For a limited time only, stream our 2019 production of William Shakespeare's play directed by Erica Schmidt and featuring Sharlene Cruz, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Ismenia Mendes, AnnaSophia Robb, Lily Santiago, and Ayana Workman.
We celebrated the awards season and our Off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s MAC BETH. The show has received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Best Revival and Drama Desk Award nominations for Direction, Scenic Design and Revival of Play. We welcomed director Erica Schmidt, scenic designer Catherine Cornell, members of the cast Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, and Ismenia Mendes, as well as Brittany Bradford from the Hunter Theater Project's remount for a special livestreamed conversation. You can watch below the recoding here.
On an autumn afternoon, in an empty lot outside the city, seven girls meet up to do a play. School uniform tartan transforms in this American urban wasteland. The girls are witches, ghosts, and kings. They hurl headlong into the unchecked passions of Macbeth—in Shakespeare’s original text—as the line between real life and blood fantasy quickly blurs. Through prophecies and smartphones, unexpected resonances emerge from Shakespeare’s dark nightmare of ambition gone awry. These young women discover what's done cannot be undone.
Featuring Sharlene Cruz, Isabelle Fuhrman, Sophie Kelly-Hedrick, Ismenia Mendes, Izabel Mar, AnnaSophia Robb, Lily Santiago, and Ayana Workman
Scenery by Catherine Cornell | Costumes by Jessica Pabst | Lighting by Jeff Croiter | Sound by Erin Bednarz | Movement by Lorenzo Pisoni
Photos by Carol Rosegg
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
ERICA SCHMIDT (Director, Adaptation) Directing credits include Richard II with Robert Sean Leonard (The Old Globe); All the Fine Boys (The New Group, wrote the play and directed); Turgenev’s A Month in the Country with Peter Dinklage and Taylor Schilling (Classic Stage Company); Dennis Kelly’s Taking Care of Baby (Manhattan Theatre Club); Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s I Call My Brothers and the Obie Award winning Invasion! (both for The Play Company); Humor Abuse (Manhattan Theatre Club; also co-creator/writer; Lucille Lortel Award); Rent (Tokyo); Moliere’s Imaginary Invalid, Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer, and Copland’s The Tender Land (all at Bard Summer Scape); Carnival (The Paper Mill Playhouse); Gary Mitchell’s Trust (The Play Company, Callaway Award nominee); As You Like It (The Public Theater/NYSF; New York International Fringe Festival Winner for Best Direction); Debbie Does Dallas (wrote the adaptation and directed Off-Broadway for The Araca Group). Princess Grace Award recipient 2001.
THE WILD GIRLS
On the last day of May in 2014, three Wisconsin girls walked into the woods.
The girls were 12 years old, having set out on this walk the morning after a sleepover to celebrate one girl’s 12th birthday. They had already gone skating and played dress-up.
When they reached the woods, they played a game of hide-and-seek. Minutes into the game, the birthday girl took out a kitchen knife and stabbed her best friend 19 times.
The crime made national news. How could it not? The two girls who had planned and carried out the attack were hardly the usual suspects—they were young and female. And their motive was equally unusual: they told police that their friend was intended as a blood sacrifice to initiate them as “proxies” to a shadowy figure of internet urban legend known as Slender Man. This faceless, long-limbed ghoul had boiled up from the collective online imagination in photoshopped images and scary stories, and the girls had embellished his myth to such extremes in their own shared fantasies that they felt they could murder a friend to prove themselves worthy of him. Myth had crossed over into reality.
The Slender Man stabbing made headlines because it seemed like a unique case, an isolated incident. But it was far from unique—look around, and you’ll see these cases everywhere. There’s the notorious Parker-Hulme murder in 1954 (made famous in Peter Jackson’s film Heavenly Creatures), in which two teenage girls dreamed up an elaborate fantasy world together and then, when they were about to be separated, beat one of their mothers to death during a walk in the woods. Go farther back, and remember that the madness of 1692 in Salem began with a group of preteen girls meeting up in the woods, and then emerging with tales of seeing witches and devils. Indeed, girls have always been going into the woods together to play in imagined occults, and a few have come back with real blood on their hands.
One of the Slender Man girls was eventually diagnosed with a psychological disorder called “shared delusional belief,” a term that might just as easily define the strong bonds of fantasy that bind teen girls together. “To be an adolescent girl is, for many, to view yourself as desperately set apart, powerfully misunderstood,” writes documentary filmmaker and writer Alex Mar in Virginia Quarterly Review. “It’s an age defined by a raw desire for experience; by the chaotic beginning of a girl’s sexual self; by obsessive friendships, fast emotions, the birth and rebirth of hard grudges, an inner life that stands outside of logic. You have an undiluted desire for private knowledge, for a genius shared with a select few. You bend reality regularly. Add to this heightened state a singular intimacy with another girl who feels the same isolation—you’ve encountered the only other resident of your private planet—and the charge is exponentially increased.”
