New Production Brings Magic to 'Macbeth' Rehearsals are under way for a version of Shakespeare's Macbeth that will use magic tricks, fright and humor on stage. Co-directors Teller (of Penn & Teller ) and Aaron Posner talk to Robert Siegel about the production.
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New Production Brings Magic to 'Macbeth'

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New Production Brings Magic to 'Macbeth'

New Production Brings Magic to 'Macbeth'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Mr. AARON POSNER (Director, "Macbeth": Okay. And black out.

SIEGEL: A rehearsal of "Macbeth."

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Mr. POSNER: And lights up.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing)Thrice the brain dead cut half nude.

SIEGEL: Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy, which shows that behind every murderously ambitious general, is a woman.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Unidentified Man: Macbeth shall never vanquish me.

SIEGEL: When he was 12 years old, Teller, the silent partner of the magic team Penn & Teller, was given a copy of "Macbeth." Teller, who occasionally breaks his silence with this program, remembers being floored by it then and ever since.

TELLER (Co-founder, Penn & Teller): "Macbeth" is a supernatural horror thriller. It's got the supernatural, it's got horror, and it has got thrills. It's got more blood than any other show ever conceived, and it's got night and everything about night. It's an extraordinary, you know, (unintelligible) work and yet it's blast.

SIEGEL: Years ago, Teller says, he started dreaming of staging "Macbeth" the way Alfred Hitchcock might have done it, like a horror movie.

SIEGEL: And now, in director Aaron Posner, he has found a kindred spirit and collaborator.

Mr. POSNER: I'm a life-long lover of Shakespeare but I have sort of followed Teller into "Macbeth" - following his glee for the Macomb and his devilish grin and enjoyment at the magic in this sort of this surreal engagement with the other worldly. So I sort of followed that path that he has carved in sort of opening up this play.

Go upstage. Just move - you move up.

SIEGEL: And so coming soon to the Two Rivers Regional Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey and then to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., the gory spine-chilling "Macbeth." It features, for example three witches, three weird sisters wearing masks inspired by the mummies of the Palermo Crypt. And the witches are played by three big guys.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Unidentified Group: Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.

SIEGEL: Those are three extremely weird sisters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POSNER: Yeah. We're shooting for about as we're - well, you - how do you capture the other world on stage?

SIEGEL: One way is by using Teller's chosen craft, magic.

TELLER: One of our goals is to let the audience actually experience what Macbeth is going through, that is to put them in his position. Typically, when you see someone hallucinating the dagger in, is this a dagger which dagger which I see before me, you see an actor on stage staring at a spot of air to the best of his ability, and you kind of go, oh, there's a gut acting a little crazy.

In our production, our "Macbeth" will be kind of glancing at himself in the mirror and then in the mirror made transparent apparition of the dagger will appear. He will try to grab it with his own reflection, and his own reflection will pass right through the dagger. And then, of course, little later, the dagger points a certain direction and certain amounts of ruby liquid appear on it. And all of this is something that the audience there on the theater will see along with Macbeth, so that they will get the visceral sense of what it's like to live in a world where, as Macbeth says, nothing is but what is not.

Mr. POSNER: When I say now, just pull it back, to you know, a foot.

TELLER: Maybe. I'd rather do that with the light.

SIEGEL: I am sworn to secrecy as Posner and Teller do a run-through with the magic dagger, Macbeth's hallucination to be shared with the audience.

TELLER: Okay? And again…

Mr. POSNER: She took the blades slightly down.

TELLER: Yeah, we just get a - get the…

Mr. POSNER: Not the whole thing, just the blades.

TELLER: Be a little more light on the blade if you can.

SIEGEL: The dagger turns, appearing to be almost real, almost illusory, and on cue, crimson droplets fall in an eerie drizzle from the knife's edge.

Mr. POSNER: Great.

TELLER: Okay. Now let's try what happens when we go - I'd love to get more light on this before we do that, but…

Mr. POSNER: Yeah.

Ms. KATE EASTWOOD NORRIS (Actor): Where should we go from?

Mr. POSNER: From - right from the - here, yeah, here it is.

Ms. NORRIS: Oh, I'll stay in here. Right.

