An appreciation for the true essence of ensemble theatre, the electricity of enthusiasm and kinetic nerves that can pulsate through members of a troupe, is something that is not often considered or discussed in modern dramaturgy. While there are certainly a preponderance of awards specifically honoring the strength of ensembles, the actual spirit of ensemble acting or the dynamics which emerge from the productions put on by troupes, is somewhat lost on modern audiences. In the New Renaissance Theatre Company’s recent outdoor production of Shakespeare’s Tragedie of Macbeth, actively challenged and both the conventions of modern theatrical staging and the conceptions of ensemble interactions.
This recent staging, which was paired with the Company’s production of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, was designed specifically to capture the Shakespearean vision for theatrical productions, specifically of his own works (if, of course, you believe they were indeed his own). This staging of The Tragedie of Macbeth was prefaced—after an impressive, charmingly anachronistic sonorous introduction by two of the company members singing a very impassioned rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Trouble”—by the prompter for the show explaining the historical precedent for an outdoor, unrehearsed performance of Shakespearean theatre. Explaining the fear of creative theft and wanton reproduction in the absence of copyright laws, the prompter emphasized the importance of spontaneity in performance style and the irreproducibility of the scripts that the actors would work have to work with in their nightly stagings. Not only would actors not have the chance to rehearse their lines and stage directions for the highly demanding pieces they would have to perform each night (and often in a different locale every night), but each actor would be dependent upon a scroll that would only contain their own lines, in the hopes of preserving the integrity of the whole play. This production of Macbeth, part of the innovative Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, forced the actors to rely on not only just a scroll of parchment with only their lines transcribed upon it, but was also completely unpracticed (or, at least, relatively “unpracticed,” given the inability for a modern thespian to exist in a vacuum which Shakespeare or Macbeth cannot permeate) rendition of the play. Moreover, the Company’s production braving the element outdoors added to the purist authenticity of the production.
The results, while at times anxiety-inducing given the precarious weather, were invigorating if not a little a disjointed. Granted, a fair amount of the disjointedness of the production can be attributed to the show’s lack of rehearsal—and, to the Company’s credit of authenticity, the actors relied impressively on a prompter for the entirety of the show as performers in the Shakespearean era would have. The production of Macbeth, while occasionally interrupted by modern disruptions like helicopters and planes, was enlivening, and the actors’ stamina and commitment to their cohesion, remarkable. The interconnectivity of the actors truly highlighted the potential of ensemble acting to be a beautiful beast in its own right—though, forced to single out, the Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and beloved witches truly stood out. The New Renaissance Theatre Company aptly lived up to the challenged they set out for themselves. And what is more, getting to hear a grown man with a beard belt out Kesha’s “Tik Tok” as a way of distraction from an interrupting plane was a delight, and probably had Shakespeare (or whoever actually penned Macbeth) sneering from his grave.
The New Renaissance Theatre Company’s productions of Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew sadly have both already closed but if you’d like to know more about New Ren and their Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project, click here.