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Odell Park sets the stage for Macbeth

Milena Stanoeva, Congress 2011 Team

Fredericton’s art scene is abuzz with activity in preparation for Congress. A stand-out event of this year’s program is Bard in the Barracks’ production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Odell Park. The play runs from May 28th to June 2nd, from 7:30pm. Set in a post-catastrophic futuristic Scotland that has reverted to feudalism, this production of Macbeth will take patrons on a torch-lit hike through the woods of Odell Park, placing the audience right into the action. Advance tickets can be purchased online at Patrons are counselled to wear comfortable walking shoes and warm clothes with which they can sit on the ground.

Len Falkenstein, Director of the drama program at the University of New Brunswick, is the company’s Artistic Director. He was kind enough to grant us an extended interview about Bard in the Barracks and what audiences can expect from his company’s production of Macbeth.

How did Bard in the Barracks come about as a theatre company?

We were formed in 2006 as a joint venture between Theatre UNB and local company NotaBle Acts Theatre. NotaBle Acts produces a festival of new works by New Brunswick playwrights each year and we started Bard in the Barracks as a fundraiser for the NotaBle Acts Summer Theatre Festival.  It was also in response to the fact that no other company in town was staging Shakespeare (or classics in general) and Fredericton was lacking the outdoor Shakespeare productions so common and popular in other cities. So where the Stratford festival stages big musicals to support their Shakespeare productions, we use Shakespeare to support the work of emerging New Brunswick playwrights.

What can audiences expect from this year’s production of Macbeth?

It’s our hope to give them a pretty thrilling and unconventional theatre experience, one that they’ll remember for a long time. They’ll get a pretty decent little hike in and maybe go home with a slightly mud-stained program—not exactly the norm for a night at the theatre. They’re also going to see some really fine acting—aside from everything I’ve been saying about the setting and staging, it’s of course the story, the storytelling and the performances that have to carry the play. Even if people have seen many good productions of Macbeth before, I think this one will rank among them in those respects.

How do you integrate nature and local settings into your productions? In what specific ways has Odell Park influenced your production of Macbeth?

All our works have been highly site-specific. In Barracks Square we used the historical soldiers’ barracks building as a backdrop and scene location for a production of Much Ado About Nothing that was set at the end of World War Two. The old Guardhouse in the square became a shepherd’s cottage for our production of As You Like It. And the forest in Odell Park has been the ideal location for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth. The park has a very manicured “civilized” section where most people go and beyond that, extensive “wild” sections. For Midsummer Night’s Dream this worked very well as we started in the civilized area for the opening scenes set in the court of Athens, and then took the audience up into the wilds for the most of the play that is set in the uncivilized forest. There were fairies darting through the trees, that sort of thing—and fantastic wild gullies and small waterfalls that were perfect for certain scenes. Our audiences get a lot of exercise during our shows…

For Macbeth, the park setting has influenced our entire take on the play. It’s simply not possible for a lot of reasons to create fancy, regal settings in the middle of the forest. So our Macbeth is set in a very savage environment, with bands of people carving settlements out of rocky hillsides after an assumed societal collapse. The witches, meanwhile, are part of the forest and a constant presence in the play, lurking in trees, on rocks, and generally overlooking and toying with the absurd humans who are obsessed with petty feudal squabbles. It’s all quite visceral, tactile, often muddy.

What do you think outdoors settings, in particular, add to Shakespearean plays?

There’s an atmosphere that the outdoors setting adds that you can aim for but never achieve indoors. Macbeth is a play about encounters with spooky things in the woods, about huge epic battles. We can take people to a real haunted grove in the dark of night; we can do battle scenes that fill space almost the length of a football field. We can immerse the audience in the location, setting, and play in a way you can never accomplish indoors (and by indoors I would include the tent settings of many “outdoor” Shakespeare festivals). There is a scale to the plays that is bigger than anything you can do indoors, and that is very appropriate for Shakespeare, where so often the struggles are epic and existential—whether it is Macbeth violating nature by his act of regicide and being pummelled by nature, which is so much bigger than he is (and in Odell Park you realize how small we humans actually are), or Lear having to go out into the storm to face his inner demons.

How do you make Shakespeare relatable to audiences 400 years after its writing?

I think it’s a case of doing things like we do, and that is pretty typical among most companies that do Shakespeare today, of using updated settings that speak to or hint at contemporary resonances that exist in the texts. Our Midsummer Night’s Dream imagined Athens as a golf and country club that had taken over native land and existed in uneasy tension with it. So it’s that—not presenting the plays as museum pieces, but at the same time not going too gimmicky either, and preserving and respecting the text. That’s a danger I’ve seen pretty often, too.

Photo courtesy of tonynetone from Flickr.


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