CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- I clambered up a steep flight of stairs to a massive door, and turned the ornate brass knob. The door swung inward onto a maelstrom of activity: The actors engaged in sword play, members of the company rapidly crossing the great space on their various errands, a set of drums being moved in, all of it a living, vibrant machine assembling the night’s rehearsal for Macbeth. Tina, the Stage Manager, greeted me warmly and found me a seat. I settled myself under the rightly painted canopy of Hubbard Hall’s ceiling, and allowed the paradox to mold itself around me: the light and buoyancy of the atmosphere paired with the wintry ferocity of Macbeth. There was a joyful strength of intention crackling in the air. That pervasive, electric spirit is always present whenever I have come to Hubbard Hall for any production. I felt the spark of anticipation kindle in me for the rehearsal.
The Hall itself is never the same, imbued with the magical malleability of a true theatre. I took in the intricacies of the building, the warmth of the wood, the red velvet stage curtain that seemed to carry a sigh as it softly bellied out. The lovingly restored details contrasted with the renovations of the lighting system, everything a repository of the Hall’s memories and performances for so many years. Built in 1878 by Martin Hubbard, Hubbard Hall is now the last remaining opera house in Washington County, New York.
John Hadden, Macbeth’s director, came over to welcome me and offer some enlightenment about the sword fights that had me mesmerized. No wonder the place had a sheen of warmth, with all the slashing, thrusting, lunging, parrying, and striding around in the center space. He told me about how having the fight rehearsals first generates and moves the energy for the company, how stage combat is ultimately about everyone taking care of each other. He spoke about how the violence in Macbeth illustrates and shows people the core wound, allows it to be examined: "It’s like a cross-section of the Earth’s crust Š fire and explosion Š the intimacy of violence on stage."
I already sensed and saw the enviable bond of the cast. The swords were part of the language; flashing and clanging, severing the truth of the lives the characters thought they could count on, laying open new truths for them to dare to engage with.
Rehearsal began in earnest, and the layers of activity in the center space melded in front of me. John Sutton, photographer, arrived. He and his camera followed the action with a silken precision, the visual scribe. The taut underscore binding the ensemble together is the dedication to the language, to the sound and the story it brings, giving it the tangible life that acting breathes into it. There is a surety in this that allows for risk, for experimentation. It is obvious to me the actors trust Hadden’s ebullient, incisive direction. Already they morph from one character to another, one gender to another, and spiral through a variety of ages, occupations, and class structures. In a very brief amount of time, I see the nuances of their characters deepen as they speak their lines and bond with the language. The language is elemental. It is different and exquisitely foreign to our ears as 21st Century Americans -- and yet, it is still our language. It demands that the poetry be honored. The language of Shakespeare reveals the emotional journeys in Macbeth with a searing clarity, and provides us with the sounds to feed our story-starved hearts and souls. For story-starved we are, in our age of screens, emails, and tweets, to be able to take in what we can hear and allow it to grow and encourage the exploration of the light and the dark in our hearts.
Two nights later I was back at Hubbard Hall. I could hardly wait to get there Š Lines from the play had been invading my consciousness at odd times over the past 48 hours, and I was finding my mind was wandering off to inhabit the story -- one I know well, but experiencing the rehearsal had opened it up again for me with exhilarating adventure and mystery. Theatre is about transformation, and the trust to allow it to happen -- for the actors as well as the audience. Macbeth is a play that gives no quarter for what it must have to be realized. There are dark places of blood, madness, horror -- and the ultimate, inevitable change of healing. This production promises to ante up the fullness of all the play’s intricacies.
Shakespeare’s words bind us and then unfurl us into the wild winds of change. I’m ready to take the plunge again this week into the cauldron at full-on toil and trouble, when Macbeth opens on Friday, March 8, at 8 p.m. Are you?
There will be a "pay-what-you-will" open rehearsal on today at 7:30 p.m. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 24. Tickets are $25. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.hubbardhall.org/theatre or call 518-677-2495.