Macbeth is a tale of horror. Sure, it’s about unchecked ambition and greed. But at its core, it’s about a man who “seems to fear” at news he’s heard from three weird sisters.
From the moment Macbeth meets them, he is entranced, taken in by prophecies. This ultimately leads to his downfall and the deaths of many people around him.
So how do you convey horror on a 16×20 stage? This isn’t a Hollywood movie. There’s no special effects budget. The only true special effect we have is proximity. The audience is very close to the action. So close, in fact, they can see every twitch, hear every breath, and feel every emotion our actors convey. Putting that into place in such an intimate space changes the whole atmosphere in the room.
But is it enough? I think so.
We arranged the space in such a way that makes the audience more than just passive observers. They feed the action with their presence. This is a real joy when it comes to Shakespeare presented in tight spaces. Everything is picked up and the actor doesn’t have to try so hard by “acting.” All they have to do is be truthful and honest in the moment, which is harder than it seems.
But one thing is for certain, seeing a Shakespeare play up close helps eliminate the confusion that is sometimes associated with the playwright. The closeness creates a communal experience that helps to inform the audience as they understand the actions and words of the characters.
But again, the trick for the actor is being honest and not trying to help the play by “sawing the air too much” with too many gestures and fancy foot work or “mouthing” the words like they were talking to people as if they were five years old.
The key is to keep things moving, always articulating the words, lines and speeches, constantly peppering the other actors into…action. And this all happens at a varied rhythm and pace; sometimes it’s slower, sometimes it’s faster, but the forward momentum and tension in the room never lags or falls off. If that happens, your play is dead. Your audience is bored. And I’m afraid that we’ve all suffered that experience when we’ve gone to a local theater production.
So without the aid of special effects or giant sets or super fancy costumes, all you have left is the real heroes of the theater: the actors, the audience and the playwright, all shut in a tiny space, opening themselves up to the experience, hoping to create some magic between them.