AU Rude Mechanicals reimagined Shakespeare’s Macbeth as an Iron-Age cult on Zoom
Cast and crew discuss the limitations and successes of crafting the classic tragedy in virtual format
During one scene of “Macbeth,” Aletheia Canepa as Lily Macbeth pours red wine from a bottle onto the floor of her bedroom, hoping to get as much of it on the pre-placed towel as possible. A character in another Zoom box holds out their wine glass toward their computer’s camera, pretending to receive the wine.
In today’s virtual world, this is theater.
Live on Zoom webinars on March 19 and 20, the University’s classic works theater troupe, AU Rude Mechanicals, performed William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” with an iron-age, culty twist.
Shakespeare wrote “Macbeth” during James I’s reign and set it in medieval Scotland. The cast and crew of AU Rude Mechanicals chose to set their “Macbeth” during the iron-age with the characters being in a made-up cult called Haverphate controlled by the show’s witches.
The troupe also changed some of the characters’ names and terms to work within their cult’s bounds. One prominent example of this is Lily Macbeth’s name. In the Haverphate cult, “lilies” are “ladies.”
The show’s director, senior Maya Costanzo, said she was advised by a previous artistic director to “pick a show that means something to [her]” when deciding what to propose.
Costanzo said the first Shakespearean show she was exposed to was “Macbeth.”
“I read it for the first time when I visited my mom on ‘bring your daughter to work day’ when I was nine,” Costanzo said. “She's an English literature teacher at a high school, and we read through Act I, Scene III, ... and then the class had a discussion on it. I was so enthralled with it, and I participated in the discussion.”
Collaboratively reimagining “Macbeth”
Costanzo said that many of the shows that AU Rude Mechanicals has performed in the past either follow specific time periods or aesthetics. For “Macbeth,” she did not want to rely on either of these standards. She knew she wanted to adapt the show to portray a definitive hierarchical power structure but not set it during a distinct time or place that people could connect it to.
Costanzo had the cast and crew build the show from scratch during a seven-hour concept development meeting. She shared an inspiration Spotify playlist and Pinterest board with them. During the meeting, the cast and crew created the Haverphate cult: discussing religion and spirituality, the cult’s origins and how someone would join, amongst other ideas.
“The great thing about Rudes is that we allow pretty much anyone in the room … to give any kind of input that they would like to artistically,” Costanzo said.
When Costanzo initially proposed “Macbeth” during this past summer, the University’s plans for the fall and spring were still unknown. At the time, she was afforded the black box theater in Katzen as the show’s performance space, an opportunity only given to one student theater troupe each year. She said she was so excited and even asked for a fog machine for the witches’ scenes.
Costanzo said she originally did not feel prepared to take the show online, but said, “we'll have to figure it out” if that’s what it came to.
Shakespeare online: acting at home
With a virtual performance, Costanzo said there are limitations, but also affordances such as not needing to block scenes and having the chance to focus on the minute details of acting.
“As a director, I like finding really specific moments and doing deep contextual works so that you understand what you're saying,” Costanzo said.
In a show about murder, paranoia and fulfilling prophecies, acting on camera was not always easy for Canepa.
She said that one of her favorite things about performing is when she enters into this “state of flow” once she hits the stage and the audience is there, and she is suddenly “just living in the moment as a character.” According to Canepa, acting online means it becomes much more important to manage the space around her to get into a similar zone.
“You can't make huge, bold physical choices when you have a Zoom background on because it will break up behind you,” Canepa said. “So you have to stay a lot more still, which is difficult. It was definitely a learning curve.”
For first-year student Julia Hoover, playing the show’s title character was her first Zoom performance experience ever. One note she said she consistently got was to look at the camera.
“When you're stage acting, you'd never have to do that,” Hoover said. “You might face the audience, but you're never looking at the audience. You're just in your own head, and you're just kind of looking. But, I was getting this note over and over again, and I was so uncomfortable looking at the camera ... because it felt like I was breaking the fourth wall. But, you need to do that.”
Hoover also moved to campus during the troupe’s tech rehearsal week for the Mid-Semester Residential Experience.
One of her first days on campus, the troupe had a 10-hour rehearsal. In a show where Hoover screams a lot, she gave her new neighbor a heads up as she practiced in her Anderson dorm room, waiting to get a solidified rehearsal spot on campus.
“I just let him know. I was like, ‘Hey, I might be screaming about murder later in my dorm, but it's okay,’” Hoover said. “I ended up having to put a sign on my door.”
Canepa lives with three other members from AU Rude Mechanicals who were also performing in the show, which created some issues initially.
“When you're done with a scene, you're gonna want to move around, get stuff, have water,” Canepa said. “We can't do that here as much because it makes noise. When I'm not on, one of my roommates will be. So it's very much like a big old game of the quiet game.”
Despite the learning curve, Canepa said that she and the rest of the troupe have grown in different ways than they usually would during a performance, which she said was “really beautiful.”
“During [Zoom] productions, we were forced to take different roles, like technical roles, along with our acting roles,” Canepa said. “I think it gave people a very deeper understanding of theater.”
Because of “Macbeth,” Canepa said she realizes she has what it takes to successfully do her own tech, which has inspired her to try directing in the future.
As for Zoom theater, Canepa wonders if it will stick around and evolve.
Even if online theater fizzles away, AU Rude Mechanicals adapted to the online world of theater with its limitations and affordances.
“We were able to put on a Zoom show in COVID,” Hoover said. “Theater will never, ever die.”
Editor’s note: Assistant director Siena Maxwell, who is a Life staff writer, was not involved in the reporting, writing or editing of this article.