Minimalist Macbeth has Maximum Impact
September 26, 2019
In stripping one of Shakespeare's most beloved tragedies to its core, Macbeth director Adriana Baer created new challenges and opportunities for the production's sound and movement visionaries. With a sparse set, condensed script, and trio of women embodying all the characters, sound and movement are essential in creating a sense of place and delineating roles.
Baer turned to Amanda K. Cole and Sharath Patel to help realize her vision of bringing a taut, women-centered take on Macbeth to Portland Center Stage at The Armory.
The fact that Baer, Cole, and Patel all have worked together before gave them the freedom to take risks and try the unexpected.
"When you're working with someone who trusts you that much and challenges you that much, I love it, and it makes me really happy and excited to go to work," said Patel, the show's sound designer.
Actors Chantal DeGroat, Dana Green, and Lauren Bloom Hanover play all the roles – up to 15 parts, in one case. Certain roles get passed around. Cole, making her debut at The Armory as the production's movement and intimacy director, worked with the actors to specify the stance and energy of each character. Even little details, such as whether a character's feet point forward or turn in, help to define and identify that person.
The unusual, organic set and props also challenged Cole and Patel to think differently. The set is inspired by the sand dunes of both the Scottish and Oregon coasts. [That's two tons of actual sand, by the way (video).]
Patel, who also serves as sound designer for In the Heights, tapped into his global network of fellow audio archivists to source ambient sound files for Macbeth. He melds the sounds of the English countryside and Scottish waves with those he gathered from Depoe Bay and the Sea Lion Caves on the Oregon Coast to create a rich, layered aural tapestry.
The unconventional setting also opened up new possibilities for Cole.
"It's exciting to have the freedom to try the unexpected," Cole said. "We're not using swords in the last fight, we're using sticks. We're primarily using unexpected objects as weapons, like a belt from a costume or sand from the set. It really has challenged me, and it's been very freeing."
In addition to choreographing the characters' movements and the fights, Cole worked with the actors to stage intimate scenes. Cole's done this type of work for almost a decade, though "intimacy director" is a relatively new, post-#MeToo term.
"The intimacy director pays attention not only to the choreography but also to ensuring the emotional safety of the actors. It's wonderful to see that role being brought to the table more," Cole said. "The work often begins by talking about what's happening in the script and contextualizing how the sex or intimacy contributes to the story. I help the actors communicate their needs and boundaries and advocate for those boundaries to be respected and adhered to."
The result of that advocacy is a better experience not only for the performers but also for the audience.
"The audience can sense when the actors feel safe and comfortable, and when the intimacy advances the story," Cole said.
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