On Halloween night, Ursuline Academy will open its production of Shakespeare for the Modern Man: Lesson One – Macbeth, a clever adaptation of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, as interpreted by local playwright Scott A. Eckert.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a standard high school English assignment, generating pages and pages of student essays and countless hours of studying its dark and powerful story of unbridled ambition and murder most foul. Superstitious actors refuse to use its real title, calling it only “the Scottish play.” At its black heart is one of Shakespeare’s most powerful female characters: Lady Macbeth.
This year, Ursuline’s theater students voted to produce Eckert’s clever retelling of Macbeth, in which the story unfolds — and unravels —when a troupe of modern actors begin performing the play alongside their old-style Shakespearean doppelgangers. There are two Macbeths, two Banquos, and of course, two Lady Macbeths. What starts out as a simple “translation” ends in mayhem and deeds most foul. Oh, and there are also some jokes, and swordfighting.
Early in the rehearsal process, Ursuline theater instructor Terri Ferguson, the play’s director, gleefully informed the student actors that authentic steel broadswords had been procured for this production. She tempered her enthusiasm with warnings about sword safety.
“There will be no ‘strikes,’ people,” Ferguson said. “If you have a sword in your hands when you’re not supposed to, they will be GONE. And you’ll be stuck fighting with wooden swords and daggers.”
The cast — which includes students from Ursuline, Jesuit, and Cistercian — began training with wooden replicas of broadswords and progressed to the real swords as their skills increased. Professional stunt and fight choreographer Chad Spear is pleased with their progress.
“The hardest part of stage combat is to make it look as dangerous as possible, but keep it safe at the same time,” Spear said.
He explained that the theatrical metal broadswords are blunted for safety, but are much heavier than the wooden ones used for practice, and can behave in an unpredictable way. As he worked with the students playing Macduff and the two Macbeths, he cautioned them to control their sword strikes, because the metal blades would be more slippery than the wooden replicas they used in training.
Shakespeare for the Modern Man: Lesson One – Macbeth opens at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, with subsequent performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are general admission — $5 for students and seniors, $10 for adults — and may be purchased at the Ursuline Center for Performing Arts, located on the school’s campus at 4900 Walnut Hill Lane.