Thursday, December 6, 2012

Production Diary: Andrew Cuk on Three Witches

Production Diary Written on the Eve of Opening Night
by Andrew Cuk
6 December 2011

5 December 2012
Tomorrow night we open.

29 July
First night that my anxiety woke me up at three in the morning. What was I thinking? A devised theatre piece based on Macbeth with a group of third year acting, design and technical students in the Professional Theatre program at John Abbott College. Am I crazy? I’ll have three weeks to improv and devise a  90- minute non-linear script, but most of the decisions about cast and production must be made by the beginning of the school term in August. Whose idea was this? Oh yeah, mine. Good thinking, Andy.

29 August
The night before my first meeting with the set and costume designer. No script. My colleagues tease me by asking how’s the script going. There is no script. It’s a “devised” piece. It will be written with the actors. The student designers are worried. No script. How can they design a set and costumes for 21 actors with no script? They will hang on every word I say. They want me to have all the answers. I don’t have all the answers. No script. Still waking up almost every night in a panic.

29 October
Set and costume design presentation and the first day of rehearsal. We have a set design and maquette. Costume renditions for 33 characters and 12 theatrical masks. A preliminary props list. Three songs written by Montreal composer Janet Warrington. And a structure of 13 scenes. How appropriate for a play entitled Three Witches...13. No script.

19 November
A script. Been improvising around sections of the Macbeth text, the Holinshed Chronicles that Shakespeare himself used to write his play, as well as my movement and visual ideas for a play centered around the women in the story: the ones Shakespeare included (Ladies Macbeth and Macduff) and the ones he either hinted at or never mentioned (King Duncan’s queen and Lady Banquo). Lady Macbeth was sourced from two women in Holinshed’s history of Scotland. They are left unnamed, just bad wives and ambitious women. Also, the witches. We started with the question, who are the real witches in Macbeth? The witches are there in Holinshed as in Shakespeare, but they only predict. They do not force Macbeth to do anything, despite their bubbling cauldron. Men not taking responsibility for their own actions. History written by men. The women are scapegoats. At best, they can only hope to be ignored. The script. Not as non-linear as I had set out to make. More humour than I originally intended. Had to fight the tendency in the exploratory rehearsals and in writing to spoof the play. The witches’ musical numbers, the scene with the apparitions...lots of comic possibilities there. But I don’t want the National Lampoon version of the Scottish play.

23 November
What have I done? Struggled all week with the script. It’s all terrible. Let the actors out of rehearsal early for their weekend break. Want to go home, have a drink and a cry. Breathe. It’s not all bad. Some scenes are working, some will work with rehearsal. But some need revising. The end isn’t working. Need a new scene too. Go back to Shakespeare’s play to mine it again. I always seem to find Lady Macbeth’s mad scene an inspiration.

25 November
8 pages of script changes for tomorrow’s rehearsal and we start techs in four days.  Every time I’ve read Lady M’s mad scene and her line “the Thane of Fife had a wife,” I’ve always been reminded of the old nursery poem “The Queen of Hearts” and her stolen tarts. Have a new scene.

LADY MACDUFF: The Thane of Fife, he had a wife all on a summer’s day.
LADY MACBETH: Where is she now?
QUEEN SYBILLA: The King of Scots, he had a wife and she’s been put away.
LADY MACBETH: Where is she now?
LADY BANQUO: The noble Banquo, he had a wife, she never had a say.
LADY MACBETH: Where is she now?
LADY MACDUFF: I’m here, but not here anymore.
LADY BANQUO: I’m here but never was at all.
QUEEN SYBILLA: I’m here but only as a relic.
LADY BANQUO: The Thane of Glamis,...
QUEEN SYBILLA: ...he had a wife...
LADY MACDUFF: ...and she was in a play.
QUEEN SYBILLA, LADY MACDUFF & LADY BANQUO: (To Lady Macbeth) Where are you now?
LADY MACDUFF: Blamed for it all.
QUEEN SYBILLA: Brought it on yourself.
LADY BANQUO: Cold and hard.
QUEEN SYBILLA: The witch of all witches.
LADY MACDUFF: Unmotherly.
 (They take LADY MACBETH off.)
QUEEN SYBILLA: The King of Clubs, he often drubbed his loving wife and queen.
LADY MACDUFF: The King of Spades, he kissed some maids and made his wife too mean.
LADY BANQUO: The Diamond King stepped in between and forced a love serene.
[SFX: Thunder.]

29-30 November
Cue to cue. Putting all the elements together. A very visual show, stylised movement, mask work. Takes more time, but we get through the 150 or so cues in the allotted time. Relief. Still lots to do. Monday we start tech runs with as many costumes as are ready. Sound effects giving us trouble. Less than a week before we open.

5 December
Tomorrow night we open. The sets, costume and lights look spectacular. I’m always amazed at the quality of the visuals in our productions here at Abbott. The soundscape and effects are working well now. The actors have really grasped the non-realistic nature of the piece and have made it their own. One more rehearsal. Maybe I’ll sleep through the night.

Three Witches

written and directed by Andrew Cuk
John Abbott College Professional Theatre Production
December 6-8 & 11-15 @ 8:00 PM
Casgrain Theatre, John Abbott College, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue
Box office: 514-457-2447
Tickets: (search “john abbott”)
Poster by Maggi Macaulay

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