«A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College In partial fulfillment of the ...»
This seemed to inform Lady Macbeth. Particularly in that sleep walking scene. She has been fighting her femininity for so long. So that when it finally catches up with her, she becomes everything she refused to be—frightened, fragmented, and unable to control her actions, thoughts, and words. She loses it. She cracks up. She goes through a “…sensually engorged surrender" (Paglia, 167). She sees blood, smells blood, hears noises, and sees things that aren’t there.
Paglia also speaks of the way ladies of the period, “confine[d] herself to one persona” (178). How does Lady M do this? How does she avoid it? When specifically?
September 1, 2004: "When you make your commitment to working for the system, your humanity becomes secondary." --Joseph Campbell. This quote is applicable to Lady M. How secondary does her humanity become? She is able to advocate murder, but unable to actually commit it. Upon discovery of the deed, she faints (or does she?), but why? Questions and entries may slow down, as I am entering the serious memorization phase. Leon requires the cast to be off book on day one of rehearsal. Memorization by rote. And I have got some words. Away I go.
September 21, 2004: How will I deal with the fact that Macbeth is being played by a woman? This question has often been asked of me. I really hadn’t thought of it as a problem—not once. I have never been worried because I have spoken to Leon about his decision—he decided to use the most talented actor who was available for the project and he feels it is Susan Hightower. I am grateful to be working with a woman who someone thinks is capable of playing this role. In my mind, she must be a fucking powerhouse.
My job is the same whether Macbeth is played by a man or a woman—to tell this story to an audience. As Lady Macbeth I have to convince my husband (and that is what HE is, my HUSBAND—it’s in the text) that murdering the king, our friend, is our way into the life we have always wanted. I have to be a loving and sometimes overpowering wife. I have to love my husband—to look at my husband, to touch my husband. I have to do my job with the actor who is onstage with me. It is the audience’s choice to “suspend disbelief” as we so often ask—no one has asked me how I will deal with the fact that we are in Swine Palace and not Scotland, no one has asked me if I am actually going to kill myself, and no one has asked whose head is getting chopped off for the final scene. We are in the theatre, we make things seem real, especially when they aren’t. It is our job and that is why it is so much fun. If I, as an actor on the stage, call attention to the fact that Macbeth is being played by a woman, I am assuming that the audience is not only stupid, but blind. I believe our audience will be unable to miss the fact that Susan is a woman, but if we do our jobs properly they won’t dwell on it. I also think that it helps us focus more on some of Shakespeare’s themes that maybe aren’t as touchy when a man plays Macbeth—masculinity—what it means to be a man, the Macbeth’s as a sexual couple, the possibility of Mac’s impotence—his inability to create, etc. Any other thoughts I have during this process about this will be addressed, but I feel confident that I understand what I need to do for the good of the show. I need to be a wife to my husband, regardless of who is playing my husband.
It is the first official day of rehearsal. We met everyone, got company business out of the way and started reading the show. I realized moments before I said my first line that I was extremely nervous about this experience. I had been telling myself that it was my job and what I will be doing forever and that it was no big deal. But as I sat there looking at the members of SITI Company and listened to them read I started shaking.
My body got tight. My voice got tight. My breathing became shallow and I felt like a real amateur. I did not do terribly, but I felt that I was so nervous that I held back and short-changed myself. I didn’t have that great free first read-through. I did make it all of the way through our Act One without my bladder rupturing or my teeth chattering out of my skull. I felt that Susan and I shared a few moments. I do want to sit and talk to her so that I don’t think of her as the amazing actress playing Macbeth, but as my fellow actor.
Just watching her I really started to feel that she will be fun to work with on this project.
She brings a lot to the table. The banquet scene was quite fun. I need to work on those lines a bit more. As I got rattled they got lost. The SITI company members have really wonderful senses of humor. I am very thankful that I have worked with Leon before or else I would be a total wreck. He is adding what seems like ten “dance” breaks. He wants us to think fast. These words need to move. Good to think on.
