“Late at night in the guts of an abandoned theater, a company of actors gathers to rehearse Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” They soon realize that they’re not alone. As they are drawn deeper into the Bard’s most magnetic play, the ghosts that have haunted the story since its inception hover and encroach.” So goes the story behind “Radio Macbeth,” the latest offering from the renowned New York City-based SITI Company. Founded in 1992 by Anne Bogart and Tadashi Suzuki, this ensemble-based theater company is no stranger to Chicago, having made the city both a regular stop for many of the nearly thirty shows they’ve toured around the US and abroad over the past sixteen years, as well as a home for an annual two-week intensive training workshop in the summer. This will be their second time taking the stage at Hyde Park’s Court Theatre, after the highly successful 2006 run of “Hotel Cassiopeia,” written by the company’s resident playwright Charles L. Mee. And whether the play be by Mee, Noel Coward, August Strindberg or a completely original work devised by the ensemble, each production carries the indelible strength that comes from SITI’s singular (and rigorous) style of training and development. I caught up with artistic director Anne Bogart about the working life of SITI Company, the desire to take on arguably the Bard’s best (and bloodiest) tragedy, and the delights to be found in being haunted.
For our readers who may not be familiar with SITI Company, would you please tell us a bit about your process of devising work as an ensemble?
We work very collaboratively. I start by describing the world of the play and I tell the actors and designers and all involved everything that I have imagined about our production. Then we put our heads together and begin to work. Except for songs and dances, which we develop and practice every day, we always rehearse in the order of the play, never skipping. Once we have staged one scene, we move on to the next, in order. It is a slow process. When we get stuck we wait until consensus about how to move forward.
SITI Company’s first foray into the work of Shakespeare was “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” What were the driving influences behind the decision to tackle “Macbeth?”
Well, we had such a grand time working on “Midsummer” that I was anxious to tackle another Shakespeare. And why not move from one of his greatest plays to the next? These two plays are thematically and structurally diametrically opposite which seems right when moving from one to the next. Also, “Macbeth” was the very first play I ever saw as a child and it is what made me decide to become a theater director.
“Radio Macbeth” is presented as an adaptation from Shakespeare. How do you define “adaptation” in this way? How much of Shakespeare’s original script is a direct part of this piece?
We are not doing the entire play, rather it is a cutting of the original. A few of the bits are rearranged but ultimately I believe that we have stuck rather faithfully to Shakespeare’s play. We try to keep out of the way of the rich language and situations.
Director Darron L. West describes “Macbeth” as “the ultimate ghost story.” What about ghosts entices you personally, and artistically?
I believe that all theater is ultimately about dead people; giving dead people voice. The Japanese Noh theater, for example, was originally built over graveyards. The actors stamped the ground to allow the spirits from below to inhabit their bodies. This sounds morbid, I know, but it is actually quite delightful to allow for the voices and memories of the past to be filtered through one.
So, are there any superstitions in the company about saying “Macbeth” in the theater?
Oh gosh, we joke around about it. Ultimately though, I do not think that we are overly superstitious.
What’s next for “Radio Macbeth?” Will the tour continue after the run here in Chicago?
Absolutely! I hope to tour the play for many years. But I will state here that I share the company’s enthusiasm for performing in Chicago in particular.
At Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis, (773)753-4472, through December 7