The time: just before 7 p.m. The place: Purdue University Fort Wayne Studio Theatre. The mood: excitement and a robust sense of positive anticipation. Why? We’ve jumped right into our rehearsals for Macbeth, with our production coming up at the end of November!
This week, before we get into table work with our scripts, we’ve been focusing on physicality and an introduction to the mask work that will be so very important later in the process. Because our actors come from backgrounds of varying familiarity with mask technique, we invited Todd Espeland, the new Executive Artistic Director of the Fort Wayne Youththeatre, to come and lead us in a series of workshops. An expert in the field, Todd has done post-graduate work in Mask, Clown, and Commedia Dell’Arte at Dell’Arte International in Blue Lake, California, among many other impressive theatrical credentials. We were incredibly grateful to have him with us for this (too short) bit of time.
So this week, I sat down with three of our actors from Macbeth to get their takes on the experimentation we’ve been doing in and around masks, under Todd’s direction and expertise, as well as hear why they decided to join our merry band of players in the first place.
We are ecstatic to welcome back Chance Parker, who is playing our Macbeth after playing our Dukes in 2017’s As You Like It. He decided to audition because he believes in what we do (thanks, Chance!) and notes that he’s excited about this show in particular. “Macbeth itself is a really fun play. It’s well known, but it’s a great one. Not only the political intrigue, which I’m really into, but you’ve also got all these supernatural elements that really add to the mood,” said Chance.
Izzy Chilian is joining us in hopes of “a learning experience.” Despite not having done any shows with Shakespearemachine before, she’s no stranger to either Shakespearean texts or the Fort Wayne stage. As our First Witch (among other roles), Izzy said, “I’m really looking forward to being a little creepy. A little spooky.” It’s all about the aesthetic, am I right?
And finally, I talked to Mike Adams, our understudy for Macduff, whom you might recognize from the IPFW stage along with Chance. Mike is also a first-time Shakespearemachine cast member but was intrigued by the idea of working with masks further than he has during rehearsals in the past.
So what do all three of these actors think about our mask work so far?
One of the areas of mask work we’ve been focusing on has been mask and countermask: the idea that within every mask, there is another side of the character’s personality. Todd likens it to the “mask” being the public self, who might be on reality T.V., versus the “countermask,” which would be what the person or character is really like in a private space once the cameras are off. Both sides of the character are valid, and they don’t necessarily have to be stark opposites - and certain external elements can cause a shift between the physicality of the mask and its countermask. “As I’ve been looking at the script, I think Macbeth himself has a very different mask and countermask,” said Chance. “So I’m interested in finding that, and where he switches, and how that switch looks.”
Mike, too, has found value in the way that masks can help physicalize internal character traits, especially based on the shapes found in the face and features of the mask. “[It’s cool to] get an idea of what the personalities are, based on the appearance,” he said. “And making an inner monologue for the character, so I get a chance to know it better. It’s exhausting, yeah, but it’s very worth it because it helps you get into the character much more.”
What’s really special about the mask work is that it opens doors into new ways of seeing the text and interacting with the world that’s built within it. “I think it’s kind of incredible. Like, it’s not just mask work. You can apply it to any part of theatre,” said Izzy. We thank Todd for his enthusiasm and energetic personality as he joined us this week and helped to open up those doors for us.
As we move into more movement, viewpoints, and devising next week, and then table work the next, I’ll keep you updated on what’s happening in rehearsals! Keep an eye out on our Facebook page and Instagram so you don’t miss our next update - and if you’re interested in coming to see how all this mask work will come together during the performance, tickets will go on sale soon!
Shakespearemachine will be performing Macbeth at the Parkview Physicians Group ArtsLab (300 E. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN), November 30 through December 16.