The Half-hour Macbeth

I have unearthed a couple of photos which I am going to share (they unfurl below you in a couple of different posts.) They all are part of that experience which I now refer to as “the half-hour Macbeth”. I have posted the story on this blog before, but here it is again. It is truly amusing, I assure you. Not as funny as the pictures are, though.

The half-hour Macbeth
At grad school, we had a season of thesis productions. Each one had to be half an hour long. So the actors would have half-hour scenes, whatever the playwrights wrote for their thesis projects had to be half-hour…you get the picture.

Well, there was a director in our program who wanted to somehow do the entirety of Macbeth in half an hour. Why his thesis project was approved, I have no clue.

I’m still angry that it was.

Angry because I was playing one of the five witches.

(“Hold on a second,” you might be thinking, “five witches? Aren’t there only three witches in Macbeth?”)

You may be thinking that but that is only because you are an intelligent person, with a sense of dignity and logic, which clearly was lacking in the mind of the director.

He made there be FIVE witches.

There are too many problems to even discuss … because it is hard to get past the wrong-headed-ness of the entire idea of the project to begin with.

People were racing around, murdering each other, casting spells, having duels, seeing blood on their hands … all in half an hour’s time.

The man who played Macbeth had an accent. He was from Texas or something like that. So the line: “Have we eaten the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?” consistently came out as: “Have we et the insane RUHT that takes the reason prisoner??” RUHT. And he would emphasize that word. It got worse and worse.

Every time he would say it, every time he was even close to approaching saying it, the five witches (who all had to be onstage at all times, terrible luck, we could never escape to lick our wounds) would put our heads down, as we were casting our spooky spells on the five corners of the stage (not the four corners, the five corners), and shake with laughter.

Finally, the director said tentatively, “Uh … yeah … could you please say ‘root’ and not ‘ruht’?”

Macbeth said, “I am saying ‘ruht’.”

Two or three of the witches burst into inappropriate laughter.

The director, trying to hold us all together, and keep us from spiralling out of control, said, tentatively again: “Actually … you just did it again. The word is ‘root’. With an ‘oo’ sound. If you say ‘ruht’, then the meaning of the line is lost.”

I held myself back from saying, “If you attempt to do Macbeth in half an hour’s time, then the meaning of the ENTIRE PLAY is lost.”

Boom boom boom, scenes came fast and furious. Boom: Macbeth and Lady Macbeth conspire. Boom: Murder and carnage. Boom: The witches race into place and cackle gleefully. Boom: Lady Macbeth staggers on, shrieking “Out damn’d spot” … and then just as quickly staggers off. Boom: There is a very quick sword fight. Who knows why. People just had duels back then, I guess. Boom: Everybody dies. Except for the five witches. Who live on, eternally. Exeunt

The whole thing was ridiculous.

Actors have different ways of surviving terrible shows. The five witches survived this nightmare by literally becoming ONE. We were a five-some. We completely separated ourselves from the poor stars of this stupid production, who still were trying to actually do Macbeth. We realized very early on that Macbeth could not be done properly in half an hour, so we refused to take anything seriously. Anything. Anything.

Nobody had told us what our makeup should be like, as witches, so the five of us designed our own looks. Our makeup and hair got more and more elaborate and out of control with every performance. We had to arrive at the theatre earlier and earlier in order to complete our transformations in time for curtain. Our faces were literally caked with Kabuki-mask makeup. The more grotesque the better.

At one point, Eileen, a beautiful girl, turned from the mirror, to display her horrific makeup job … red circles around her eyes, red wrinkle lines radiating from her mouth, caved-in cheeks, and said to all of us, brightly, “Do I look really gross?”

We validated her. “Yup. Pretty gross.”

My costume, unfortunately, made me look like the chair of a women’s studies department at a small college in Vermont. We would all be sitting at our makeup mirrors, and I would suddenly start to pontificate about the evils of the patriarchy, or about holding focus groups to show women their cervixes, and everyone would absolutely die with laughter. I was also in the midst of reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at the time, so there are a couple of pictures of me, backstage, in my “wymyn’s studies” Wiccan outfit, twigs sticking out of my hair, big brownish-purple circles around my eyes, seriously reading my book.

Jen, my roommate, with her long mane of curly hair, made her hair bigger and bigger and bigger every night. That became her main goal. To make her hair as large as possible, so that it would completely shield her face. Also, every time she had a line, Jen disguised her voice.

The five witches were so taken up by our stupid costumes and makeup that we would hang out in the backstage hallway before entering, taking pictures of ourselves.

Pictures of all the witches peeking their crazy heads around the corner.

Pictures of all the witches making their way down the stairs, like some demented version of the Von Trapp family singers.

Pictures of the witches lying about in death poses on the floor.

We were collectively late for our entrance one night because we were too busy taking pictures of ourselves. We resented the actual SHOW we were doing, for taking away from our time taking pictures of ourselves in costume.

Each witch had a big gnarled stick. The first witch-scene began with us doing what was supposed to be a Celtic dance, I suppose. Lots of drum-beats, and moving in circles, and banging the sticks on the floor. It was interminably stupid, and horrifically embarrassing to execute.

We had to enter, as one, holding up our sticks in front of our grotesque faces, moving as slowly as glaciers. The effect was supposed to be scary and ominous, I guess, but a couple of nights I heard someone in the audience burst into laughter at the first sight of us.

And occasionally, as we moved on like that, with our sticks, I would hear either Eileen or Jen or Kimberly start to giggle …and try to choke it down … but laughter like that catches on like wildfire. Once it begins, it is nearly impossible to stop. So there we all were, supposed to be the scary 5 witches, moving on, holding up our sticks, shaking silently with laughter.

Jen made a big announcement backstage to the rest of the witches, on the night of our dress reherarsal.

“I have decided … that when we come on with our sticks—-” Long pause. We all waited, breathlessly, hoping that she might actually have an IDEA about how we could make it all better. But then she concluded, finishing her thought, “We look like assholes.”

And so click below …

to see the 5 witches. It kind of says it all. Look at our faces. We are so PISSED that we are in such a terrible show. hahaha I also love that the witch on the far left is holding a cup of coffee. You know: “Double, double, toil and trouble … yeah, could I have an iced mocha latte please? Fire burn and cauldron bubble…”

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2 Responses to The Half-hour Macbeth

  1. popskull says:

    holy shit, red, I am wheezing and snorting from those pictures. And waiting at the bottom of the stairs was me in my “Slim” wardrobe. We’d chat, and then BOOM-BA-BA-BA-BOOMP, you’d be like, “There’s my cue, gotta go.” Ah, the process.

  2. red says:


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