Double Double: On Acting in Macbeth

At the end of our final dress rehearsal, before first preview, we were addressed by our fearless and brilliant leader, Jessica Kubzansky. In more or less words told us, “gorgeous work everybody, now we’ve got to go faster!”  Or rather, close up our cues.  This moment made me laugh to myself.  I thought, how strange, up until this very moment, I hadn’t been thinking of this show as a show.  We haven’t had enough time to think of silly little trifles, such as, ‘will the audience get it?’, ‘how do I look?’ and other concerns that do nothing but stifle the life of the work.

Brian Tichnell as Malcolm. With Ian Littleworth & Peter Van Norden. Photo by Daniel Blinkoff.

The conditions of performing a play at Antaeus, allow us to focus only on what truly matters, because time to judge ourselves is a luxury we cannot afford.  And I think that is nothing but a good thing.  Risky? Sure.  But at the very least, and honest attempt to make something real, for no other purpose than that in itself.  Because nothing else matters.

Double casting? Double toil and trouble.  40 actors, all with incredible talent, technical proficiency, and, most important, heartfelt passion for art. We come together with no time, into a box, not big enough for all of us at once, and let loose chaotic ecstasy.  Or strive for it.

We are never allowed to get comfortable, or even arrive at the same page.  Like a Pollock painting, we just smatter all of our ideas and experience into a smorgasbord of action and emotion.  It creates a diversity of takes on how to approach the text and interpret the action.  There is a variety of people in our Macbeth world, with different tempos and cadences and energies.  Just like real life.

What has made this process so rewarding, and at the same time frightening, is that we are at no point as a cast, able to see the play as a final product.  The play is not the thing.  The work is the thing.  We have nothing to hold on too, but our own devices.   We can only continue honest and diligent investigation.  Sure we can watch our double counterparts perform the play, but I always think of this, not as a way to learn what the play looks like, but a conversation between actors, through choices.  Often times, watching your double, creates more questions than it does answer them.

Double casting also takes away, or lessens the ego.  No role belongs to anyone.  No propriety, no entitlement.  Nothing but the work.

Brian Tichnell leads Birnam Wood to Dunsinane. Photo by Daniel Blinkoff.

Theater is not a product.  In the general, we are asked, as artists, to funnel our talents, to funnel our calling, into a capitalist paradigm.  A play is not commodity.  Too often, plays are actors getting together, to show their “take” on it, a dislplay of clever ideas…of “concepts.” (or even worse, the play is an actor’s showcase in order to get industry work)

Directors try to parallel it to something contemporary.  To make it “relevant”  To show how “clever” you can make a Shakespeare play.  People are so obsessed with relevancy, especially with regards to the particular political or cultural climate.  Let’s show how Julius Caesar is like Obama.  Soooo relevant.   Oh my god, Romeo and Juliet are texting each other! These are shallow choices, intended to mask a lack of understanding of the value of theatre.  These plays are bigger and deeper than our own 2012 culture and societal problems.  They are bigger and deeper than Elizabethan culture!  These plays speak to a universal theme, deeper than specific time and place.  (make no mistake, I love contemporary design in plays, and even moments that can serve to mirror our current situation, but when that’s the only thing the play has got going?, a modern twist?, then the play is hollowed out, impotent)

In my humble opinion, what we do in the theatre is not necessarily a creation or a presentation as it is an invocation.  It is the goat song.  It is spiritual in nature. It is a deed without a name.  You can’t make the play happen.  There is no nailing it. You can only search for it.  Hope that you are blessed enough to have its depth and complexity reveal itself to you.  You can’t do Macbeth, but you can let Macbeth do you.   That’s right, I said it.

So that’s what we are truly inviting people to see.  A process.  An attempt to generate fire and rage and heartache, as only the human spirit can generate.  We are inviting people to witness and become enveloped in the story, and the sorcery.  We might fail. If we should fail? Then we fail, but screw our courage to sticking place and we’ll not fail.

Christian Barillas as Malcolm. With Armin Shimerman & Daniel Blinkoff. Photo by Daniel Lamm

The work of the entire cast is so inspiring, and no one lets up, never letting their ass rest on their laurels.  Continuous investigation.  From our brilliant Macbeths, to Young Siwards, to the inspiring and tender work of my double, Christian Barillas: all have put their heart into the work.

Sure we still have time to sew together all the careful heartfelt choices and chances that each of our 40 person cast is making, and try to make it not too long, for the sake of those who like to go to plays to complain about how long it is.   But the work, it will continue to grow and discover and breathe and when people come to see it, I hope they do not observe it and evaluate it in terms of goods and bads, but are rather swept up by it, forgetting that the play is even a play at all, that actors are even actors, that stories are stories, and are carried away by the gentle, relentless iambic beat of each beautiful word, seeking to unearth the complexity and beauty of everything.  Every thing.

No big deal.  A little preachy, maybe? A bit all over the place, absolutely.  But it’s what I believe.  I’m probably completely and absolutely wrong.  But so are you.

A2 Member, Brian Tichnell, on acting in the Antaeus production of Macbeth, directed by Jessica Kubzansky.  Brian shares the role of Malcolm with guest artist Christian Barillas.  Tickets are now on sale.

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1 Comment

  1. great article. hits the Antaeus idea on the head. now louder and faster please


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