This past week, Redwood’s Advanced Drama class opened their latest performance, a version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It lasted just 85 minutes while still incorporating all of the excitement, thrill and heart of the original work.
The set consisted of only three blocks and minimal props, pushing the actors and audience to connect with the story on a deeper level. To further this experience, the stage was positioned in the middle of the room with an audience on either side. This configuration forced the actors to use the space creatively, so as to appeal to both audiences. It also provided a level of connection between the audiences, as they watched each other’s reactions to the scenes taking place between them.
Out of the six Advanced Drama performances put on every year, about three or four of them are directed by someone outside of the Redwood community. This production was directed by Bay Area actor Patrick Kelly Jones, produced by Advanced Drama teacher Erik Berkowitz and performed by members of the Advanced Drama class. Berkowitz and Jones have worked closely in the past on a number of different projects. Berkowitz believes that working with an experienced actor provides students with unique opportunities for learning and personal development of their acting skills.
“As a professional actor, he brings with him a deep knowledge of what it’s like to work in the field, to work on Shakespeare in a professional setting, and he is such an inspiring artist that the students learned so much just by watching him work,” said Berkowitz.
Berkowitz, along with many cast members feel that the minimal stage and the double audience highlighted the emotional aspect of the story. Junior Ali Janku, who plays one of the witches, believes that the use of a more complete set would have taken away from the powerful message of the play.
“Having very minimal costumes, and very minimal props and sets, we were able to really focus on the raw emotion of it, and the language. And so really this play is about the emotion it evokes, and the tragedy of people who want power so badly that they destroy themselves for it,” said Janku.
This production of Macbeth also stepped away from a traditional view of Lady Macbeth as an unrelenting manipulator of her husband, and showed a more human side of the character.
Junior David Simpson-Heil, who plays Macbeth, believes that by highlighting the motives of the main characters, they provoked a deeper level of understanding from the audience.
“We made it more of a collaborative effort where the death of their child and the hardships that ensued influenced their decision to do what they do together, in a rekindling of their relationship,” said Simpson-Heil about the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Berkowitz feels that the preparation of over 100 hours of rehearsal has paid off in the student’s acting as well as their heightened understanding of Shakespeare and the literature itself.
Berkowitz and Jones chose not to adapt the script in any way from the original writing, other than to shorten the play as a whole. Berkowitz hopes that the play will inspire his audience to consider the choices they make in their everyday lives, and the way these choices affect the people around them.
“It was our hope that people would walk away thinking about the actions that they take. Often times things that we wish for get put right in front of our face and then we have a choice. Do we take it because we think we deserve it or do we not if it has a negative impact,” Berkowitz said.