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Macblog: Building the World

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Here at Mortal Folly, one of the key goals of our Mainstage productions is to build a world in which every character onstage is a living, breathing human being;  a whole, complete world wherein each moment of humanity can be reveled.  Creating this kind of environment invariably draws the audience deeper into the story, and allows them to connect more fully with the characters and story.  To build that world requires an invested and committed process, combining extensive text work, organic behavioral movement, and thorough development of the emotional life to create the characters…but that’s a discussion for another day.

Today, we’re going to look at PHYSICALLY building the world of the play.  As the famous and incredibly beautiful prologue to Shakespeare’s Henry V shows, we as performers often have to work without the resources necessary to re-create the world in which our characters live:

…can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…

Henry V, prologue

We have to find ways to create the impression of a world, while often working with as little a few chairs or black cubes onstage.  So, what surprises do we have in store for our upcoming production of Macbeth?  For those of you who know our venue, the wonderful Gene Frankel Theatre, you know that is a fantastic space to work in.  It is a large, adaptable space, with lots of stage space, stadium-style audience seating, and a loft balcony.

This last feature was one of the things that drew us to this space; there are many theatre companies that would give their right arm to be able to have that luxury.  A balcony allows for a number of dramatic innovations; for example, you can have more than one scene in process on the upper and lower levels, creating a sense of contemporaneous action that is often hard to achieve on stage.  A balcony can also be used to artificially create space between characters on on stage–as seen in Romeo & Juliet, the simple height difference between players can create a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, despite only being a few feet away from each other.  Of course, we intend to put our luck to good use and make the balcony work for us.

Below is a concept sketch for our Macbeth set:

As you can see, there’s some really cool things going on here.  We’re looking at expanding the balcony with platforms on both sides of the stage, so there will essentially be an entire second floor of playing space.  In addition, there will (hopefully) be a staircase of sorts on the stage right platform, meaning that characters will be able to enter and leave the top floor as part of scenes–a great way to create different “areas” of the world, whether they be rooms in a castle or a tower to climb in order to escape a battle.

On the ground floor, the stage will remain largely empty except for  a few walls that give the impression of the inside or outside of a dark ages building.  There will likely be small pieces that can be moved on and off as needed.  When the playing space becomes the castle at Dunsinane, there may be chairs or a table that indicate that the characters are “inside”; when on the “blasted heath” of Scotland, these trappings will disappear to leave us with a stark, open stage.  There may also be tapestries or other hangings that will appear when characters are in one locale or another, giving just a small sense of location in the world that we are building.

As our artistic director, Katherine Harte-DeCoux says:

“We’re trying to fully utilize the space with levels and really create a sense of scope.  While it’s impossible to literally stage a battle inside a theatre with only 14 people, if we can encompass the audience and pull them from their every day reality into our long-ago and far-away world of castles and warriors, then the story becomes far more emotionally accessible and compelling.”

As always, there’s more to come, so keep checking back often!


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Welcome to the MacBlog!

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010


A show so infamous that speaking its very name is said to bring a curse down upon you. How do you put together a production of a play that has such an incredible history? How do you breathe new life into a text that has been performed for over 400 years?

For the next few months, we’ll be dedicating this blog space to some thoughts and stories about the process of creating the world of Mortal Folly’s Macbeth. There may be some minor SPOILERS here, so read on at your own risk!

The MacBoot Camp

For anyone who knows Macbeth, you know that it is a violent story of war and murder.  To be ready for the intense fight scenes required of them, the actors have already begun working on the unique fighting style that our talented fight director, Nathan DeCoux, has designed for the show.  Below you can see a sneak peek into one of the fight rehearsals, where the actors are getting a feel for weight balance and sharing of energy.

Pictured, left to right: John Short, Sam Eggers, Eric Cheski, Mark August

Check back often for more news and “sneak peeks” at the process of building Macbeth.

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