Brown, Trinity Rep brings Shakespeare to life at JAC
Earlier this month students from the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA program brought their production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” to the Jamestown Arts Center. The audience that night was thrilled by the creativity and intensity of the young cast and crew. On Monday, Nov. 7, the troupe returns to the arts center with their production of Shakespeare’s dark, violent tragedy, “Macbeth.”
The first production was directed by Ryan Purcell. “It was absolutely brilliant,” said JAC Executive Director Lisa Randall. “Ryan used the space so inventively: no stage, garage doors wide open, and cast members coming in and out of the space from different points of entry. This was a modern, vamped-up production, brilliantly woven around Shakespeare’s original script.”
Randall reflected on the serendipitous beginnings of the arts center collaboration with the Brown/Trinity Rep program. She said that Brian Mertes, the head of directing for the program, happened to be in the Jamestown playground one day during an open house at the arts center. Randall said that JAC President Kate Petrie saw him looking curiously over at the building and waved him in.
“He immediately fell in love with our performing arts studio and proposed a collaboration,” Randall said. “Brian brought his students in to look at the space and they were all so immediately inspired, and right away had ideas for how to use the room for their plays.”
The production of “Macbeth” will be directed by Aubrey Snowden, a second-year directing student in the MFA program.
“Part of what’s really interesting about this project is that we as directors are given the opportunity to work on a Shakespeare play, and then tour it to different places,” Snowden said.
“It’s really focusing on the text, and telling the story with limited design. That way you’re really focused on how to actually bring the story to life. The Jamestown Arts Center is an amazing unique space to do theater in.”
“The Tragedy of Macbeth” – more commonly shortened to “Macbeth” – is believed to have been written between 1603 and 1607. It tells the story of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they undertake a series of murderous plots in an effort to ascend to the Scottish throne. Their unbridled thirst for power leads inevitably to downfall and destruction.
The first performance of the play is thought to have taken place at London’s Globe Theatre in April 1611.
Theatrical superstition holds that mentioning the name Macbeth in a theater will result in disaster. A variation on this superstition forbids quoting lines from the play except during a rehearsal. These superstitions are based on the belief that real curses are cast by the witches in the play. In fact, many productions of the Scottish play have been plagued by accidents. It is worth noting that the play does include more fight scenes and opportunities for accidents than the average play.
Snowden has retained much of the original text for her production of “Macbeth.” It is the shortest tragedy in the Shakespeare canon. There was some editing done for clarity, and to accommodate the small cast of 13 actors. “I utilized the idea that this is an ensemble creating a play for this audience,” Snowden said.
The first performances of Snowden’s production will take place at the Pell Chafee Performance Center, a cavernous old bank building in Providence that is quite different from the Jamestown Arts Center. Despite the dissimilarity in performance spaces, Snowden is confident that she and her cast can make it work.
“The goal is for the cast to be able to make it happen anywhere,” the director said. “If we were on the sidewalk, I would like to think that my cast could give you the tragedy of Macbeth right then and there.”
The fact that the performance is taking place shortly after Halloween is not lost on Snowden. “It’s got a bigger connotation around it,” she said. “Everybody knows it’s Halloween. It’s ‘Macbeth.’ There are witches. It’s got this really great supernatural element to it that we’re going to try to make come to life in the space.”
“What’s really important to me about this play is to not just be satisfied that everybody knows this play, but to take it a step further and investigate what’s going on with Lady Macbeth and Macbeth,” Snowden added.
The Brown/MFA production of Richard III would have been considered edgy in any theater. Snowden’s production will be no less intense, but with a different focus. She said that there will be a lot of blood.
“It is a violent play, there’s no way to get around that,” Snowden said. “I don’t think that there’s anything that’s overly explicit here. I think that violence is the biggest thing I would want my audience to know about, and to expect.”
The Brown/Trinity Rep MFA program production of Macbeth will take place at the Jamestown Arts Center on Monday, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. The performance is recommended for an audience 16 and older. Admission is $10.
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