Giving Thanks to the Wilma
I love meeting new people. While other individuals may shy away from the getting-to-know-you dribble, I excitedly anticipate being asked what I do. I’m smitten with my Fellowship and, if nothing else, working at a professional theater, and in addition, living in actor housing, is always a great conversation piece. As it is Thanksgiving, I thought I’d take this opportunity to brainstorm what I’m most thankful for in relation to the Wilma, from the more material to lofty:
1. Comps and discounts to artistic productions inside and outside of the city.
2. Opening and closing nights – revelry in the wake of our collective artistic achievement!
3. Access to a library of stimulating literary, photographic, and artistic materials and individuals whose job it is to help you research and explain these resources to you.
4. Becoming a part of Philadelphia’s artistic community.
A Day in the Life of a Student Matinee
At 8:45am I entered at the Broad and Spruce Street entrance, meeting my caffeine-fortified co-workers who have arrived early to help greet our student patrons. It’s all hands on deck for the student matinees – including those in the offices, cast, and crew. Soon Javier, the sweet and sassy House Manager, throws open the doors, turns up the lobby lights, and the music on; the theater, inside and out, is transformed into show mode. Pavel Fajt’s contemporary drum and synthesized creations waft down the block, energizing passersby for the Wilma’s thrilling production of Macbeth.
So far, our Group Sales Manager Julie Cassidy has scheduled over 3,400 students, most of whom have attended one of our seven student matinees. Macbeth explodes our previous records, serving more students than our past two seasons (eight shows) combined! Education Director Anne Holmes and I have been training and arranging Teaching Artists and actors from the show to visit schools throughout Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs and lead high school and college students in pre and post show discussions. These workshops aim to empower students with a sense of ownership over certain characters, plot points, and language found in the play; generate interest in Macbeth by getting students to weigh in with their own opinions on some of the more charged themes in the play; prompt students to consider how some of the themes and plot points might be tackled in a live theater production (as opposed to say a film which is often their only point of reference); and introduce them to their role as an audience member.
What are the 'witches'?
In preparing for our production of Macbeth, one of Blanka Zizka's first questions was "What are the 'witches' in the world of our production?" Witchcraft is not just a thing of the past, or a joke in the current campaign season. Here's a review of a book investigating how the notion of witchcraft remains alive as a means for stigmatizing women in societies wracked by social turmoil.
On the set of Macbeth: MIMI LIEN
Set designer Mimi Lien was asked to share a few thoughts about the development of her scenic ideas and the influence of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space: I was struck by Bachelard’s notion that the different physical localities of the house are imbued with particular psychologies/memories/fears/desires...in our first conversations, Blanka mentioned that she was interested in making this a very visceral production of Macbeth – one that makes the text really palpable, and the actors' physicality totally present. I immediately thought of the spatial equivalent, which is when a space actually makes you feel something. There’s a wonderful quote in the book: "Great images have both a history and a prehistory: they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly." There are localities that are more heavily imbued with these feelings than others – hallways, closets, attics, basements. These spaces are somehow repositories for memories, physical memories, and this makes them particularly potent for a play about fear. There’s another quote about the impact of a poem that’s very appropriate to this play, as well, in terms of the relationship of language to space: "The resonances are dispersed on the different planes of our life in the world, while the repercussions invite us to give greater depth to our own existence.
From A WOMAN IN BERLIN: EIGHT WEEKS IN THE CONQUERED CITY, by Anonymous
A Woman in Berlin is the journal of a young woman recounting her experiences in the first eight weeks of the Soviet occupation of Berlin, starting in April, 1945. It was a major inspiration for director Blanka Zizka’s vision of the world in which the Wilma’s Macbeth is set. Historian Antony Beevor praises A Woman in Berlin for “its courage, its stunning intellectual honesty, and its uncommon powers of observation and perception. It is one of the most important personal accounts ever written about the effects of war and defeat.”
“Our radio has been dead for four days. Once again we see what dubious blessing technology really is. Machine with no intrinsic value, worthless if you can’t plug them in somewhere. Bread, however, is absolute…But radios, gas stoves, central heating, hot plates, all the gifts of the modern age - they’re nothing but dead weight if the power goes out. At the moment we are marching backwards in time. Cave dwellers.
Finding the turbulent polyphony of Macbeth
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best-known and most-produced plays, which makes it one of the best-known and most-produced plays in the English language. Certain key images and phrases permeate our consciousness as the play has been adapted and parodied in almost every manner and style imaginable. In the 1960s, in Barbara Garson’s Macbird, it became an expression of distrust for government following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In the South African uMabatha it was a vehicle to portray the fall of the Zulu Empire. In addition to versions of the play itself, films have turned it into a samurai tragedy (Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood), gangster power struggles in Brooklyn and Melbourne, Australia, and a fight to control a fast food outlet in rural Pennsylvania. Stage productions in the past year have used the plot to portray power struggles in a Dutch chimpanzee enclosure and a Botswanan baboon troop. It has been parodied on The Simpsons and turned into a one-man show using The Simpsons’ characters’ voices for Shakespeare’s thanes. And this only scratches the surface.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MACBETH VOICE AND TEXT CONSULTANT ANDREW WADE
Walter Bilderback: What is the importance of language to doing Shakespeare?
Andrew Wade: The importance is that the whole storyline is driven through the language. It’s very easy to talk about text-driven plays, because most plays have words in them. But in Shakespeare, the whole narrative is driven by how the language works, how we relate to that language, and therefore how a story is told to an audience. Shakespeare is verbalized thought.
WB: What are some of the ways in which you help actors to get a feel of that language?
AW: We are always having to find our relationship to form, so the work always seems to be changing, decade to decade, generation to generation, in how we relate to form and writing. How do you react to the form of the text? When I started teaching in the late ‘70s, working with a group in a drama school on the Romeo and Juliet prologue, an actor came in, and brought a sword, and ran around and jumped around the stage. And when I said, “Well what about the shape of it,” he said, “Oh, ____ the shape. I just wanted to be creative with it.” And I think in England during the Maggie Thatcher years everything became about qualifications and rules. There was a whole generation who just wanted answers on how to speak Shakespeare. Wanted to know what the rules were.