks mostly like a cage, for lack of a better word. And he’s really pushed to that structure down to the very front of the stage. And sort of like, you know, we, we stage actors on on that section of the stage all the time, we just never dropped a set on it. And so, here we are with the set on it. So there’s like the sense of the sense of that. So that that kind of very banal idea of domestic drama, matched with this sort of, like, it’s both intimate and not intimate, right? Like it’s intimate in its proximity to us as an audience, and not intimate in the… You know, the way that the plexiglass separates us from the action from time to time, or the bars obscure, a kind of clear vision of the world. I wonder if you all could talk a little bit about that, like is that is that manifesting itself in interesting ways in the work?

Liz Sklar
I mean, well, the set has become a real partner in it because you can’t just walk across the stage, right, there’s a bar in front of you, or there’s a piece of plexiglass. And so it’s become a real character in the play, of how we manage getting through this cage, and reaching people and how the set either keeps us away from people or keeps us in close quarters to people. So it’s become a real sort of jigsaw puzzle of physical relationship, because of the set.

Catherine Luedtke
And the fact that it is a rigid, geometric set, a lot of times we adhere to that rigor, because that’s what’s there. And then there are times when we go completely against that shape. And that means something. So it’s exciting to sort of be on a grid and then break away from it. Because that’s what you’re stuck in. But it’s a real visual way of expressing what’s happening.

Alicia C
And those plexiglass sections of the set right now it’s a big imagination game, because they’re not up in the rehearsal hall. But already, I’m beginning to see the moments where, even though it’s not obscuring, you can still see through the Plexiglass, emerging from that brings us directly and confrontation with the audience.

Eric
Yeah, yeah. It has reminded me as I’ve watched some of it, of a hall of mirrors. Just like in my mind, like, obviously, there’s like you have, you all have caution tape up right now, where the Plexiglass is, not the same thing.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
But it’s more of a crime scene.

Eric
Yeah, completely.

Liz Sklar
It is a bit of that.

Eric
Right? Right. Of course. Um, do you all? Is there something about this play, that you feel speaks to us in this moment? You talked about complicitness a moment ago, which I’m so thankful for, actually, that you brought that up, because we’re… that somewhere at some point, because that’s been a fundamental theme of our season, like we’ve been, we’ve been looking at all the different ways that we are complicit or that we have sort of, like, you know, with Midsummer, it’s, it’s the fact that there’s a group of Rude Mechanicals that are making a little play, completely ignorant of the kind of natural world and chaos, you know, we’re sort of like we’re, we’re concerning ourselves with banal things, while the world is ending around us. And Good Person is fundamentally about sort of the complex, the complex compromises that we make, that we have to make an order to just survive in this world. And of course, House of Joy is, you know, I think of the character of Gulal, the lead bodyguard, who kind of just, she sort of, she served Emperor after Emperor after Emperor and never thought, to stand up and speak out against the oppression of that particular world. And like this notion that there is a complicitness, a communal sense of responsibility, around the violence, perpetrated in this play is quite powerful. And I’m wondering if you could just share some thoughts about sort of—like you’re in it, right. And I’m always struck by how actors kind of respond and react and reflect.

Catherine Luedtke
I can speak for my experience with seeing this world through Ross’s eyes, which is that he is very much a warrior soldier at the top of the show. He’s devoted to this king, it’s a love for this king. And it’s almost a blind fellowship of him, even though he is a violent man. And then as things progress, he then begins to question. Wait, you know, this person is doing the same things, but to different people. So where do you step back and say, This is not how I want to, this is not who I want to follow? And then there comes a moment for him, where he decides that he will desert. Desert him, you know, and a lot of times I think, Ross is there sort of saying to the audience, You see this right? Do you see what’s happening right now? And then there’s a point where he just says, enough’s enough, you know, and moves over, but then is it a better situation or not? You know?