Lady Macbeth still feels foreign to me. She is an icon. She seems to exist without me.
There are so many ideas about what she should be. I keep trying to think of her as a character/person that needs to be filled, but it is difficult. She needs me to be present in this process. But there are giant expectations to live up to; my own are probably the biggest. And I have a giant of an actor working opposite me. Away we go.
Today was more about feeling out the group. I want to find the best Lady M that I can discover within this process. Undeniable ideas for Lady M: strength, drive, lust, passion, and ambition.
September 22, 2004: Act Two reading. I only have my crazy scene (V.i) in this act and so I sat back and watched a lot of the work tonight. When we did get to my scene, Leon talked a bit about "the spot" as it applies to witches, as well as the ritual that Shakespeare was most likely referencing with this scene. The bit that I have read about this has to do with what exactly the “spot” is. The idea is that witches grew an extra nipple to feed their familiar. The ritual Shakespeare was most likely referencing was the ritual of repenting for witchy acts. The ritual included taking a giant taper/candle from the church altar and walking through the streets, naked, as a symbol of shame and repentance. Leon has talked to me about the possibility of me being nude in this scene. I'm not sure about that. Roman Polanski had Lady Macbeth naked in the film version. It’s been done and no one would understand the reference to the ritual besides Shakespeare scholars. I am not completely opposed because it does add a vulnerability that is absolutely necessary for that scene, but vulnerability can come in other ways.
We started to build the “dumb show” that fits in after Act I scene i. And boy is it dumb, in a very good way. I think it will be really fun. I got to talk with Susan about a moment. I can’t get intimidated. I think that if I step up I will be able to learn a lot from her. She is bright and quick. I get to run like a crazy person and die. What more could a girl ask for?
September 23, 2004: As silly as it is, the dumb show is really kind of a nice way to get some ideas working. Susan and I spent some time today trying to distill the Macbeth’s relationship into one gesture of greeting. We thought maybe a huge dip, but it seemed a bit too swanky. Or maybe a cartoon kiss, kicking one foot up in the back, but that seemed to undermine their relationship. We decided upon a simple, sexy thing, but what it is exactly is yet to be decided. Today we built a skeletal version of the dumb show.
My main moments are the suggestion of murder, the murder proper, and my crazy death scene. I know what to focus on in this production. We started to work the top of the show. We didn’t get to my scene. Questions for me: How does Lady M see her relationship to Mac? Why does she feel so entitled to be queen? When does her crack-up start?
September 24, 2004: We got to me right at the end of the night. I got to work the sound cue entrance. It is super specific and difficult to get to and we may change the cue anyway!!! Ha-ha. I was so nervous. I have got to shake that feeling. I need to think about the effects of this letter on the Lady. Does her mind go immediately to murder?
Why not trying to wait out Duncan’s death? Why does she take so much stock in the words of some witches she didn’t even meet? For a woman who thinks and acts so practically, why witches? We are working with the idea that Mac leaves a letter in the hand of a witch (whom he doesn’t see) and I enter and take the same letter from the same witch. They are working these scenes, guiding them. I think that is very delicate ground we are stepping on. If the witches do too much, Mac and Lady M’s actions are no longer their own. We start to tell the story of witches manipulating human actions. I think that absolutely cannot be the story. We will see how all of this fleshes out. Questions: How do you act sexy without “acting” sexy? Maybe it is just a size issue—taking control of the space and dominating it. Strength and confidence. Where is the action in reading a letter? Where is the action in talking to yourself? Things to think about for next rehearsal: The extensiveness of this language—Can it be too big? Keep working those words. Lady M is not small nor unsure or frightened—how does that manifest itself PHYSICALLY?
September 25, 2004: Today was our first day off. But some of the cast and team— Susan, Donnie, Michael, Akiko, Barney, Leon, and I—went to the football game as “ambassadors” from Swine Palace. We were asked to stand on the field between the first and second quarter and be announced to a screaming stadium full of (90,000) Tiger fans.
