Produced by: We Players
Featuring: Ava Roy, Mackenszie Drae, Lauren Dietrich Chavez, Lila Popell, Mae Capron, Brian Smick, Nikolas Strubbe, Benjamin Stowe, James Udom, Steve Boss, Julie Douglas, Caroline Parsons and Maria Leigh
Directed by: Ava Roy and John Hadden
When: Previews August 30-September 1; opens September 5, runs through October 13, 2013, Thursdays through Sundays.
Where: Fort Point, at the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco
Note: Use the bathrooms outside the Fort; once inside, the doors close for the three hours of the production
Tickets:$30-$60; call 415-547-0189 or visit www.weplayers.org SPECIAL NOTE: Because of the federal government shutdown, the Saturday, October 5, 2013, performance is to take place at the Civil War Parade Ground at the Main Post of the Presido, 34 Graham Street, San Francisco. Remaining performances, according to the We Players website, are take place elsewhere or be canceled. Ticket-holders are to be notified via email.
Read a San Francisco Chronicle story about the move to the Presidio.
Maybe the spookiest of places to stage "Macbeth," perhaps the darkest of Shakespeare's tragedies, would be in some ancient Scottish castle. Maybe even in Inverness Castle, which stands on the grounds that once held a castle in which the real Macbeth murdered someone.
But the current castle on that site the third or fourth to stand there, starting in 1057, is relatively modern: It was begun in 1835.
And the other issue is, the San Francisco Bay Area doesn't have any ancient Scottish castles.
But it does have Fort Point, built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers beginning in 1853. Back then, the main worries were Spain and Britain. But then came the Civil War, and in 1861, the first cannon was mounted and the fort occupied by troops, by order of Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston. Born in Kentucky, Johnston then resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army. He was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, along with thousands of other Confederate and Union soldiers in what was the bloodiest battle of the war to that date.
Fort Point itself never saw action during the Civil War. In the 1930s the Golden Gate Bridge rose above it, casting shadow over its often fog-shrouded walls. In 1960, President Richard Nixon signed a law creating the Fort Point National Historic Site.
Today it is operated by the National Park Service. It's a fabulous place to visit and has been featured in some movies, including "Vertigo" and "Point Blank."
And it is almost custom-made to stage a fabulous, overwhelming production of "Macbeth."
"The spaces are so dramatic, so charged," said Ava Roy, artistic director of We Players, which is staging "Macbeth" at Fort Point from August 30 through October 6, 2013.
The idea is, an audience of maybe 150 people enters Fort Point and the doors are closed behind them. It's three hours of screaming, bloody Shakespeare, with sword fights and treachery and witches and madness, and hiking up and down four stories of the 160-year-old building, gusts of wind off the ocean to help rattle your nerves as Lady Macbeth tries to wash the blood off her hands and the ghost of Banquo disturbs the dinner party.
Especially for a play so dripping in theatrical superstitions. Some theater people think "Macbeth" is cursed, so don't utter its title. Instead, it is called "The Scottish Play." Supposedly, if an actor says the title in the theater prior to performance, he or she must leave the building, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in. The Three Witches incantations are not to be said before a show (which must make rehearsal difficult for the superstitiously inclined).
We Players don't worry too much about those superstitions, says Roy.
"We all call it "Macbeth," all the time," she said. "I don't worry about it, for two reasons.
"Because every place we work is not a normal stage. Everywhere we go is a potential stage.
"The other thing is it's really happening in the energy of the play ... All the energies that are awakened in the work stay in the play."
It's We Players second time to stage "Macbeth" at Fort Point; the unusual company staged "The Scottish Play" there in 2008.
"This is a very, very different creation," Roy said. "The whole design is different. The first time we had the audience broken into three groups, three overlapping trajectories through the space, with multiple people playing multiple parts.
"This time it is one, processional story, with one actor as Macbeth, and one actor as Lady Macbeth."
The audience is still split, into two groups, but they start together, then sometimes take different routes to get to the same place, where the two groups would see the same scene, but from different vantage points.
