A Reflection: The (mis)fortunes of Lady Macbeth

Backstage one more time, hovering in my special scorpions bedchamber, in my black gown sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the waves crash and the musical pre-show banter and soon the conch will blow and we’ll be in it one more time…

goodnight lady macbeth
enjoy the ride
this time you really get to die, not to be reborn to do it again tomorrow
tonight you go to bed
get some sleepe.

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Every show leaves it’s own particular imprint on psyche and soul. With a role like Lady Macbeth, it’s imperative for me to establish a ritual, or protocol, for getting in and out of that emotional and psychological territory. Taking care to leave her at the Fort, and not to take her home with me.

The opportunity to revisit this role, particularly in such short order and alongside my closest artistic collaborator, allowed me to access a much deeper, more nuanced and specific expression in our 2014 production. The aftermath of cleansing my body of her presence is both immediate and slow. Initially, the surge of catching up with everything that’s been languishing on the back burner distracts. But there are the more subtle layers to deal with. I crave fat for weeks. Milk, cream, butter, oil – bring it! I want coconut and olive oil everywhere, on everything – on my skin, in my hair and lots in my food. Replenishing. I eat like a lumberjack for a few days.

There is an extreme physical toll in working in an environment as exposing and raw as Fort Point – with severe winds, piercing cold and penetrating dampness. And there was the series of small accidents… The shocking impact of a dagger hilt to the cheekbone mid tech rehearsal. Keep on working, now with an ice pack strapped to my face. My comrades offer their blood and flesh and bone to the work as well. Carmen, one of the nefarious murderers, gave herself a deep bruise literally the size of her hand…from smashing the baby’s head too damn hard in the Macduff family scene one night.

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(By the way, the baby’s head was a rutabaga. We have experimented with a variety of vegetables seeking the optimal head cracking sound. Onions have a nice thud and squish, but they stink like…well onions. Undeniably and unavoidably so. Acorn squash and butternut squash are nice, but none of the squash family come close to the horrible satisfaction of the rutabaga. Rutabaga, I don’t know who eats you. But you are a wonderful prop for stage violence.)

Then of course, the adventure of John, our Macbeth, losing his front tooth, mid-performance. This not only required his commitment to staying totally in the flow, despite the obvious shock and dismay, but in addition, a more refined attention to pronunciation – for obvious reasons. On the – ahem – second episode of flying teeth, the piercing gaze of our Maria, the attentive little witch that she is, tracked the flight of Macbeth’s tooth from her perch in the window above, scurried down into the audience, and found it.

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These misfortunes seem to pile up into a great mountain when I begin enumerating…
But they can’t touch the quiet joys of moments alone in the fortress, under the full moon, or under the sunset soaked sky. The precious moments when a perfect shaft of light streams in through a thin window in a casemate otherwise submerged in perpetual darkness. The glory of private views onto the slice of solitary beach just below the fort to the west, a strip of sand untouched by human footprints. The practical and pleasurable act of steadying myself as Lady Macbeth after the torment that is the banquet scene, with a few moments in the thick shadows of a tucked away arch that is covered in sand for some reason (did it blow in through the window? why is it here on the third floor?). I press my hands into the sand canvas and remind myself I have a body.

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Lady Macbeth is unraveling from the beginning, the madness doesn’t come suddenly, it’s there all along. Like a hard boiled egg that’s been cracked, but not yet peeled. The shell just holding together, despite it’s apparent wholeness. The confining leather corset and tight waisted skirts, the making of her face, the need for some physical contact with the fort walls at all times…all efforts to keep. it. together. A sense of vertigo rushes in when Lady Macbeth loses contact with the brick and veers into open space. From there she tumbles headlong into the “out damn spot” sequence. A fragile object hurtling through space, fatal impact inevitable…

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After one performance, I asked a friend her impressions of the egg drop at the onset of the play. This particular audience member does not identify as a theatregoer or even as much of an art enthusiast (and is certainly not an active Shakespeare fan). I find her responses entirely authentic, not glossed with a desire to please. Among other pleasing things she describes about that cold windy night at the Fort with We Players…
“The egg drop? Oh, I don’t know what it was supposed to mean. But I guess it seemed like…”
a pause
“…an exclamation point and a question mark.”

egg

I’d like all beginnings and endings to come close to this…

!

