Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” LSA junior co-director Zachary Lupetin says, “gets right to the blood.” But before the first drop of dyed-red laundry detergent hits the stage of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, the campus theater group the Rude Mechanicals spends hours rehearsing, timing lights and sound effects, constructing sets and publicizing their activities in preparation for their shows this weekend.
And with everything that goes into producing one of Shakespeare’s revered plays, the Rude Mechanicals do their best to include everyone, even the actors, in the building process.
“It helps people feel a lot more involved in the show – that they have more personal stake in it,” LSA senior and Rude Mechanicals member Mark Vankempen said. “There’s not the one person that comes on and just has a bit role where they just stand.”
In fact, Vankempen plays one of these bit roles: an unnamed Scottish lord. But behind the scenes, he has not only designed the programs for “Macbeth,” but also choreographed two of the fight scenes.
To assist Vankempen and the rest of the crew, the Rudes hired The Ring of Steel, an Ann Arbor theatrical combat guild, to give the actors a two-week crash course in stage combat and create realistic, well-constructed battles.
“It’s a whole type of acting that I’m having to learn right on the spot,” freshman RC student Russell Matthews, who plays Macbeth, said. Just as the actors must learn to deliver their lines and show emotions believably, so too must they deliver sword blows with authenticity.
Casting Matthews, whose primary acting experience consists of a high school role in “Much Ado About Nothing,” as Macbeth may seem risky. But the directors have confidence in their decisions. RC junior and co-director Emily Chaloner saw them not as people who would not need to be molded to a role, but as potential performers well-suited to their part. “When we saw it, we saw it,” she said.
After roles were assigned, the actors were largely responsible for interpreting them on their own. Marilia Kyprianides, an RC junior in the RC who plays one of the three witches, said, “The directors – their main concept for the show is that sex is power. That’s what they told us in the beginning, but compared to other shows I’ve been in, there hasn’t been as much elaboration on that until more recently. So we’ve been more on our own with it.”
To help realize their interpretation of the play, the directors asked English Prof. Ralph Williams, a noted Shakespeare authority, to have a discussion with the actors about their roles. Williams noted that he saw the actors doing what professional actors do: researching their roles on their own. “That’s absolutely marvelous because they come to realize and explore the openness, the inventiveness, of performance in relationship to the text,” he said.
The themes of the play – power, fate, sexuality – show up in everything from the costumes to set design. The witches, for example, wear costumes pieced together from the scraps left over from the other characters’ costumes, showing how the witches are tied to everything going on in the play. At the same time, their tattered costumes show that they are on the margins of society.
Since September, the students have been preparing for two to four hours a day, four to five days a week. The commitment increases as show’s opening nears. As cast and crew drilled together platforms on Monday, co-producer and LSA senior Al Duncan spoke about how the performance has coalesced: “A week and a half before the show, you’re freaking out that things aren’t going to come together. You’ve never rehearsed it all through with sets, props, costumes and everything, and then you get here and it all magically happens.”
Beyond this bonding experience of working to bring a show together, participating also gives members an experience that they may otherwise not have had. While other campus theater groups have leads filled primarily by voice and theater majors leaving lesser roles to students in other schools, the Rude Mechanicals bring together students from a variety of the University’s different schools and gives them an opportunity when they otherwise wouldn’t have it. Vankempen, once a Musket chorus member, said that he finds his current experience with the Rudes “by far the most fun.”
And for the cast of “Macbeth,” the experience concludes this weekend with three shows at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Matthews feels that the quality of the show and the cultural level in Ann Arbor puts people in seats. “(With) the type of play that Shakespeare wrote, you can’t get this in any other play: the emotions that you see characters go through, the conflicts they reach, the climaxes and everything is structured so perfectly.”