Liz Sklar
I think this notion of one is enough, enough is really powerful in this play, you know, when do you say, I can’t go that far? And I mean, if we think about our political climate right now, like, when do you say like, That’s enough, I have to do something about this. So I think that’s a really powerful notion of complicity is that, you know, how long do you let it go, before you make a choice to do something else. I think also for my character, there’s a… there’s a strong sense of isolation, and sort of a fight to break free of that isolation. And I think that there’s, I mean, you hear about people in this world today who are feeling very isolated by the computers and the screens and the way our world has started to box us into, you know, little tiny boxes, and that and so I think that that’s another way in which the world creates places where you don’t feel like you can reach out to get help or to get—or to fight for what you need. And so that’s another way I think.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Yeah, I think with any Shakespeare play, certain sections of language are going to elevate themselves to the time and in this one, it really is pinging all over. And there’s a beautiful thought that Lady MacDuff has in the scene before she dies, where she says, sometimes to do a good thing is criticized and to do a bad thing is lauded and that’s the world that we live in right now. And we’re watching the goalpost get moved further and further for what’s acceptable. And it’s… I, I am absolutely speaking the truth when later in the play from the outside watching the country and just trying to decide when is the moment to step in and fix this? When I say that, I think I think this country sinks beneath the yoke, that it weeps, and it bleeds and each new day, a gash is added to her wounds. I mean, that is what I’m watching every day. So that part of the play is really exciting to witness because the positive in this play is how do you respond to tyranny?

Eric
Right. Yeah. So can audiences expect the moment of catharsis through Malcolm?

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Hopefully, however long that lasts, we’ll see. That is the question, I don’t think I don’t think they’ll be allowed to sit with it for very long.

Eric
Right, yeah. But that’s the other thing is, I think, to your point, I’m also Cat this notion that like, even even once Malcolm takes the crown, like, what’s the guarantee that it doesn’t, there’s just, not another perpetuation of the same cycles over and over and over again. Yeah.

Catherine Luedtke
Are the people in this scenario learning anything? Each time the cycle begins, you know, how battle-weary do you have to be in order to stop?

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Well, and there was a really interesting thread that’s coming up between Malcolm and Macduff, I think what he’s looking for in Macduff is Macduff—to spoil a bit of it—a terrible thing happens to Macduff’s family and that is the ignitor, that’s the thing that causes them to truly be able to make the next step, and without that personal connection to a tragedy—I don’t know that the resistance lives.

Eric
But isn’t it also true this notion that vengeance begets vengeance, right? And violence begets violence? Like that’s the that’s the cycle right that that I think we seem to be caught up in? Yeah, a little bit.

Catherine Luedtke
And the characters are facing conflicting emotions all the time. Like even at the end when Macduff who we think is missing shows up. He’s alive. But look who’s dead.

Eric
Yeah.

Catherine Luedtke
He’s holding the head of Macbeth. You know, and so there is this joy, this relief, and horror.

Joseph Patrick O’Malley
Yeah. Yeah, I think, in that Quentin Tarantino movie, The Inglorious Basterds. There’s that cathartic moment where you see, you know, Hitler killed in the world of this movie. And it’s a strange mix of emotions, watching that moment, as well, because there is a great visceral, personal catharsis. And then it’s not—it doesn’t last, that kind of revenge doesn’t, can’t breed the positivity that we need.

Eric
Right. This has been awesome. All three of you. I don’t want to keep you from the rest of your lunch break. We could, I mean, we could talk about

Liz Sklar
We could talk about this play all—

Eric
So we’ll save that for our next conversation, which will maybe be with different actors. But I want to thank the three of you for joining us today. Have a great stumble through today.

Alicia C
Thanks for listening to Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast. Macbeth starts performances on September 18. We’ve just announced our 2020 season and you can learn more about those exciting plays and get tickets at calshakes.org.

Macbeth begins performances September 18. Get tickets and more information here.

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