A few weeks ago, I auditioned at the Black Box Arts Center for a production of Macbeth. I was given the role of Malcolm, son of Duncan, Prince of Cumberland and eventual King of Scotland. (Sorry for the spoilers there.)
Those of you familiar with the play probably already know that as written, Malcolm is not one of the most memorable characters in Shakespeare's canon. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. The down side is I have no famous or excellent Shakespearean lines to deliver in this play. Let's face it, one doesn't often quote Malcolm. Another down side, however, is also an upside in certain ways; I have to work harder to create him.
I began doing this right after I was informed I got the role. Since the text doesn't provide much depth, it's up to the actor portraying Malcolm to add some meat to the bones provided. This of course is what all actors in all roles must do, but it takes on an even greater importance with smaller, lesser-remembered ones. If I don't put in that effort, both the character and myself become mostly invisible during the show, as there is no famous or poetic speech to fall back on. My creative muscles must be worked extra hard, and I've been working them over this character from the start.
Not every choice is set in stone yet. After all, production only just began on this one. But after reading his lines several times, looking up a few things and brainstorming/journaling about it, I've formed the basis of a character I can sink my teeth into, as it were. I hope to share more particulars as rehearsals go on, but we've only had one read-through so far, and I only just the other day emailed the director with my initial thoughts on how to approach this character. I've not heard back from her yet, so I don't know for sure if she has strong objections to anything I've laid out.
But I've known the director for years, and been in two previous Shakespeare shows she directed: Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. (In the same building.) She tends to give her actors a lot of creative freedom with their performances.
I can say it's set in modern times, or in the very least time non-specific, so that frees everyone up a bit when it comes to ideas and character.
I've also dipped into a few wells I haven't used in developing a character for a while. Already, in addition to brainstorming and reading the lines, I've done super-easy things, like look at pictures of Scottish landscapes. Not that any one picture of Scotland will make my performance, but the idea is to expose my mind to images, thoughts, activities that someone in Malcolm's position in this play would be exposed to.
This isn't Method acting, but rather building a library of information up front on which to build ideas and perceptions of the character as the process goes on, (and the images trickle further down into my mind.) It may be an alternate timeline in a lot of ways, but there can be zero doubt that this play takes place in Scotland, and that Malcolm is a prince and future king of same. Ergo, I look at pictures of Scotland, as I haven't been there in person.
I've said so many times it's the little things that can take a performance from good to great, adequate to memorable. These easy explorations of relevant source material will help me build nuance and subtlety into my performance. I don't know just how many people, if any, will notice my efforts. But it's worth it to me to have some information within my head about who the character is off stage, outside of the direct action of the play as it will make it easier to give a deeper performance.
And I have more time than usual to engage in such activity; this play won't go on until October. An upcoming remodeling of the performance space, as well as some extras within the production itself pursuant to the directors vision necessitated a longer than average rehearsal period. I don't mind this. Community theaters in this area rarely have that long to rehearse. Might as well make the most of it.
And just for fun I bought this t-shirt for the read-through, and to wear on a regular basis throughout rehearsals:
I got it from one of those universal high school/college apparel sites. Just plug your school name into whatever the template is. Even got it in the colors of the Scottish flag.
I know about half the cast from previous plays, and the other half are new to me. I introduced myself to the new people via email, so they aren't put off by my sometimes removed nature. (Often mistaken for snobbery.) Nobody wrote me back, but they can't say I never introduced myself.
An elephant in the room of course is the "curse" of the play. I don't think much about it as an actor, but I have respected the tradition, as it were. I have said "Macbeth" more in the last few weeks than I have in the previous decade, probably. I'm used to not saying it. Our director lit a candle with Shakespeare's portrait on it during the first read through, thereby, she told us, dispelling the curse. To think and speak of it is to give it power, was her position, and therefore she lit a candle, and declared there was to be no more talk of the curse.
So begins my third Shakespeare play with this director in this venue, and my fourth Shakespeare performance overall. (Five, if you'd like to count my one man show. Most don't.) Do follow me on yet another journey, loyal blog readers.