Blackbird Theatre to stage outdoor 'MacBeth' in West Park
Photo by Brian Carbine
And while theater artists often studiously avoid saying the title of Shakespeare’s superstition-riddled tragedy, “MacBeth” was the first word on the lips of Blackbird artists Jamie Weeder, Brian Carbine and Barton Bund when discussing potential projects.
“Jamie Weeder and I had taught a Shakespeare class in Ferndale, through the Michigan Actors Studio, and we could focus on one play, so we focused on ‘MacBeth,’ because that’s what the students were interested in,” said Bund. “It’s a play that just brings something out in people, and gets under their skin. These are people—some of them had never read or seen Shakespeare before, and something in them just came alive with ‘MacBeth.’ There’s something dangerous and exciting about the play.”
“MacBeth,” of course, tells the dark tale of a military leader who—when confronted with a prophecy (from three witches) about becoming king—commits regicide, claims the crown, and is subsequently haunted (along with his ambitious wife) by his crimes.
In the past, the Blackbird presented “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with only 5 actors; similarly, the company’s “MacBeth” will feature a cast of 10 (including 2 young actors from Northville)—a choice of pragmatic necessity, but also a means of artistic exploration.“In order to do these plays, and pay our actors, and create the production we want to do, we have to reduce it a bit,” said Bund. “With some of these plays, it makes good sense, especially if the audience is familiar with it. But with others, the technical elements make it a stretch, and require some extra thought. With (‘MacBeth’), we’ve got to think about the battle scenes, and banquet scene, and take into account, and figure out how we can do with smaller cast than you normally see and still make it feel real.”
Bund plays the title role in the show (Carbine is directing), but he emphasizes that because of “MacBeth”’s small cast, the production has a tighter, more ensemble-oriented feel.
“That’s what I love about this experiment,” said Bund. “There’s more of a sense of ownership among the cast, and the audience becomes invested in smaller characters more, because they’re not just following chars, but following actors through these transformations. It makes for a different feel, and watching the actors change characters ramps up the paranoia, and the sense that you can’t trust anybody.”
Often, outdoor summer Shakespeare festivals showcase the bard’s lighter fare comedies—as the Blackbird did last summer—but Bund didn’t want his company painted into an artistic corner.
That having been said, doing a tragedy in broad daylight, without a “blackout” option, has its challenges.
“When you kill somebody on stage—when you murder kids, which does happen in this show, usually you just black it out,” said Bund. “ It’s a brutal script. There are dozens of people killed. To do that right out in broad daylight is exciting, and it’s an interesting challenge. The thing about outdoor Shakespeare - the goal is that you want to be able to do any of the plays. We didn’t want to set things up to only do comedies. We love comedies. We’ll likely do one to lighten things up again next year, after this one. But I liked the idea that we were not going to shy away from a tragedy.”
Fans of the Blackbird will note that “MacBeth” is the company’s first full stage production since last summer’s outdoor production of “Twelfth Night,” and that the Blackbird—though most recently housed in the Aut Bar’s Shaut Cabaret and Gallery—currently calls no place home. So you might say the company is experiencing a transition.
“I think the way that we’re looking at it now, since we’re not in one venue, is that we’re focusing on individual projects,” said Bund. “We’re not doing 10 shows a season, like we have before. We’re doing what we’re doing, and moving around to different places, and doing outreach and activities related to that, which is personally something we really believe in and want to do most. At same time, it’s hard. Other companies experience this, where your members are pulled in other directions, and get other gigs and jobs, so all of us went through some changes. And we’re going at it differently. We’re not doing a huge season. That’s not a good business model for us right now.”