Or they might each see the scenes at slightly different times.
"You might be able to hear screams in the background, before you see the scene," said Roy. "Things like that don't disrupt the flow.
"It's a very complicated trajectory and show flow," Roy said. "It's been interesting, challenging and complex just to sort it all out."
For instance, no stage manager in a central place to feed cues to actors. Instead, actors are trained to respond to trumpet cues and other bits in the show.
"Each of the actors has their own route through the space. Everybody moving all of the different ways," Roy said.
When We Players staged "The Odyssey" at Angel Island, Roy said, there was a 30-page manual for the actors about how to move around.
We Players have also staged shows at Alcatraz, and on historic ships at Hyde Street Pier.
The company began when Roy, now 32, was 19 years old and a student at Stanford.
"I actually started with Shakespeare when I was 13, in Massachusetts," Roy said. "I had never visited Stanford, I had no idea what it was like. I just wanted to go to California, and got a scholarship. I found this beautiful but somewhat bizarre country club. I didn't know how to relate to this place, or to going to college.
"So, We Players started as a way to build a connection to my space ... I thought, I can use this space, the Stanford campus, as my playground."
And so the first of We Players' non-traditional stagings of plays took place among the beautiful colonnades and trees of that campus.
"I must love the adrenalin rush" of the challenge of producing in such unusual spaces as an old fort or federal prison, Roy explained. "It is addictive, so inspiring, always changing," she said. "I keep adding and developing skills ... each site has its own set of challenges. It keeps me growing and alive. I don't get to have a bag of tricks, because for every site the dynamics and challenges are so different that I have to develop new skills and responses to each site."
For instance, at Fort Point, she said, "How do we use the shifts of the wind, rather than being overpowered by them?"
And how do they move around the lighting, the set pieces? All a challenge.
Here is some information from an invitation to a preview of "Macbeth" at Fort Point:
"Prepare yourself for the sound and fury of the elements ... Fort Point is a very cold place. Long underwear, down jackets, windbreakers, hats and gloves are recommended. "You will be on your feet throughout the three-hour event, and navigating narrow passageways, spiraling stone staircases and dark chambers. If you have any mobility disabilities, be sure to state so on your registration form.
"There are no bathrooms within the Fort. Provisions exist for emergencies, but in the absence of such circumstances, the doors of the Fort will remain sealed for the duration once we go in, we're in.
"We will offer tea and snacks at a few places to keep you fueled.
We Players does not recommend bringing children less than 12 years old. Parts of the Fort are dark and creepy, it is COLD and DAMP, and there is a good deal of violence in this play."
Roy who laughs a lot and is completely charming in conversation is tickled by the challenge of rehearsing in a public space a national park during public hours.
"There are regular visitors watching the rehearsals," she said. "It interesting to watch them. They maybe see a sword fight up above, or the three sisters. Here are these open-mouthed visitors, sort of rooted to the spot, watching what we are doing. ... It's cool to have that kind of immediate connection in real time."
It's a win-win for We Players and for the park. It helps build the theater audience as the park rangers explain what's going on, and the shows draw attention to the park. "It's not just this historical piece of architecture," Roy said.
"I'm very sensitive to the energy of the stage," said Roy. "There is a differentiation between superstition and happy caution.
"There is, for instance, a very dark energy on Alcatraz (where the company staged "Hamlet" in 2010, and also did a three-year residency that included an art show, youth events and symposium). Not ghosts or anything like that, but we remained respectful of the energy of the place ... there is information in its stones, in its story.
"I'm a sailor," said Roy, who has a 43-foot wooden ketch she keeps in Richmond, and sails when she has time after a show closes. "As a sailor, you want to stay alert and aware. It's like that with theater. You want to be aware of what happens between the character, the actor, the space ... the relation between things."
Roy and the We Players have already been working for months on this show at Fort Point.
"It's like sand painting," Roy said. "We work so hard, so hard, to make something beautiful, then it evaporates.
"But it stays in hearts and minds. There is that kind of spiritual release in the creative process in general. You work really hard to put it together ... then you let it go."