I saw the gates for the central door of the set today at the Two River Theater scene shop.
I went all the way to the back of the building, where polka music was alternating with hard rock.
Those gates. Holy cow. Gates of hell. 800 pounds of twisted, welded steel. The guy who welded
them is Brian, twenties, a very serious artist who takes to compliments with almost grim attention.
Then I went to the theater, to work on the first scene of the Weird Sisters.
It pays to come into rehearsals with ideas unfinished, so the actors can do what they’re good at.
I’m glad we have good actors, because Aaron is throwing me into rehearsals and saying, “It’s your time.
Work on this scene however you want.” And very often, what I have is 3/5 of a good idea and the ability
to recognize the remainder when the actors pull stuff out of themselves.
(I should mention, when I say “I” in connection with magic, I really mean “Matt Holtzclaw and I.”
We are thinking more or less as one person; Matt’s a collaborator so perfect that he seems to
read my mind and send thoughts back into it.)
That said, when you have smart, literate, and enthusiastic theater actors, what comes out of it can
transform an okay idea into something astonishing. So, today Aaron threw me onstage with the
Weird Sisters and Banquo (subsequently joined by Macbeth) and said, “Work on the All Hail” scene.
Well, we started off with a burst of excitement. Frank Ippolito, our west-coast special effects makeup
and sculpture artist had sent the “first draft” of one of the Weird Sister’s faces. It was awesome.
Terrifying. Unearthly. We spent about ten minutes just feeling joyful about this. We also had the
Raped Bride sister outfit and the Hooded Hooker Sister, because both are used in tricks. Devon Painter
the costume designer and Dan Conway the set designer both kept coming in and out of the rehearsal and
helping when we needed it.
This is really the first time I’ve seen the Weird Sisters in action. One, Dan, is white,
rail thin, 30-ish, intense, funny, exceptionally imaginative and inventive. One, Eric, is white,
medium build, bearded, strong, versatile (he plays four roles) – a lead actor cast to give richness
to multiple small roles. The third is Cleo, black, late twenties, big bodybuilder, with a grand and
powerful voice and a willingness to dare anything.
We also had Banquo, Italian, lean, quietly intense, the thoughtful type. And later Ian Peakes,
our Macbeth, white, late thirties, athletic, hair like an almost shaved Marine crewcut, with a
charming, goofy quality welded to a very aggressive, disturbing presence.
So our big task, Matt and I decided, was to try and work out the exits/vanishes of the Sisters
when they first encounter Macbeth. So we did what Penn and I often do, we just force our
way thought the scene and think on our feet.
In these notes, I’m not going to tell how the tricks are done. That’s stuff I’ll
write about after the show is over, but I really don’t want to blow the fun for
the audience. So I’ll be a little evasive.
Sister Cleo, the bodybuilder (envisioned as a child-murderer ghoul), leaves rather simply.
Sister Eric (the Raped Bride) leaves with a very eerie movement trick that Matt and I
invented, based on something he’d recalled from horror movie demons. Sister Dan
(the Hooded Hooker) suddenly disappears.
Well, we were having trouble working out the movement that makes Sister Dan go.
Now, we are doing an insanely complicated, massive production with a small company of fanatics
(and, might I add, brilliant ones) and a limited budget. That means everybody has to pour
every ounce of creativity into solving every problem. Nobody waits to be told. Everybody
in any given rehearsal contributes ideas. This is Aaron Posner’s way and it’s the only
way we can hope to pull this extravaganza off.
So Paul (Banquo) took me aside and said, after several runs, “I think Macbeth and I are too passive.
The Sisters are aggressive and we’re soldiers. I think we’d fight back.” I sent Angie the assistant
stage manager to find swords. She brought back a 4’ stick. I broke it in half and Angie bound
the broken ends with tape for safety, and now Mac and Banquo had swords.
This changed everything. Now both the Sisters and the humans were at each other, supernatural
vs. steel, and the whole scene came to life; but more than that, the conflict was now the
misdirection we needed to get our dirty work done. Even though we, sitting in the empty
theater, could actually see where vanishing people were going, we felt and saw a person vanish onstage.
That’s all I can say without saying too much. But this all happened because Paul told us what he,
as an actor, needed to make the scene become truthful for him. His truth gave us the lie we needed.