| Aaron’s stand-in; last run-through;
saying goodbye; trip home - 12/20/07
Aaron got hit by some kind of flu and asked me to run the afternoon Act I run-through with assistant
director Jeremy. Throw Teller in and make him swim (with a life-preserver). So I watched Jeremy and
Kate the stage manager move through the play while I got my footing, then began to deal with a few things
that had bugged me. * * *
The first was the Thane of Cawdor’s head. We want to establish the idea that this is a world where
people can (and often do) get their heads cut off, so we’ve added a bit of business where the head
of the traitor Cawdor, executed offstage, is presented to King Duncan, who examines the face as he says,
“There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”
But up to now, we’d been essentially dropping a bag full of head in a King’s lap, and it seemed a bit
too Monty Python. So I restaged the moment so that the head is handled in a formal way that will
allow it to be taken seriously.
Aaron hates crowns, and so do I. So to represent kingship visually, Dan’s designed a tall, severe wooden
chair painted with thorn branches, as a throne. During the run-through Ian, Jeremy, and I found a
nice moment to have two delivery men bring the king’s royal chair onstage and mark the beginning of
Macbeth’s reign. The addition was good, one of those signposts that makes a play easy to follow.
Later, we added blood to the staging of Banquo’s murder, not that Paul Morella, playing Banquo, needs
any help in chilling our bones. Paul has sharp, severe, Mediterranean features – like some member
of the Medici family – with olive skin and great, understated gravitas. When he’s playing Banquo’s
ghost, he spooks us all with his icy, penetrating stare, so much so that we felt using “undead” contact
lenses would be overkill. But even the finest acting is no substitute for a little of the red stuff.
* * *
Today was actor Eric Hissom’s birthday and the birthday of one of the Jake Dufflings. Angie brought
in an ice-cream cake and we all sang and ate it during a break.
As the afternoon proceeded, I got bolder. I suggested interpretations to actors here and there.
I re-blocked here and there and made small improvements.
I’m not Aaron, for sure, but I didn’t embarrass myself. I swam.
* * *
At 4 p.m. I recorded the voices of the cauldron apparitions. We’ll alter them electronically, and this
will be my little cameo for the in-crowd and the cast. If you come to the show and hear strange
twitterings in the background, that’s because we were recording in a basement room next door to a
classroom full of screaming eight-year-olds making xmas ornaments from pipe-cleaners.
Then over the so-called dinner break Matt and I drove to the theater to show set designer Dan
and lighting designer Thom what was needed on the dagger mirror. The bare bones of the set
have been erected on the stage. The big central platform and the stairway are up, and the huge steel
gates have been hung in place.
The set is pretty imposing, even as a skeleton.
Since I worked through dinner, I had to make do with leftover ice cream cake. Hey, it’s got protein, right?
* * *
In the evening Aaron was back -- wan but determined, and we did a complete run-through of both acts,
the first time ever for the designers and some guests. I found the show really engaging and exciting
and took two pages of notes to discuss tomorrow.
At the end, Aaron complimented the cast and told them I’d be leaving tomorrow, and the cast gave me a long
round of applause. I sure will miss these people over the next couple of weeks.
The designers met afterwards for an hour to share technical problems and brainstorm on solutions. It’s
been more than a year since we started. And now we’re strapped in for the final, precipitous ride.
There is gleam of fire, madness, and not a little terror in everybody’s eyes.
But what I’ll remember most about this meeting is Matt suddenly tapping me on the shoulder. I looked
at him; I could see he had an inspiration he was bursting to tell me. As soon as the meeting broke,
he took me aside: He had a simple and practical solution to the hardest effect in the cauldron scene.
He’s getting a huge Hollywood effect out of 20 cents worth of props, minimal preparation, and no mess.
I congratulated him.
He said, “Hey, I was born poor.”
