In most productions of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the Three Witches play a relatively minor, albeit crucial, role: they give the prophesies that serve as the catalyst for the story’s action.
New Lynchburg theater company Rogue Productions has changed up the role of the Weird Sisters in its staging of “Macbeth,” which opened May 25 and runs through this Sunday.
It has placed them front and center as tour guides who lead the audience through the mayhem and murder of the play, chaos that will spill from the rooms into the hallways of Riverviews Artspace.
“It’s normally a pretty quiet space other than on First Fridays,” says Kim Soerensen, executive director of Riverviews Artspace. “It will not be quiet [then]. You may be sitting in the tea shop and, all of a sudden, you'll see two sword-wielding people come running down the hallway. I think that can be pretty exciting."
The brainchild of recent Liberty University graduates Caleb Towns and Austin Joseph, Rogue Productions was born out of the actors’ desire to perform plays by the Bard.
During their time as students, they enjoyed the summer Shakespeare productions produced by the theater department, Towns says. When they learned there wouldn’t be one this year, they decided to do it themselves and chose “Macbeth” for both its themes and action-packed pace.
“It’s a very dynamic play,” says Towns, who also plays Macduff in the production. “For a Shakespeare play, there’s very few scenes of just people standing around and talking. There’s always action. There’s always something going on in every scene and I think it lent itself very, very well to the space and the nature of the production we wanted to perform.”
Rogue Productions’ performance will take place in four rooms, several hallways and even a stairwell over two floors inside Riverviews. It follows a promenade style of theater, where the audience stands around and walks alongside the performance as it moves throughout the building.
This style pushes the boundaries of traditional theater, inviting the audience more fully into the action and the story as they move with the characters inside their fictitious world.
“Overall, it has such a great interactive component that I think it will attract people that may previously have not been very interested in theater or in Shakespeare, for that matter,” says Soerensen, who cannot remember a time where the physical space of Riverviews has been used like this.
While she thinks there have been smaller theatrical performances, she says there has been nothing of this scale since her start at the gallery.
Towns had previously seen an LU production of “Hamlet” performed in promenade to great success and chose to use it for this play after becoming inspired by the various rooms inside the Jefferson Street building. Some have stone, others have wooden floors and even columns.
“The theater itself has clouds painted on one of the walls,” he says. “It sets up this really neat environment.”
Unlike many productions, which are decked with candelabras, shining armor and medieval finery, this take on “Macbeth” has an old-world setting that Towns says is “pre-kilts, pre-bagpipes.”
Shakespeare’s script lends itself to this ancient location, especially considering the script references a Norwegian invasion, he says.
The fight choreography also has left the vibe of the Globe Theater’s stage behind, with spear and axe combat sequences as opposed to the more traditional use of rapier and dagger or broadsword battles.
In fact, Towns’ Macduff and Joseph, who plays Macbeth, will duke it out in their epic final battle with an axe-on-sword fight scene.
Despite the prehistoric setting, Rogue Productions’ “Macbeth” uses video and audio technology in the famous witches’ scene in Act Three. The performance is also being filmed and will be available online at a later date.
“We’re really excited about that as well because a lot of the ways we’ve created this show lends itself to film,” says Towns. “We wanted to explore that medium too.”