Director Erica Schmidt read these stories of violence, remembered that shared charge between teenage girls, and thought of another tale of occult visions in the wilderness: Macbeth. She imagined seven girls meeting up after school, and finding themselves carried away by sharing Shakespeare’s words. She even heard echoes between the fictional and real language; Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalked line “one, two, why then, ‘tis time to do’t” transmutes into the “we really did go on three” a West Virginia high school girl posted on Twitter shortly after she and another girl stabbed their friend in 2012.
Schmidt also wondered how casting only young women would highlight the play’s repeated linkage between violence and masculinity. That language is everywhere: from Lady Macbeth’s calling on spirits to “unsex” her so that she can prompt murder, to her telling her husband that “you were a man” only if he kills the king, to Macbeth’s determination to “put on manly readiness,” to Macduff’s admission after the murder of his family that while he will “dispute it like a man…I must also feel it as a man.”
By giving audiences the unfamiliar experience of seeing young women act out a very familiar play, this production of MAC BETH seeks to rekindle something of the original shock in the work. Just as the real-world violence carried out by these modern girls jolted observers, so this production jolts its audience by restoring the primal wildness to Shakespeare’s tragedy.
– AKIVA FOX
Ms. Fox was the Literary Manager and Dramaturg of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. for six seasons, and is the creator of the Clear Shakespeare podcast.
HAUNTING WOMEN IN MACBETH
Gender in Macbeth is never quite what it seems. Like Shakespeare’s other major tragedies, the play takes its title and plot from the story of a powerful but conflicted man. As warrior, killer, and king, Macbeth evokes masculine force, mirroring the court that greeted the play’s 1606 first performances. King James I, who had succeeded Queen Elizabeth in 1603, was a Scottish descendant of Banquo and the author of a book about witchcraft, as well as the patron of Shakespeare’s playing company; the play is widely seen as designed to appeal to him. Yet just as the new king’s court was haunted by memories of the late queen, Macbeth is haunted by the specter of formidable female power. Framed by the play’s eerie chorus of witches, and incited by his fiercely determined wife, Macbeth partakes of “the insane root,/ That takes the reason prisoner.” He becomes a man possessed.
Macbeth opens with the Weird Sisters, who defy clear categories of sex. Banquo tells them, “you should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so.” Their incantatory riddle, “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” underscores their ambiguous status; it also invades the imagination of Macbeth, who enters the stage announcing “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” Macbeth’s echo of the Weird Sisters’ words prefigures their indirect sway over his wife. When Lady Macbeth first appears onstage, she is reading about them in a letter from her husband and vowing to make their promise a reality. Like a Greek chorus, the witches never directly intervene in the play’s action, but their hovering presence and prophecies take shape through Lady Macbeth, who goes on to rouse her husband to action with her passionate exhortations.
Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed by male actors, with female roles played by boys who didn’t yet have beards or broken voices. Although the Weird Sisters are described as elderly hags, they would have been portrayed by male adolescents, offering a suggestive theatrical subtext behind Banquo’s confusion about their sex. Similarly, when Lady Macbeth calls on spirits to “Come to my woman’s breasts,” and insists she knows “How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” her charged words would have emerged from a young male body, complicating her famous plea, “unsex me here!” These dissonances and additional meanings change in productions when casting is aligned with characters’ sex and age. They change in different ways in Erica Schmidt’s production, which reverses Macbeth’s gender-crossings with an all-female cast, imagined as schoolgirls staging the play.
Already focused on the haunting power of unsettling female figures, the play takes on new dimensions as its actors respond to the physical and emotional chemistry of the adolescent female world they inhabit. In particular, the witches take on even more shaping power by stepping in to play other characters. Doubling parts was common in original productions; actors with few lines would typically have played multiple roles, maximizing the company’s economic efficiency and building resonant links between characters who shared the same performer’s body. We don’t know whether the actors performing the witches would have played other roles, or which ones if so, but it would make sense given the scarcity of their appearances onstage. In this production, they are heavily repurposed: each Weird Sister serves as an additional five characters, collectively encompassing everyone in the play beyond Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and Macduff. By visibly lurking in Duncan, Ross, Malcolm, Fleance, and others, as well as the play’s murderers, messengers, and servants, these witches propel the play’s actions with a literal force.