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I think I said yes before he finished asking the question.
In the late fall Artistic Director Eric Coates had called me up to his office. The previous evening he’d had been at a meeting with the Lawyer Play Committee and they had made a couple of decisions about the 2017 Lawyer Play fundraiser hosted by GCTC. First, they had decided they wanted to do MacBeth; second, they wanted me to direct. Was I interested?
Yes. Certainly, yes.
I have had the privilege of directing the last two Lawyer Plays: Parfumerie and The Mouse Mouse That Roared, both were incredibly challenging and a heck of a lot of fun to be a part of. The lawyers who volunteer to be a part of this project are a generous and joyous lot. And having the human and technical resources of a theatre like GCTC at one’s disposal is a real treat. After last year’s production, the consensus seemed to be that the Lawyer Play Committee would be interested in tackling a musical, something beyond my skill set, so I was not expecting to be asked to step back into the role of director. It was a nice surprise.
It’s always a pleasure to revisit a script that you like. Working through the script in preparation for rehearsals one can’t help but hear the voices from different points in my experience.
“The Scottish Play” was one of the first Shakespeare plays we studied in high school. It was taught to me by Mr. Miller, who read the play to us out loud. In Mr. Miller’s class there was no scratchy Royal Shakespeare Company vinyl lps, featuring a cast that chirped and skipped through the dialogue in practised mid-Atlantic accents. There was none of that, making the shy kid in the jean jacket covered with the Rush and Pink Floyd patches, stand up and haltingly read the “Tomorrow and tomorrow…” speech. No sir. Mr. Miller, every bit the modern day Nick Bottom, insisted that he “Play the lion too”. He read everything, (even the naughty bits) stopping to clarify any meaning or innuendo, he felt we might have missed. As teens, we were all predisposed to dislike Shakespeare, but over several English periods Mr. Miller brought the play to life. We were transported from the windowless, cinderblock, suburban high school class room to a cruel, cold and bawdy world. He taught me that Shakespeare is meant to be heard and not read, that the language had a life beyond the printed page.
My first professional gig was MacBeth. Like most things in my career it was by circumstance and not design that I found myself travelling to Cornerbrook, Newfoundland to appear in a production of the play at Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador. It was due to a series of misfortunes that I found myself flying into Deer Lake in the middle of a rainy night to start my first “real” job. I had been called in because my friend Brian, who was supposed to be part of the company, had fallen ill. He very kindly suggested me as a replacement. We were a cast of eight and due to other tragic complications, the death of the project’s originator; we did not have a script or a casting breakdown. Nonetheless, after a couple of weeks rehearsal, we opened...a school matinee at eight o’clock in the morning. I will always remember the actor who was playing Duncan (he was not a morning person and used to stir a heaping spoonful of instant coffee into his cup of brewed coffee) stomping into the dressing room on our opening morning, sitting in front of his mirror, clearing his throat in lieu of a vocal warm up and saying to his reflection: “They want MacBeth at eight o’clock in the morning, I’ll give ‘em MacBeth at eight o’clock in the morning”. From this experience I learned that the show will, always go on; the challenge of time and resources can always be answered with imagination.
In my last year at Stratford I was cast in a production of the play starring the late Brian Bedford as MacBeth. Nothing big, I was a dead body at the start of the show, graduating to the “Cream Faced Loon” in the final act of the play. This is the character who gets to tell MacBeth that “Birnam wood do come to Dunsinane”. In this production director David William had MacBeth stride across the stage and give the kneeling servant a solid kick, which sent the servant flying. Although, much rehearsed, one night I was off my mark and when MacBeth went to kick me, he connected with my elbow instead of my palm. That evening the word “Shit!” was added to the cannon. My apologies were profuse and numerous following the performance. Breaking the toe of one of the leads was not something you wanted to do as a young actor at Stratford. Fortunately, I was forgiven and assured there were no broken bones. Prior to the poorly taken kick, during rehearsals, I had been asked to help Mr. Bedford run lines. Reading through the play with him I watched an actor build connections between the play’s themes, the text and the concept of the production; learning that, regardless of your experience there are always new things to discover in the text.
Of course I only see these lessons now, as I work to discover the play as a director trying to piece together a way for my friends from the County of Carleton Law Association, the Great Canadian Theatre Company and I are going to tell this story.