WARREN, NJ – Eight actors from the “Shakespeare Live!,” a school outreach program of the Shakespeare Theatre of New jersey (STNJ) in Madison, staged “Macbeth,” before an audience of about 100 English, World Languages and Arts students on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in the Performing Arts Center at Watchung Hills Regional High School.
The performance, which was presented immediately following classes, was funded through financial support of the Watchung Hills PTO (Parent Teacher Organization). PTO Corresponding Secretary Jeannie Renzo said the PTO was happy to support the effort to bring a program of the prestigious STNJ to Watchung Hills.
English Department Supervisor Marlene Stoto said that the opportunity for Watchung Hills students to see Shakespeare performed live on their school stage was additionally pertinent because Macbeth, and other plays, poems and references to Shakespeare, is part of the English curriculum.
“Shakespeare is one of the most influential authors in English Literature and the broader culture,” Stoto said.
Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Ellen Phelan, a former English teacher, said the performance was another in a series of ways the school was augmenting instruction in class with additional sources for the study and critical analysis of literature.
The presentation was an abridged version of the play, requiring about one hour to perform as opposed to a full-length production with intermission, which usually takes two to two and one-half hours, according to STNJ Tour Manager Erica Leigh. STNJ is presenting Macbeth and “A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream” in rotation this year as part of its Shakespeare Live! outreach to schools and other community groups.
“We shorten the plays by cutting some scenes or portions of scenes,” she said. “But we are careful to keep the most important parts of the story and themes of the plays intact.”
Leigh added that while studying Shakespeare in the classroom is important, “it is best to see Shakespeare performed.”
She said the Shakespeare troupe, featuring professional actors, many of whom are veterans of several years with the troupe, generally receive good receptions from students. The actors follow their performances with a 15-minute question and answer session with the students. That, plus the witches and swordplay in Macbeth, always seem to draw broad student interest, she said.
Leigh confirmed that both Macbeth and A Mid-Summer’s Night Dream are among the most performed Shakespeare plays. She added that the Watchung Hills Performing Arts Center was one of the best venues that the program had encountered on their tour of local schools. They often perform at elementary schools and middle schools, where the performance space is a gymnasium or multi-purpose gym-cafeteria-auditorium, she said.
Question And Answer Session
The cast came out, sat in chairs in the front of the stage, and answered questions from students for some 15 minutes after the performance. Questions ranged from the logistics of rehearsing and staging fight scenes involving swordplay, to how the performance portrayed the witches and special effects, and how the actors developed their ability to project their voices to be heard even at the back of the theatre.
The eight actors performed the various roles in the play. On this day, actor James Costello played the part of Macbeth and actress Marielle Rousseau played the part of Lady Macbeth.
Costello said that the role of Macbeth is a challenge in part because he has nearly three-quarters of the play’s lines. That is about the most lines by any character in any of Shakespeare’s plays, he said. He and his fellow actors said they each come to their parts after years of training. They knew that the rehearsal and performance tour, which began in January, will last for some five months, so they are mindful of taking care of their voices.
The actors told the student they had had about four weeks of rehearsals before giving performances. They work about 8 to 10 hours a day, often six days a week, learning lines, rehearsing choreography, becoming familiar with the characters, and practicing set and costume changes, particularly for the actors playing multiple parts. Before the doors of the Performing Arts Center were opened to the audience, some of the actors ran through lines and scenes, and practiced swordplay choreography.
In response to questions from students, the actors said performing two plays in rotation requires everyone to come up to speed quickly. However, they said, the actors originally staging these and other plays during Shakespeare’s time in the late 1500s and early 1600s would have been required to work much faster than that.
STNJ offers an extensive study guide for Macbeth and other Shakespeare plays on its Web site. Go to www.shakespearenj.org. Under the “Education” button, click on “Study Guides,” then “Shakespeare Live,” then “2012,” and then “Macbeth.”
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