Now at any other school in the United States I may have chosen to leave this bit of information out, but because I attend a school that loves football this much, I would be remiss not to mention the amazing energy, focus, and cheers we got at an LSU football game. I felt like a rock star. Thank you LSU football.
September 26, 2004: Back to the letter. The goal is to disconnect my body from my speech for this particular part—specifically in what follows the letter. The letter is stationary—do I cover my face or not? Actor instinct says never cover your face, but it feels right for this production to hold that thing right in front of my face. Then the uncovering happens for “Glamis thou art...” The letter is what it is, it remains uncolored by my facial reactions, and the voice is, if I’m doing my job, active enough to tell that story. Does this add anything? Or is it a gimmicky move? When does she decide on murder? How much have they talked about being king and queen? I am working in the post-letter section to walk to and rip the letter. I think I need to come up with another solution the ripping feels forced and sloppy. I don’t think it fits unless I can find a superanal way to rip paper. Without leaving any paper on the ground, which is the other problem—how do I get rid of it? Right now it sits there, next to what will be the orb.
She is too in control at this point. How does this manifest PHYSICALLY? Control, control, control, so that when she breaks it is terrible and complete and huge. So the letter is in real skeletal form. I am talking to a Mac that isn’t there. Am I saying things that I couldn’t say to him? Am I speaking to air only because he isn’t there? Am I talking to an imaginary Mac to work out his argument and answer them before I hear them? She turns—this woman goes from 0 to 90 to 15 to 65 in no time. She is able to put on a face for whomever she deals with as soon as it is necessary. She has worked up to a froth when the messengers (my “bitches”) come in, and in no time she has moved on to the new information being presented after, of course, punishing them for interrupting her fantasy. She is definitely not gentle with the girls. They are there for her and get treated in whatever way she wishes. I wonder if she even knows their names. No, definitely not. They are drones. Tonight was rough. I stood on-stage practically alone for most of rehearsal. We are already behind. I was alone for hours with 30 people waiting, and it was three of my biggest chunks—the letter, the post-letter, and “unsex me here.” Talk about a case of nerves. “Unsex me” is going to be tricky. I think I actually have a decent shape—thanks to Barney (O’Hanlon—choreographer) and Rachel (Chavkin—assistant director). I am going to sink down to the ground as I speak the text—getting closer to the source I am drawing on. But the shape, in this particular case, is the least of my concern. Why does she go to supernatural, and even worse, evil sources to get her way? Clearly, she wants the throne desperately; she is willing to kill, but why? A huge question we need to answer is how in-depth have their discussions been about getting the throne? Is this new or have they been waiting for the right moment to get the ball rolling? I think there has to have been some talk—even if it was just things whispered in bed, “When I am king,” “When you are queen,” “Someday we’ll be able to tell them what to do,” etc. Even if they haven’t discussed details, it seems as though there is some understanding and she gets it from the letter. She may leap to murdering Duncan in their home that night all by herself, but she is confident enough that he will go along with it. Why so much confidence?
My first scene with Mac tonight—this will be a problem section. How physical?
It’s got to be quick. How freaked out or confident is he? Do I need to coddle or push?
So much gets accomplished and yet not a whole lot gets accomplished. I think we have agreed to murder, but he only tells me that “we will speak further.” The shape is not there at all. Susan is still figuring things out and while I have some things to figure out on my own, a lot is going to come from how she is behaving. Not much time spent here.
We are meeting to work outside of rehearsal.
We continued on to Duncan’s entrance. This scene is totally about subtly kissing Duncan’s butt. We got another skeletal shape for the scene and we somehow ended up in DaVinci's “Last Supper.” It will be a sudden stop for the 12 of us. The spot where Judas stands will be empty, for Macbeth. I am to the right of Duncan/Christ in the spot for the fans of “The DaVinci Code,” the spot where the “woman” sits.