* * *
At noon the following day, Aaron and I met and had a final brainstorming session, based on the previous
night’s run, with K.J. Sanchez (associate artistic director) and Matt. A run-through sure shows you
where the large problems lie are, and we corrected several. Then we met with Ian onstage to try the
dagger scene in the real theater.
It’s going to be so hard (and so much fun) to get this perfect. I sure wish I could send the spare
Teller to help while the regular one is onstage in Vegas.
Having an extra hour before I needed to go to the airport, I dropped in on an afternoon rehearsal.
It’s great to say goodbye in a very final way, then come back and see your friends an extra time.
Aaron was already improving things we’d talked about. I watched him take a short, rather rhetorical
scene about the strange omens in the air and make it illuminate both itself and other scenes of the play.
* * *
Now, from here to the end of today’s story is pure fiction. I’m making it up. It never happened.
I’d never do anything this stupid. I’d never doubt the wisdom of a government official.
I’d never allow anybody to bend a law for my benefit. The following is a false, made-up,
imaginary, fabricated tissue of lies, intended to admonish the reader against wrongdoing. So….
Newark Airport, the weekend before xmas is a very popular place.
At security, the I.D. checker was baffled by my single-named drivers’s license. He called over two
of his co-workers to savor it and hold up the line. I explained that the “NFN Teller” was not some
weird foreign word, but an abbreviation for No First Name. One of the co-workers asked if I were a rock
star, and I wondered what rock stars must look like nowadays.
“I’ve never had anybody at security have a problem with this before,” I remarked witlessly.
The security man replied, “Well, that’s because we’re different people. They used to sub-contract this work.
Now we’re the federal government, so we have to check everything better and make sure.” He seemed proud
of what a good job he was doing, protecting good citizens from the unimonikered.
So, I put my stuff on the belt at the security checkpoint and sent it through the X-ray machine. When my
briefcase emerged, a security woman pulled it off and asked to search it. It wasn’t a real question;
it was a “magician’s choice.”
The security woman said, “The x-ray shows something long and thin. Do you know what it could be?”
I didn’t have a clue. I carry lots of electronics; charges and plugs. I told her to go ahead and
look. She went through the pockets and pulled out my spare computer battery. It still wasn’t the
right shape, so she dug deeper. I expected her to challenge my Kindle.
Then her eyes bugged and she pulled out a mat knife I had borrowed from the tech room at the theater to work on some props in my hotel room.
She asked why I was taking it on the plane. I said, “I didn’t remember I had it there. I was using
it this week for work.”
I resisted the impulse to tell her the details: that I had used the blade to cut slits in miniature
toy basketballs full of stage blood.
Then she smiled sympathetically and said, “It happens to lots of people. When’s your flight?”
I told her. Then she palmed the knife. I mean palmed it. Held it in her hand, curved against her side,
so that nobody would notice.
She led me towards her supervisor’s station. But the supervisor was on break. She flashed
the knife discreetly at a colleague and nodded towards me.
Then she suddenly turned and asked me, “Are you on HBO? My friend says you’re on HBO.”
“Showtime,” I corrected reflexively, assuming that would seem an equally terrorism-free network.
“Sure!” said the male colleague. “Penn & Teller’s BS!”
A portly, bespectacled security worker came up, grinning. “I love you guys.” He sidled up to the
woman and she discreetly handed off the knife to him, so that it was now hidden in his palm.
“How about we just throw this away and you leave the ‘tools’ at home next time? Otherwise
you may be here for a while…”
It’s always nice to encounter fans. And these fans were trying to be kind. But accepting their offer
would make me complicit in the system. The bad laws would stand, and the next forgetful person
wouldn’t be so lucky.
Still, I’d just had nine days of climbing the “Macbeth” mountain. I’d stretched myself to make something
palpably good, something that might actually bring a great play to a new audience.
In Red Bank, I was making a difference.
So I thanked the security man, left the screening area, had a grilled chicken sandwich,
and wrote this. One learns to choose one’s battles.