Dear Peter, does darkness or light inspire/drive you?
This is a fascinating question and I wonder if our fellow humans could consider it in their own lives. I particularly like the inspire/drive. They are synonyms but have different connotations. I could spend some time unpicking which productions and projects I have been driven by or inspired by… but I will deal with darkness and light here and I will limit myself to my journey with Shakespeare in relation to one play, Macbeth.
I have a long association with this remarkable play. First as a theatre-in-education production I directed in New Zealand at the age of 20. We took three actors into schools much as we do with The Players at Bell Shakespeare. The conceit was the students could interview the characters, so it was really a study in power and rabid narcissism.
…a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
It was meta-theatrical and although full of darkness was ostensibly a thing of delight. Its purpose was to engage and split open the play for the students, to shake them loose from the classroom. I was driven by lightness and the endless potential of the theatre and the project worked because of it.
I next directed the play for the first ever national tour for Bell Shakespeare in 1997. This production was driven by a punk sensibility and focused on violence and chaos. I blush a little at the memory. Although full of wonderful moments and terrific performances this was a blunt instrument. I was driven by darkness. And the play suffered for it.
Many years later, in 2012 I again directed Macbeth for Bell Shakespeare with Dan Spielman and Kate Mulvany. This production focused on the poetry and was concerned with loneliness. I had just turned 40 and was shocked how the play had changed under me. It was less about violence, well, physical violence, but now about psychological violence and trauma. It was about the breakdown of a marriage and the loneliness of power. The single figure on the stage, lost on the heath, is the image I associate with the production.
…I am sick at heart …
I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf,
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have.
I was driven by a melancholy darkness. Not unpleasant, not light, but thoughtful and deep and the production benefitted from it.
Then over the last four years I have had the pleasure to work as an associate director on Hecate, Yirra Yaarkin Theatre Company’s translation of Macbeth into Noongar. A complete delight. Although there was much sadness along the journey often concerning the traumatic history of the Noongar language, the project was full of love and care and I felt nourished and blessed to be part of it. The play was cherished by these artists and flourished under it.
Recently I have been looking at the play again for a new production.
[A cry within of women]
What is that noise?
It is the cry of women, my good lord.
I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek…
…I have supp’d full with horrors:
Direness familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me. Wherefore was that cry?
The queen, my lord, is dead.
To forget the taste of fears. To know one has lost feeling, is to me, hopelessness. It is a kind of hell. I love this section of the play. I find it profound.
This play is as dark as anything could be, and often brings me to tears. But my tears are driven by sadness and joy. That Macbeth could so express his state of mind. That Shakespeare could identify and capture such depth of feeling is humanity at its best.
The answer to your question Lachlan, is both. Shakespeare demands that. We must hold more than one idea in our heads at once, often contradictory, but each is dependent on the other.
The plays require darkness and light from you. The productions I am least proud of have a surfeit of one or the other or not enough of either. An indifference. Can you believe it? But yes. Sometimes it happens.
As I get older and hopefully a little wiser, I understand that balance and care are required. And that drives and inspires me.
P.S. Lachlan asked another question which made me smile:
Is love not love which alters when it alteration finds? (with apologies to Sonnet 116)