?

–Ava Roy
Founding Artistic Director, We Players

Macbeth Plot Summary

Excited to see Macbeth at Fort Point, but want to brush up on the story before you see it? Look no further!

Read on for a plot summary of Shakespeare’s tragedy brought to you by our co-directors, Ava and John.

 

Ancient Scotland: Macbeth, a small-time thane (chieftain), is instrumental in defeating a very powerful rebellion against the aging King Duncan. On the trek home from battle with his comrade-in-arms Banquo, three “Weird Sisters” appear and prophecy that Macbeth will be king and that Banquo will father a long line of kings. Next, Duncan promotes Macbeth for his part in the war and names his son Malcome heir to the throne. The king and his retinue will stay with the Macbeths that night on their way home from the front.

Macbeth returns to his castle ahead of the others and confides in his wife, who persuades him to kill the king. Lady Macbeth hosts a party, drugging all the guests, thus laying the groundwork for the murder. Macbeth, weary still from battle and rattled by inner turmoil, does the deed. Macduff, a powerful thane who has not spent the night, arrives in the morning to find the king dead. Macbeth, pretending vengeance, kills the king’s two bodyguards, and Malcome flees to England.

Macbeth is crowned King, but, still unable to sleep and afraid of the sisters’ prophecy, he hires two servants to kill his friend Banquo and Banquo’s son Fleance. During the muddled assassination, Fleance escapes. At another banquet, Macbeth confronts Banquo’s bloody ghost, much to the confusion of the thanes loyal to Macbeth, whose numbers are beginning to dwindle. By now, Lady Macbeth is losing her grip on sanity.

Macbeth returns to the Weird Sisters who present him with two consoling riddles: His power is safe until the forest approaches his castle and no man “born of woman” will ever threaten his life. However, Banquo’s line of kings will “stretch out to the crack of doom.” The Thane of Ross appears on the empty heath with news that Macduff has fled to England to join forces with Malcome. Macbeth, “stepped in blood so far,” orders the utter destruction of Macduff’s entire clan.

In England, Macduff pledges his support to Malcome and learns from Ross that his wife and children have been slaughtered. Aligned against the tyrant and with the support of the English forces, Macduff and Malcome lead the charge towards Dunsinane.

As overwhelming forces approach Macbeth’s castle, the crazed Lady Macbeth dies. The attacking soldiers disguise their numbers by carrying branches hacked from the forest, breach the walls and fight Macbeth’s remaining soldiers. Macduff meets Macbeth who prevails in the ensuing duel until he learns that his adversary was not “born of woman” but was “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d!” Macbeth loses his head and young Malcome is crowned the new King of Scotland.

— Ava Roy & John Hadden, Co-Directors of Macbeth at Fort Point 2014

Why Macbeth?

In October 2013, the dark clouds of the US government shutdown hovered over our production of Macbeth at Fort Point, forcing us to cancel numerous performances and disappoint over 1000 ticket holders. In the midst of the drama, the idea flashed through that perhaps we should simply allow this particularly alchemical relationship between play and place a continued life. After all, we had invested well over a year developing the production and it is very carefully built into the specific contours, energy, and stones of the Civil War era fortress beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point itself is a central character, the other director, and our creative inspiration. A renewed life will allow us to share this powerful and unique performance with a wider audience, and hopefully reach some of those who were turned away last fall.

But every “remount” must be a re-development. The work must be allowed to change and therefore, to grow and deepen.

To this end, we are thrilled to announce a new cast that will include a host of We Players’ alumni and will feature John Hadden, my close collaborator and We Players’ Associate Artist, in the title role. In our 2013 rendition, John and I (co-directors on the production) were particularly interested in the story of young warriors. Boys who become men on the battlefield; their vigor, physical prowess and the dynamics of such hot blooded youth under the mantle of an older and wiser king, and a romantic match of a younger Macbeth to an older Lady Macbeth. We are deeply grateful for the excellent work done by our 2013 cast.