SIEGEL: The drizzle of fake blood is nothing compared to the drenching I got to see next - still all magical method totally off the record. Remember when the Lady Macbeth haunted by guilt and sleepwalking imagines blood in her hands.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Ms. NORRIS: (As Lady Macbeth) Go out, damn spot. Out I say.

SIEGEL: Well, in this production, the most notorious imagined spot in all literature gushes deep red through Lady Macbeth's night gown. At this rehearsal, Kate Eastwood Norris is attempting the slight of hand that will mysteriously discharge the phony blood.

Posner, Teller, and the rest of the crew want to see how well she performs and how well their ingenious magician's devices perform.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Macbeth")

Ms. NORRIS: (As Lady Macbeth) What's done cannot be undone. Too bad, too bad, too bad.

(Soundbite of applause and laughter)

TELLER: That is so grotesque.

SIEGEL: Needless to say, both the actress and the props worked.

Kate Eastwood Norris, tall, blond and suddenly bloody talked about the challenge of, not just acting the part of Lady Macbeth, but pulling off a magic trick while she's at it.

Ms. NORRIS: As a matter of fact, it makes it easier because I can show what I'm seeing. I don't have to act as much. I do - I am experiencing what I suppose a regular, normal actress who doesn't have the ability to have the blood shown, I'm going ahead and giving that off. But it's actually a lot easier. And what it's done is make the technicality of the magic tricks has made this speech a piece of choreography. So there are points I can hit that I'm sure of. And I know as long as I hit those guide posts and have the general idea, I'm not alone on the stage. I have help.

SIEGEL: Then you have these added magicians concerns that nobody…

Ms. NORRIS: Right.

SIEGEL: …Should see you the source of the blood, that I'm sworn to not describe to anybody…

Unidentified Woman #2: Right.

SIEGEL: or…to do that. You have to describe what you look like right now just having rehearsed this scene.

Ms. NORRIS: Okay.

SIEGEL: You can't rehearse this scene too many times in a day, I gather.

Ms. NORRIS: No, no; that would involve a lot of showers. At the end of the seat I am, I am, you know, light dressed, looks sort of like a slip or a very casual wedding gown. And the entire front of me is soaked and covered in blood from, I guess, the top of my chest to my toes by the end of the scene. And I have some spatters on my arms and it's very sticky.

It's fabulous. It's like it is sort of a wildest dream to have this because it's so shocking. It really makes it almost easier for me. And I do have the pressure of making sure the magic trick go because I can't emotionally rationalize my way out of showing the trick fall onto the ground or something.

SIEGEL: That would be a tough one.

Ms. NORRIS: That would be a tough one. But I will certainly get a lot of rehearsal timing on this.

SIEGEL: Most of it dry, though.

Ms. NORRIS: Yes.

SIEGEL: I would think.

Ms. NORRIS: Yes, yes. Most of it dry.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is an unusual project for Teller, who is squeezing "Macbeth" into his winter break from the magic act that he and Penn Jillette do in Las Vegas.

Another of his contributions - finding someone to create sound for the production that's appropriately weird and other worldly.

TELLER: When we were looking for a percussionist, I talked to Mr. Sondheim. I talked to Lou Reed, and I talked to Tom White's. And Tom Whites is eventually the person who guided us to Kenny Lewison(ph) as being the, you know, most theatrically mad that he could find.

Mr. POSNER: It's one of the times when I knew that this was not a typical regional theater production when Teller and I both said we'll call some people we know that got some ideas for percussionists. And I certainly called some very intelligent, very reasonable theater professionals, but not Sondheim, White's and Reed. And the level of Teller has brought into this has been, you know, just incredible.

SIEGEL: So how was the transition from Las Vegas stage magician to Shakespearian director or co-director?

TELLER: I don't notice any difference between them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TELLER: I really don't. There is one show business. Anything that' takes you out of yourself gives you a little bit of joy and that isn't quite real. They all belong together.

SIEGEL: Teller and Adam Posner's(ph) "Macbeth" is scheduled to open in Red Bank, New Jersey in mid-January. It moves to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. at the end of February where it'll show until April.

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