When casting her adaptation of Macbeth, director Kelby Siddons issued a call to arms for ‘courageous, playful, versatile actors for ‘a pared down, jacked up version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play’. Siddons selected 10 accomplished actors to bring her reimagined version of the ‘original Game of Thrones’ to the Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre stage.
This showing of Macbeth marks the company’s first staging of a Shakespeare production and is also the ABET stage debut of Jason Collins in the title role and Evie Day as Lady Macbeth. Opening Friday, Macbeth is staged through Nov. 6 at ABET, 716 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach (www.abettheatre.com, 249-7177).
“The cast has a natural aptitude for language, comes to rehearsal to work, and stays playful as we add new elements to our staging and layers to the characters,” Siddons says. “I can’t sing these actors’ praises enough.”
Collins has performed Shakespeare in Connecticut under the direction of his directing mentor, Emily Mattina, and the Shakesperience Theatre Company. His Shakespeare credits include Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night, Nick Bottom and Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Glouster in King Lear, and Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew. Collins directs and performs in the Jacksonville theatre community and teaches drama at Lake Forest and Brentwood Elementary schools.
Day is also making her Jacksonville area debut at ABET after a lengthy absence from the stage. She has a BFA in acting from Florida State University and favorite past roles include Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Sally in Sally and Glen at the Palace, and Meg in A Lie of the Mind. She is a homeschool teacher and volunteers each summer at Lumen Entertainment’s Film Camp.
The cast also includes Scott Broughton as Macduff, John F. Caldwell as Ross, Karen Overstreet as Banquo, Kevin Bodge as King Duncan and Mike Willis as Malcom and Dave Alan Thomas, Gretta Russe and Delaney Brown as the three witches.
Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish general who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Consumed by his ambition and forced into action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the Scottish throne for himself. He becomes a tyrannical ruler after he is tormented by guilt and paranoia and commits more murders to protect him from hostility and suspicion. A subsequent bloodbath ensues and a civil war sweeps Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into madness and death.
Breaking from the show’s original Shakespearean template of an all-male cast, Siddons took a number of creative liberties with the modern interpretation of the show including cast changes and a leaner script clocking in just below an efficient two hours. Siddons’ Macbeth honors the female military figures of the day by swapping the traditional gender roles for what she calls a ‘deeply human thrill ride’.
“I have a cast of just ten actors, and several of them play roles “traditionally” occupied by the opposite gender. The most noticeable change is that our Banquo is female and played by Karen Overstreet,” she says. “Our setting is inspired by World War II, so it’s a tribute to all the brave women that served in the armed forces then: American WAVES, WACs, and WASPS; the British Auxiliary Territorial Service; the Russian 588th Night Bomber Regiment [and so on].”
A graduate of Northwestern University’s Drama program specializing in playwriting, Shakespeare and Theater for Young Audiences, Siddons received the Aurand Harris Award for Excellence in TYA for her direction of a touring show. She also founded the nationally recognized PLAYground Festival and served as artistic director of the award-winning company Purple Crayon Players.
“I had students and Shakespeare first-timers in mind when I cut the script because I have been teaching Macbeth for some time. It began when I was in college: I devised a workshop called “We Are But Young In Deed” that my theater company took to a Chicago public school,” Siddons said. “I love that the show melds tragedy, romance, war, political intrigue, and the supernatural. It’s intellectual and visceral, making it accessible and enjoyable on many levels.”
“With witches and blood onstage, Macbeth is the perfect offering for the Halloween season.”
Siddons utilized ambient lighting as well as original compositions by Jason Woods to influence the mood of the production. “We embrace the murky nature of the setting and Macbeth’s morality with some shadowy scenes illuminated in part by lanterns and flashlights,” she said. “There’s many lines where characters observe or call for darkness – ‘There’s husbandry in heaven / their candles are all out’ and ‘Stars hide your fires / let not light see my black and deep desires’ come to mind – so it’s appropriate in addition to being spooky-cool.”
Woods, who composed the original score for his spring musical production of Peter Pan, said he had been thinking about Hamlet when Siddons told him she was directing Macbeth. “She asked me about providing some music, and I was humbled and daunted,” he said. “I tend to overthink music, and I knew immediately that the words in Shakespeare are everything. What you bring musically has to support, not distract. So, speaking with Kelby about her vision for the show was essential.”
To help inform and inspire the music, Woods said he learned a few of Macbeth’s soliloquies as an actor for the process. “I wanted to go as deep as I know how, so that was one method. If I found some emotional core and the thought that Shakespeare was conveying, then I felt it might work regardless of who says the words,” he said. “It’s an honor to lend anything I can provide to Kelby. I hold her intelligence, heart, and passion for theater in the highest regard. “
Drums, gongs and percussion were used to represent instruments associated with kingdoms, armies and battle. Woods said unusual sounds were layered in to symbolize the witchcraft in the play. As the structure of Macbeth begins to fall apart following the first encounter with the witches and the first murder, the music reflects that deterioration. Syncopated rhythms and increased tempos signify a sense of urgency during attack against Macbeth. A single note can be a haunting sound, especially in the dark.
“Jason Woods‘ compositions punctuate the play at some key moments that transport us into the world,” said Siddons. “It’s quite distinct from the music of the warm, AM-radio 1940s tunes that also pepper the soundscape, so there’s an intriguing mix of old and new, quaint and supernatural.”
Siddons says Macbeth was always a dream as a playwright, actor and director. It finally manifested through conversations with a friend about whether they might someday stage the play or take on one of the title roles. “That crystallized my determination to direct the show. I decided to talk about it often with anyone who would listen and see what came to be,” said Siddons. “When I saw Celia Frank at intermission for an ABET show, we got to talking, and the rest is history.”
To celebrate ABET’s 25th anniversary season, Frank said the idea of staging shows by playwrights new to the ABET stage was appealing. “Kelby had pitched the idea of directing her own adaptation of Macbeth over a year ago, and the idea of ABET’s first production of a Shakespearean drama fit with this theme,” said Frank. “I very much admire and respect Kelby’s knowledge of Shakespeare and her ability as a playwright. With witches and blood onstage, Macbeth is the perfect offering for the Halloween season.”