January 22, 2016
Matt Enos, Director of Macbeth
QDF: Is this the first experience as a director?
Matt: No, not plays, no. I mean, it is my first Shakespearean production. I have done lots of scene studies and coaching for auditions. I have directed smaller sections of Shakespeare. And this one is my first full production, so it is pretty exciting. The last time I officially directed something was in the Fringe Festival a few years ago. It was a one-woman show, which was exciting and was a big challenge since there was just one actress. The show was called The Sky is Exploding. Rena Hunbert was the writer and actress. I directed it. Other than that, I have been into actor training and acting coaching.
QDF: What do you think is the hardest part about directing a Shakespearean show compared to a contemporary play?
Matt: It is half language and half relationships, especially with this play [Macbeth] because you have a series of events for which there is almost no frame of reference. So, in a lot of ways, you have to get actors to get out of their own ways and to be open to whatever is right in front of them, which is a very scary thing. (Matt laughs). You can’t really hide from it because these are the hugest moments and some of the highest stake moments in all of Shakespeare. The second thing that Lady Macbeth says to him is “Yeah, we’re going to kill him.” It’s the second thing that comes out of her month. “You’re home from war, yeah ok, well we’re going to kill him now.” It is like holy shit, how do we go into that and not present something artificial? How do we get a genuine connection and genuine reaction to that? So, that is the hardest part, the stakes and making the language understandable. The language is always a challenge but it is less of a challenge than the situations.
QDF: How much work did you do before entering the rehearsal process?
Matt: Well, just by dumb luck, I have read it many, many times in my life, in high school and then again just like “Oh, a copy of Macbeth.” (Matt laughs). I studied in England a few years ago; I did a master’s degree there; one of our projects we had to do was to contrast Shakespeare’s Macbeth with the Restoration Macbeth in performance to see what the differences are. [The Restoration Macbeth] was rewritten in the 1660s by William Davenant. They were only allowed to have two working theatres in that time, and he used to rewrite a lot of Shakespeare for his company. It was just to make it more accessible to his audience, which was like a court audience. He added things like a flying machine for the witches. All kinds of crazy things were added in. The language is different, it is much easier to understand, but it is a lot crappier because of that. [While reading it, the readers will think:] “I can’t believe you rewrote that line, to just make it that.” It is also highly stylized, as the restoration is very flare, full of style and the costumes are very flamboyant. We are doing the original.
QDF: What is different from Raise the Stakes Theatre’s version of Macbeth?
Matt: Raise the Stakes Theatre is building new foundations in the Montreal classical theatre scene. Our approach is inspired by the conventions of Shakespeare’s times – the traditional plays on the Globe stage and in the royal court. We’re looking to recreate the intimate, immersive experience of playing up close and personal with our audiences, and redefining the fourth wall. The growing company of actors aims to set the standard for independent classical theatre in this city. This is the third show that I have worked on with RTS; my theatre company, Jubilee Theatre, co-produced Much Ado About Nothing with them last year.
Through my experiences from London working with guys who are part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, we bring that added flavor to the production. The plays don’t have to be done in a certain way. I think the language has very strict rules that you have to learn and then break. We also bring other elements too, like being open to an improvisational spirit in rehearsal. I think it is very exciting when people go on stage and don’t have any plans during the rehearsal process. Just showing up, knowing the given circumstances, having your lines in your head and looking at the person makes me excited to see what’s going to happen. Rather than being “The scene has to be like this.” We can discover it together. And we keep some of it, even if it isn’t what the finished product will be. There are these little moments where we’ll be like “Oh, yeah, this is really exciting.”
QDF: How large is your cast and how do you manage to have rehearsal with all of them?
Matt: Oh jeeze, I would say 25 plus. It is a really big cast. We’ll see how we get through that (Matt laughs). No, but we have the best stage manager in the world. Alex Smith who has just coordinated everything. He’s done everything; he’s such a genius. So, he really keeps everything running on time. He’s like clockwork; he’s like “These guys are in and these ones are out.” But it is weird because from my standpoint, I just direct the play and maybe I don’t see people for a week or eight days in a row. And I’ll be like “Oh right, you’re in the play” (Matt laughs)
QDF: Since you don’t see them all at every rehearsal, do you still see their progress when they do come to rehearsal?
Matt: Yeah, well it is all about communication. I do send a lot of notes via email or phone calls. Checking in on people and saying to them: “This is what I think about the scene. For the next rehearsal, take a look at this.” We are doing a lot of exercises that I have picked up from my training in London based on the language. I have stolen some exercises from one of my friends who works at the Stratford Festival. I was with him a few weeks ago and I was like: “So, what do you guys do?”
QDF: Talking about Stratford, they are also putting on Macbeth this year. I have seen their pictures, and it makes me want to ask you where are you setting your Macbeth? Is it more in the Shakespearean period or a more contemporary setting?
