The Binghamton University theatre department’s virtual fall production of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” will take place this Thursday, Oct. 22 and Sunday, Oct. 25 after two performances last week. The play entails superstition, suspense and madness in a Scottish tale of fate. The production, originally planned for last spring, chose to return for the fall along with some cast members who graduated last year.
The cast had just started rehearsal when the COVID-19 shutdown started, according to assistant director Samantha Goss, a senior double-majoring in theatre and English.
“Over the summer we decided to continue doing ‘Macbeth’ this semester and invited some of the actors that graduated last semester in their original roles that they had been cast for,” Goss said. “Since it was already underway from last spring, it was easy to move forward.”
Even though the show is online, the production still involved traditional elements of theatre production.
“Our department wanted to go all in,” Goss said. “We wanted to use costumes, sound, lighting and have the whole effect that you would have if you were in the theatre.”
During the show, actors appear in boxes on screen, with effects and background images changing throughout the scenes. Goss said the tech team used an application to pull images from Zoom and put them into a second system called Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). With that, actors were placed into boxes in pre-queued sets.
“The actors use the same sort of webcam and they use filters,” Goss said. “The actors themselves also switch the lights and work with their props.”
James Brannigan, a junior double-majoring in theatre and English, plays a witch in “Macbeth” and added more insight into the structure of the theatrical presentation.
“It’s all of us in our Zoom boxes — the size of the boxes, where we are on the screen and when we appear and disappear is all controlled,” Brannigan said. “Behind the boxes are really cool renderings of the scenery like the castle and the foggy woods, it’s one image behind all of us.”
Brannigan said that the visual aspects that the creative team worked on during production added depth to the show.
“This is really involved, there’s a lot of detail and a lot of work has been put into the visual representation,” Brannigan said. “I think when I heard it was going to be done over Zoom I expected a more toned-down, minimalist approach. But this is the opposite. They are throwing everything they can at the design and it’s really cool.”
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of society and has had a large impact on theatre. Goss explained how the team adapted to these new circumstances with rehearsals and communication.
“Rehearsals are different [since] we are all used to being together,” Goss said. “It was a learning curve as rehearsals were happening online. It was really cool to see how it came together. The whole creative team worked incredibly hard.”
Brannigan was cast in the spring production of the show. He still wanted to participate when it was rescheduled for this fall, but said the process of rehearsal has been different this semester.
“It’s been a lot more sitting down, that’s for sure, but I think the fundamental difference at least for me is that it’s a lot more difficult being spontaneous and discovering things about a scene in the moment with the other cast members,” Brannigan said. “It takes a lot more work on one’s own and a lot more work with the script, it’s a lot more self-reliant process.”
The show is live — not prerecorded. Goss said that this aspect made the theatre experience authentic for viewers who cannot attend it in person.
“Everything happening is live so there is room for error like there would be normally,” Goss said. “We are bringing that live theatre experience to you, wherever you are.”
As theatre continues to adapt to COVID-19, Goss expressed excitement for the future of the field as it evolves alongside technology.
“I think it’s cool we were able to bridge this gap and figure out there is a way to do theatre,” Goss said. “I think it’s possible that some theatre [groups] will have virtual performances even after all the restrictions are laxed. It’s a platform where people can be together from all over and create a performance without having to be in the same spot.”
Charles Meckley, ‘20, plays a witch in the show. He explained how the process was different from other acting experiences.
“The most difficult part was envisioning the final project because when we started, it was very unsure,” Meckley said. “I graduated and I wasn’t sure what the show would be like. After lockdown it was nice to be back acting, but it was a challenge to be online.”
Meckley said that the acting process can be disrupted by Zoom since there isn’t a live audience to work with.
“Acting is so much working off the energy of people with you in the room,” Meckley said. “When you have the disconnect of a video call it can be challenging. I think the amount of production that we were able to achieve with costumes and lighting will surprise people.”
“Macbeth” was written by the English playwright William Shakespeare in the 1600s, but its themes continue to be relevant today. Meckley said aspects of the play’s chaotic nature are especially true to today’s world.
“The witches are just so chaotic and their purpose, in a way, is to meddle in human affairs and put awful things in motion,” Meckley said. “It does feel reminiscent of this world where all of the bad things keep piling on. That reminds me of the world today, where chaotic things keep happening.”
Brannigan encourages people to see the show as it will be a unique experience.
“I think it will be literally unlike anything we have seen before,” Brannigan said. “Because of our unique circumstances and the incredible creativity from the cast, design team, directors, virtual stage managers and everyone.”
The BU theatre department’s “Macbeth” will be streamed this Thursday, Oct. 22 and Sunday, Oct. 25. Tickets are $6 and can be bought through the Anderson Center’s website.