SUU theatre to kick off season with “Macbeth”

Southern Utah University’s theatre department will be opening their first show of the 2022-2023 season on Friday, Sept. 30. William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” directed by Peter Sham, will be playing at the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre. The show is free to students with a valid student ID. 

“Macbeth” follows the titular character and his wife as they take destiny into their own hands after hearing a prophecy that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. The Macbeths plot to and succeed in killing the current queen—or king, as the show was originally written—but they soon spiral as the consequences of their actions begin to affect themselves and those around them.

“It’s about human nature to think that we are tied to our fate and the irony that we are the ones that make our fate ourselves by trying to fulfill the things we think are predicted for us,” said Macbeth actor Lincoln Edward Stone.

“Macbeth” has received a shorter rehearsal time than most other SUU productions in order to open the show for the annual High School Shakespeare Competition hosted by the Utah Shakespeare Festival at SUU. The show will be doing a special opening performance for the competition’s guests on Thursday, Sept. 29.

“This has been one of the fastest rehearsal processes I have had,” said stage manager Dora Watkins. “Typically at the school, we have like two months of rehearsal. We had about a month and a half.”

Despite the speedy rehearsal process, both the cast and the crew feel that it was a smooth process, both on stage and behind the scenes.

“There have been no egos and everyone’s been very collaborative and supportive and having a great time trying to tackle the tough language and how best we execute it on stage,” said Hannah McKinnon who plays Lady Macbeth.

A benefit to performing Shakespeare plays is that, because his works are in the public domain, artists can take creative license to make changes to the material, something that Sham opted to do by making many of the show’s traditionally male characters female instead.

“Usually ‘Macbeth’ only has two main women, and what Peter has done is highlighting women’s power by doing it,” said assistant director Alyssa Garcia.

Rehearsals started with table work and extensive one-on-one character sessions between Sham and the cast outside of the rehearsal room. After that, they began to put the show together with blocking and stage combat.

This production brought in an outside fight choreographer, Chris Duval, to orchestrate the many fight scenes within the play.

“Mostly it’s about ensuring that actors stay safe, and of course that we create effective storytelling within fight scenes,” said Duval.

As is common when doing “Macbeth,” the idea of the show being cursed has been a prevalent topic of discussion among the department. It is said that if somebody says the word “Macbeth” in a theater when they are not doing the show, it will curse the production.

“It originally started because the actual witch chants are taken from actual witches from Old England,” said Sham. “Shakespeare adapted a lot of real witchcraft jargon into his conjuring in the play, so a lot of people believe that it has cursed certain companies.” Sham does not personally subscribe to the superstition, believing that what gives it power is the people who do uphold it.

It has been four centuries since Shakespeare was alive, yet his plays are still such a prevalent part of theatre. The cast and crew of “Macbeth” believe this is because of the lasting relevance of the ideas presented in his works.

“Even though the show is about a king of Scotland in the 1100s, the decisions that he makes and the underlying motivations for those decisions are still extremely relevant, and we can recognize those in ourselves,” said Stone.

Sham believes that Shakespeare shows are more relevant today than they ever were, as Shakespeare never ages and can always be modernized.

“We’ve got a very fresh version of the language and the story, and I think all of us worked extremely hard to put in this modern twist with it and make it accessible to all types of audiences,” said McKinnon.

“Macbeth” will be playing Sept. 30, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, and Oct. 6-8 at 8 p.m. in the Engelstad Shakespeare Theatre.

“Shakespeare, especially outside, is like a sporting event,” said Sham. “So dress warmly and come prepared to watch a football game.”

Article by: Tessa Cheshire
Photos courtesy of Zina Johnstun