Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why can't you say "Macbeth" in the theatre? An Inquiry into an old superstition...

So, Paper Wing Theatre, as usual, has thrown caution into the wind and is getting ready to open a deliciously modern, bloody, and oh-so-anachronistic "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare. The superstitions and traditions surrounding this play are well known, and this has turned my normally level headed, hardworking actors and director into a group of timid, superstitious kooks. (Sorry guys; I still love ya). The curse goes something like this: Unless you are in rehearsal or performance of the actual play, you may not say the name. Ever. Even the most linear and scientific personalities have been effected. To date, myself and +Lj are the only ones who seem to refer to the play by its actual name. Ever since we announced this play into our season, I have heard all the Macbeth circumlocutions from our cast and crew, including but not limited to: "The Scottish Play" "Mackers", "The Bard's Play", "The Glamis Comedy", "The Scottish Business" and my personal favorite "The-Play-We-Are-Doing-Now-Don't-Say-The-Name".  

There have been numerous stories, urban legends, and the like about this supposed "curse". You cannot exist in any theatre company without hearing a tale of misfortune about someone who heard about someone who uttered the word in a theatre and was met with illness, injury, misfortune and even death.

Although skeptical, I don't want to piss off the theatre muse(s). I have not challenged or made fun of any off these alternates (much). I don't necessarily believe in curses but I certainly am not in any position to thumb my nose at theatre tradition that could cause catastrophe. 

When did this all begin? As near as I can gather from my theatre history books and good ol' Google, there are divided opinions about the origin.

Some believe that the Witches of England got totally peeved because Shakespeare used their "real" chants in the script, and they cast a curse on the play, condemning it for all time. The original copyright infringement, I would say.

Others believe that the superstition started later and that King James I banned the play for about five years after he first saw it, in 1606. Some say he found the witches’ curses too realistic – having authored a work on demonology, he considered himself an expert.

Probably most spectacular (quack) view is that Shakespeare actually cursed the play himself, guaranteeing that no one other than him would ever be able to direct the play. Now, I have seen, and thrown, some pretty intense directorial hissy fits in my long career in the theatre, but I have never cursed my own work so that no one else would ever have success with it, so this one seems quite far fetched.

The most believable history is this one, ironically that I first heard from my old High School drama teacher, Mr. O'Connor. The superstition actually began in the old days of stock companies, which would struggle at all times to remain in business. Frequently, near the end of a season a stock company would realize that it was not going to break even and, in an attempt to boost ticket sales and attendance, would announce production of a crowd favorite . . . MacBeth. If times were particularly bad, even 'the bard's play' would not be enough to save the company, therefore, MacBeth often foreshadowed the end of a company's season, and would frequently be an indication of the company's demise. Therefore, the fear of MacBeth was generally the fear of bad business and of an entire company being put out of work.

Holy Crap. 
This, as a theatre owner and producer, is the scariest "curse" of all. It is the nightmare most theatres live in fear of and go on in spite of. And it is, in spite of all the curses and superstitions imagined or not, that Paper Wing carries on with this stunning and violent masterpiece.

There it is. The history of a theatre "curse".

So if you'll excuse me, I will now be off to leave the room, close the door, turn around three times, say a dirty word and spit... just in case.

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” -Hamlet, act 1, scene 4

"And the TONY Award for Best Director Goes To...."

So, just finished watching the Tony Awards, and if you are my friend on Facebook (presuming I haven't blocked you), you were subjected to my running dialogue of posts, comments, and general annoying statements. It is the one night I actually pull the "I paid for this huge, damn flat screen TV and surround sound, so get the hell out of the family room everyone" card and glue myself to the screen and Neil Patrick Harris for the next three hours. I love the sampling of plays and musicals and really, I fancy myself some big shot producer merely perusing the next big hit. True, some of past years winners of Best Plays and Musicals HAVE made it onto The Paper Wing Theatre stage eventually, but for the most part, it's all just me playing pretend. And pretend I do.
My Mother introduced me to the Tony Awards when I was very small. I loved the sneak peek feel of the musicals and plays and loved to watch the people winning. I really liked the speeches. And so, in true Tony spirit, I present to you my "If I ACTUALLY was on Broadway and Won" acceptance speech for best Director.
"Wow, what an HONOR!(because they always say that). I would like to thank the other nominees in this category; it is truly because of wonderful  Directors like yourselves that I stand here. (also this gets said a lot). I would like to thank all of the actors who came prepared to audition and didn't need to ask to start the song over. I would also like to thank the actors who left their personal drama at home and made the experiences a true delight. This Tony is for the actors who DIDN'T start dating at the opening of the show, only to break up by second weekend, and finally graduate to the "I can't stand him/her; can you please fire him/her" stage. For the actors who DIDN'T stop every rehearsal to argue or to tell me how their character would not walk onstage left because of some traumatic backstory, this goes out to you.
To all my Tech people who bring that little extra something to the productions, I thank you for NOT condescending me when you are speaking "techie" and I have to ask for clarification. To the choreographers who DIDN'T  ignore my pleas of: "For God's sake, keep it simple; these actors aren't dancers!!!".
To the musical directors and band, thanks for NOT interjecting your opinions of the show, particularly the actors performances, during rehearsal; we couldn't do it without you.
To my three boys: Thank you keeping all tantrums, arguing, and fistfights to a minimum at home, and for loving the theatre as much as your parents, but in a much more healthy, less obsessive way.
To my friends in the theatre and beyond: a big thank you for the laughter, the meals, and for NEVER using your proximity to me to negotiate/wheedle/nag/hassle me for a role.
To my weird and wonderfully creative hippy parents, especially my Dad, who DIDN'T have a major coronary when I switched to English major in college, so I could teach theatre.
And finally, to my co-producer and sweetheart +Lj , thanks for very rarely saying "I told you so", for the stress headache massages, for loving and hating the dream right there with me, and for being in love with a crazy drama queen."
There it is. And if by some miracle I do get to take my happy ass to Broadway and then to the Tonys, I promise this will be the speech.