This year, in our upcoming 2014 production, we shift the perspective.

We will explore these dynamics of power and relationships through the lens of the “old guard”. Warriors who have engaged in battle for decades, who are older than their young wives, who are the same age as their King – and we believe this will provide us with new insights into the story. It is honor to welcome several seasoned and experienced actors to help us unpack the meanings of the text in yet new ways. Scott Phillips (our Claudius in Hamlet on Alcatraz) will play Macduff, Jack Halton (our Polonius in Hamlet on Alcatraz) will play Banquo, Steve Boss will return as both Duncan and the porter, and John Hadden will once again co-direct the production alongside me, as well as play Macbeth to my Lady Macbeth. We are also thrilled to welcome Nathaniel Justinianio (the unforgettable Zeus from our Odyssey on Angel Island) as the cruel and slippery Ross. Caroline Parsons, Julie Douglas and Maria Leigh will continue their work as the three weird sisters. These women truly act as the nucleus of our production. The trio began working nearly 8 months in advance of our 2013 rehearsal process; developing a profound sense of unity, deft abilities with non-verbal communication, as well as curious explorations of different energetic “states” and of ritual. These “weird sisters” have already begun to revisit their early source work to both reinvigorate their connection and to deepen their work in the 2014 production of Macbeth at Fort Point. We Players’ large-scale productions tend to be so complex that a incredible amount of time is spent negotiating the pathways through the space – both those of the audience (or multiple audience routes as the case may be), and that of each actor maneuvering through the site. The logistics of working in large sites and with the federal government, as well as the impact of severe weather conditions (it is extremely cold, windy and wet with fog at the Fort) is intense. With the route and overall design of the production already developed, we are curious what new dimensions we may be able to expand into.

We are eager to dive even deeper into the richness of the text, the subtleties of the relationships between characters, and to search for further nuance in the language and in our connection with the very stones of the fortress.

-Ava Roy Artistic Director, We Players Director, Macbeth at Fort Point

KQED: The Government Shuts Down Art in San Francisco

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Lauren Chavez, of the We Players theater group, had to send this message to ticket holders, who still don’t know where or if the show will go on: “Our current production ofMacbeth is built very carefully and conscientiously into Fort Point, the Civil War era fortress beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. For over a year we have been integrating our work into that unique physical, sonic and energetic landscape. Because of the government shutdown we have been blocked from our stage, our most prominent scene partner and creative inspiration.”

 

History’s Mortar: Ambition

“History’s Mortar: Ambition” is a site-specific exhibition of visual art at Fort Point. Four Bay Area artists were invited to explore Fort Point’s history, architecture and landscape, and compose the Fort’s historic narratives into contemporary modes of visual art.

These site-specific works bring the collective experience of the US History to bear, reveal how a contemporary public narrates historic space and examines humanity’s relationship to nature.

“History’s Mortar: Ambition” asks the audience to consider the cyclical nature of human history, marking that it often repeats itself, and presents ideas as to how society copes with it’s legacy of ideologies, ontological positions, and cultural practices.


Curated by Visual Arts Director Patrick Gillespie

Participating Artists:

Monica Lundy
Matthew Gordon
Torreya Cummings
Brandon Walls Olsen

……….Location: Fort Point, San Francisco
……….Dates: September 5 – November 2, 2013

“History’s Mortar: Ambition” was part of We Players 2013 site-integrated project, Macbeth at Fort Point.


HISTORY’S MORTAR:  AMBITION — Curatorial Statement by Patrick Gillespie

Fort Point is an impressive display of technology and military architecture.  Walking through the compound archways and the extraordinary symmetry rendered by compass, right triangle, rule and hand creates an experience of awe.

The backdrop to Fort Point is an equally extraordinary feat of engineering, the Golden Gate Bridge.  It towers above sea level, humming with traffic, stoic against the weight of human bodies and the endless winds of the Pacific.

But before there was the bridge and before there was Fort Point, there was humanity and it’s inability to cope with it’s own folly, particularly an individual’s rise to power.  That particular thread of seemingly endless human ingenuity never fundamentally changes; only the spectacle and the tools utilized to bring about a dismal end evolves.

