Archive for January, 2014

The Choreography of Vaulting Ambition

Monday, January 27th, 2014

by Chuck O’Connor

Macbeth Fight Training

Zack Meyer trains Brandon Johnson and Jovan King in fights for Polarity’s Macbeth. Click image to see video.

“Macbeth is a cautionary tale. It warns the audience about the snowball effect of vaulting ambition. This is a timeless subject. Whether you’re in a power race for a kingdom or bending the stock market, the push for ‘more’ will result in consequences.” So says Zack Meyer, Fight Director for Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s Macbeth, opening this Saturday, February 1 at the Greenhouse Theater Center. Live percussion, ritual dance and unusual weaponry are some of the element that make this production so exciting. Zack Meyer is one of the talented design specialists behind the scenes.

Macbeth fight training

Fight training part two. Click image to see video of fight further in rehearsal process.

Meyer’s interpretation of the classic tragedy is defined in a specific plan that will make the tragedy immediate. “My vision for the choreography is to showcase characters through very primitive weapons. Knives and sticks make fighting and killing way more intimate and visceral since everything needs to be up close to the other character. I want the audience to be asking themselves if one murder is more justifiable than another. Where does the moral line get drawn? Was one murder a tragedy and one a necessity? Is there a difference between hitting someone with a stick and stabbing with a knife? There is no heroic slaying of a monster in our show. You see fear in Macbeth as you see in Lady Macduff. You see rage and murderous intent in Macduff as you see in the Murderers. At the end of the day, is one ‘better’ than the other?”

Meyer’s marriage of the philosophical with the physical has aided past PET productions where he worked as the Fight Director for Tom Jones and Adrift in 2012. He has been pursuing his theatrical passion since childhood. Meyer grew up in the suburb of Aurora, IL where theatre always seemed to have some sort of involvement in his life. He performed in the community and at his high school. When he was 17, he played Borachio in Much Ado About Nothing. He was given a very nice cavalry saber for his costume. It was like giving candy to a baby. He never wanted to put it down.

Meyer attended Western Illinois University and received a BA in Theatre. Along with having a fantastic track for studying performance, WIU also has an enormous Stage Combat program and armory where Zack was able to work with and study under multiple Certified Teachers from the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) and Dueling Arts International (DAI). After college, he sought training at the International Stunt School in Washington and from other teachers in the Chicago area.

Those who have never yet seen an accessible, exciting production of Shakespeare will be delighted with this fast-paced Macbeth, infused with Meyer’s choreography. “My inspirations usually come from wrestling,” says Meyer, “One of my artistic heroes is Jackie Chan. The man is a machine, a gifted athlete but above all, he is an amazing actor when he fights. I respect the speed and amazing technique of performers like Ray Park, Jet Li, and Donnie Yen but Jackie Chan can create a wonderful story within his fights while doing jaw-dropping stunts. At the end of the day, I’d prefer that the character was a human and not a really fast robot.”

All this adds up to what should be a great night out. “I’ve been having a ball with working on this show. I’ve been given a generous amount of time to work with the actors who are always moving forward in their progress with each rehearsal.”

Come on out and see the vaulting ambition of the Bard’s classic tragedy. You will enjoy visceral experience of fight-night and an intelligent meditation on the evil of greed. The combination promises to add up to an exciting theater experience.

Previews for Macbeth are January 30 and 31 at 8 p.m.; opening night is Saturday, February 1 at 8 p.m. The show runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through Sunday, March 2.

Tickets $20 for general admission; $15 for seniors; $10 for students with valid I.D. Tickets are available by calling 773-404-7336 or online at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

The Curse on MACBETH

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

by Rachel Ramirez

PHOTO:What, us worry?

What, us worry?