Matt: In a sense, it is every time and no time. In that, I haven’t set it up anywhere in particular but there is a rule that I like when it comes to determining the timeframe. It is in a period with no electricity yet and that the society that we are representing has the monarch as their supreme ruler. So, when he goes for that power, its not like “he’s the CEO”, who gives a shit? (Matt laughs). You see some productions like that, they are all wearing suits, and he’s the CEO of such and such a global corporation. Great, but there are 50 other ones. I want it to be when you grasp the crown, your word is the law. I also wanted to focus on story, more than anything, story and relationships. Rather than try and set it in the place and fail, ‘cause it is very easy to fail doing that. Not to say that I haven’t tried that before but I have seen a lot of productions where it is just like it is set in such and such a time and there are just little elements that are there to suggest it but you [as an audience member] think of “Ok, but what about the rest of the world? What about the rest of the laws that would follow that in the world of the play?” To me, it leaves a lot of open-ended questions in the world of the play. Sometimes it works beautifully but there are other times where you are like what? (Matt laughs). I really wished you would have explained the rest of it.
QDF: I see that story is very important to you; how do you feel about the story of Macbeth?
Matt: I think like all good classics, it is an exploration of what it is to be human. I read a really good quote, I can’t remember where I read it in an essay but somebody said the real terror of Macbeth is that it is presenting the audience with the idea that they would do the same thing if it were presented to them. People would have an idea of what they would do, I am not saying that people would do this because it is extreme. A lot of people have an idea of who they are and what they would do in certain situations but a lot of them never have to face those situations. It is never put in front of them. It is obvious from the text that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have had this conversation before, about him becoming King by exactly these means. But all of a sudden, the entire world aligns and there it is. (Matt laughs) What are you going to do? Are you going to act on it or not? He almost doesn’t, right? That is the real exciting part for me. He goes: “This is what a man is, a man is someone who doesn’t do this.” And then, he is convinced. So whether he needed to be convinced or he really wanted to do it. That is what we are discovering through the rehearsal process.
QDF: The show is going up on Theatre Ste-Catherine, how are you staging it?
Matt: We have the regular stage. We also have the aisle, which is quite wide in our production. We are using that a lot for traffic but also for some scenes that will take place there right in the aisle, which is quite exciting for the audience because they are so close to it. You are really close to the action anyway, there is no hidden spots in TSC. And that is exciting too, because Shakespeare is played to the audience a lot of the time, much more in comedies than in tragedies. Still for scenes where the whole court is present or everyone who works in the castle is here, we have 60 extras right there that we can get involved. Same thing, when they have to rile up the troops, you are them. It works a lot better with them standing up but you can’t have it all (Matt laughs) [Asking the audience to stand up] it would not go so well. I think the Globe is the only place for that. At TSC, they would be most likely to say: “We want our chairs, we’re tired, we want to sit down.” (Matt laughs).
QDF: What are you doing to make the Shakespearean language more accessible to an audience?
Matt: If you really listen to what is written down, in terms of rhythm and everything else, and you do the work, that is what we are really pushing hard for our cast to be doing, through these exercises, it allows us to liberate the language and make it very understandable. Obviously there are certain parts and section of any Shakespeare that I go see, that my brain can’t process. It is hard to process it for three hours. This isn’t a three-hour play; it is about an hour 50 minutes. We’re trying to keep it tight and under two hours. For those audiences, the main thing is to really stick to the rhythm that Shakespeare set up. In his days, he would write the play on Thursday and then be like “Ok, guys, we’re up on Monday. Here are your lines.” They had very little rehearsal time. So, for me, what he was able to do, was to set it up for the strong beats of the language, take care of the intention a lot. You just have to put in the time to explore the rhythm and that is what we are after. Obviously with plot points, we know what is really important, so we are really going to focus on making really clear that the audience needs to understand. When we did Much Ado About Nothing, I had people who came to me after the show, said they had never seen a Shakespeare play before, and they understood every word of it. Both of them are fairly easy plays to follow. But it is great to hear that people with no experience with this text can enjoy it too. I think staying true to the language and making it sound like every day speech.
QDF: What would you say to an audience member who is debating between your show and another to get them in for your production?
Matt: That is a good question. I would say our Macbeth is action packed with live musicians with medieval instruments. We have a really strong and brave cast that will make choices that are dangerous in a way. I work by the principle that I like to be surprised in performances with what happens. It is not to say we do not have a plan, we have a strict plan but we are setting it up in a way that maybe this is new for the character, even before they say it. The language that comes out of their mouth surprises them. They have no idea what is happening and they are realizing it as they are saying it. It is minted on the spot – it is new.
Macbeth is playing from January 27th-February 7th
Presented by Raise the Stakes Theatre
Playing at Theatre Ste-Catherine