The site specific artworks created for Fort Point echo the folly of human history, our symbolic projection of power, and the natural forces that seemingly thrash ambition into submission.

The artwork by Matt Gordon responds to Fort Point with the refrain from “The Lament for the Markaris,” by William Dunbar, commenting on the ever comforting and contemplative aspect of death.  Monica Lundy’s Portait of Confederate Commander James Waddell reminds us of our particular vantage point on history, rendering a leader of men as a weed because of his allegiance to the wrong side of the war.  Torreya Cummings simulates mankind’s belief that nature can be captured and put inside a box, controlling it in theory, but ever failing in practice.  And Brandon Olsen reminds us that the spoils of war bring about a kind of transformation we rarely deal with or speak to publicly, surrender.

Fort Point is brilliant in it’s architecture, prowess and stoicism.  Yet for all of the effort and technology used to bring it into existence, it’s design was never coupled with its purpose.  Having never witnessed battle, Fort Point has lasted these hundred years to remind us of fear reconciled with power and security, and the inevitable purposelessness of creation out of fear.

 

Fort Point

Fort Point has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.” When construction began during the height of the California gold rush, Fort Point was planned as the most formidable deterrence America could offer to a naval attack on California. Although its guns never fired a shot in anger, Fort Point has witnessed Civil War, obsolescence, earthquake, bridge construction, remodeling for later wars, and restoration as a National Historic Site. It stands today beneath the soaring Golden Gate Bridge as a monument to more than two centuries of military presence on San Francisco Bay. The fort also bears silent and eloquent testimony to the craftsmanship of the Army engineers who designed it and the workers who erected it.”  (John Martini, Historian)

Text and images on this page courtesy of the National Park Service website and the National Archives. Please click the photo below to view the official Fort Point website for more information about this spectacular National Park Service site, located directly beneath the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California. 

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Fort Point National Historic Site: History & Culture

Fort Point has stood guard over the narrows of the Golden Gate for over 150 years.

Fort Point has stood guard at the narrows of the Golden Gate for nearly 150 years. It has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.” When construction began during the height of the California Gold Rush, Fort Point was planned as the most formidable deterrence America could offer to a naval attack on California. Although its guns never fired a shot in anger, the “Fort at Fort Point” as it was originally named has witnessed Civil War, obsolescence, earthquake, bridge construction, reuse for World War II, and preservation as a National Historic Site.

Built for the Civil War

Fort Point was built between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers as part of a defense system of forts planned for the protection of San Francisco Bay. Designed at the height of the Gold Rush, the fort and its companion fortifications would protect the Bay’s important commercial and military installations against foreign attack. The fort was built in the Army’s traditional “Third System” style of military architecture (a standard adopted in the 1820s), and would be the only fortification of this impressive design constructed west of the Mississippi River. This fact bears testimony to the importance the military gave San Francisco and the gold fields during the 1850s.

Although Fort Point never saw battle, the building has tremendous significance due to its military history, its architecture, and its association with maritime history. To learn more about Fort Point before, during and after the Civil War, please visit Fort Point, 1846-1876.

Army’s use of Fort Point during the 20th Century

In the years after the Civil War, Fort Point became underutilized and was used intermittently as an army barracks. The pre-Civil War cannons, so valuable when they were originally installed, became obsolete and were eventually removed. During World War I, the Army remodeled Fort Point for use as a detention barracks, though the building was never ultimately used for that purpose. During the 1920s, the property was used by the Presidio for housing unmarried officers and different military trade schools.

The Golden Gate Bridge and Preservation Plans

In the late 1930s, plans for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge also involved plans for the demolition of Fort Point. Fortunately, Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss recognized the architectural value of the Fort and created a special engineer arch which allowed the construction of the bridge to occur safely over the Fort. During World War II, Fort Point was once again used as temporary housing for soldiers. After World War II, the movement to preserve Fort Point for its historic and architectural value began to grow. Over the next 20 years, support for the preservation movement waxed and waned. In 1959, a group of retired military officers and civilian engineers created the Fort Point Museum Association and lobbied for its creation as a National Historic Site. On October 16, 1970, Fort Point became a National Historic Site.