There is a reason that you will frequently hear William Shakespeare’s Macbeth referred to as “The Scottish Play.” One of the most popular theatrical superstitions states that this Shakespearean tragedy can bring about bad luck—even by simply stating the name of the title character. These claims are not entirely unfounded as many well-known actors (including Laurence Olivier and Charlton Heston) have all suffered some disaster either during or just after a production. While not all theatre artists and audience members agree that there is truth in this curse, there is always a respect for those that believe in that superstition. Even those believe any theatrical misfortunes to be mere coincidence will refer to the main characters indirectly as The Scottish King and Lady M.

PHOTO:Did Shakespeare steal from scary witches?

Did Shakespeare steal from scary witches?

The superstition surrounding Macbeth is a twofold. Firstly, according to theatrical superstition, speaking the name Macbeth aloud in a theater will invariably bring disaster upon the production. The second is that the entire production, as a whole, is cursed. There are some opinions as to the origin of this curse. If legends are to be believed, Shakespeare stole witches chants from an actual coven to be used in the play and, as retribution, the witches cursed the play, condemning it for all eternity.

Fear of the Macbeth curse is alive and thriving even today. One of the more recent productions of this play was Alan Cumming’s one-man Macbeth, which ran on Broadway in the spring of 2013. Its star announced his dismissal of any superstition, stating, “I am going to say Macbeth everywhere, even in the theatre. None of this Scottish Play stuff for me.” However, the show’s producers had other ideas and placed signs about the Ethel Barrymore Theater, asking patrons to refrain from mentioning the title while within the venue. That being said, despite Alan Cummings’ flouting of the curse, he appears to be doing just fine today.

Those who follow theatrical superstition are not completely unarmed against this curse. There are certain cleansing rituals said to ward off the evil spirits brought on by speaking the name aloud. The rituals include turning three times, swearing, spitting over one’s left shoulder, or reciting a line from a different Shakespeare play (such as “If we shadows have offended” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The offender may also be asked to leave the theater and not be able to reenter until he is invited to do so.

Of course, there are certainly rational explanations for the troubles that frequently seem to haunt productions. Although Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, it is also one of the most violent. There are many fight scenes throughout the play. Most of those scenes take place at night or in dim lighting, thus increasing the chances for accidents.

PHOTO:In a production like MACBETH, accidents can happen.

In a production like MACBETH, accidents can happen.

Another arguably accurate cause of the Macbeth curse is self-fulfilling prophecy. Misfortunes plague nearly every single production that is put on a stage—that is just the nature of show business. Live theatre is unpredictable and accidents happen. But when a cast and crew are watching carefully for any signs of misfortune, any and all mishaps are sure to be remembered. And so the curse lives on from generation to generation, essentially feeding upon itself.

PHOTO:Lady Macbeth speaks some powerful incantations

Lady Macbeth speaks some powerful incantations.

When we questioned Polarity Artistic Director Richard Engling, who is directing the production, he said: “I don’t believe saying the name Macbeth anywhere does anything. I do believe, however, that there can be power in prayers and incantations, and the script has some dangerous ones. Probably most dangerous of all is the speech in which Lady Macbeth calls down the demons upon herself.”

Come you spirits,
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty: make thick my blood,
Stop up the access, and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th’ effect and hit. Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever, in your sightless substances,
You wait on nature’s mischief. Come thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry, Hold, hold.

Perhaps an actual Macbeth curse can never be proven, but we have now reached the point where it is so ingrained in our theatrical culture that the myth will never entirely be dispelled. What we can be certain of is that Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing tragedies with compelling characters, surrounded by supernatural elements—and the idea of a curse is merely another layer to that mystery and intrigue.

Please join Polarity Ensemble Theatre for William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, running January 30-March 2 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. (Free parking one block north). Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at or by calling 773-404-7336. Or click here for more information on the show. And to read about our new residency at the Greenhouse Theater Center, click here. Macbeth as part of Chicago Theatre Week, February 13 – 16.

Pictured above: Jovan King and Lana Smithner; Emily Nichelson, Krystal Mosley and Kate Smith; Emily Nichelson and Jovan King; Lana Smithner. Photos by Richard Engling