Pomona College’s production of “Macbeth” debuted this Thursday, presenting a chilling take on the 17th century Shakespearean tragedy. The classic story of power, deception and betrayal still tackles the roots of human behavior, but this production recontextualizes the plot for a modern audience with updates like gender-bent casting and modern musical transitions.
TSL sat down with “Macbeth” assistant director Taelor Hansen PO ’21 and leading duo Madeleine Kerr HM ’20 (Macbeth) and Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20 (Lady Macbeth) to discuss their roles in the production, the rehearsal process and favourite moments of the play.
TSL: What is exciting about your role?
Madeleine Kerr HM ’20: The reason why I love really any role, but [Macbeth] in particular, is just seeing something that … has been done so, so, so, so many times, [and exploring it] as if I had never read it before. The words are so fun, beautiful and cool. And there’s so many little treasure pieces, like easter eggs, hidden everywhere [in the play]. I just like the process of exploring.
Shringi Diva Vikram SC ’20: I think that people have so many preconceived notions of what [Lady Macbeth] should present us and what she should be. I wanted to find what she meant to me specifically and not to everybody else. I wanted to find her heart as opposed to just playing her as somebody bad, somebody evil, somebody in cahoots [with other people]. …
The gender dynamic is super interesting to me, because in the beginning, when I initially started looking at her, it seemed to me that she’s in a really difficult position because she wants all these things. But she’s also eaten away by guilt, and she doesn’t get credit for anything she’s done eventually either, and I wanted to explore that as well. …
I think maybe on a personal level, there’s [also] a vindication to coming on stage as a South Asian person doing Shakespeare, because [language] was such a common colonizing tool at that time.
Taelor Hansen PO ’21: My role [as assistant director] is to observe, which is, I think, really special. I’ll send notes to our director, so I’m taking notes, but it’s not like being the sole director where I’m constantly thinking, “What do I have to fix?” It’s cool because I’m … getting to watch everything play out and [can] try to push it in certain directions, but that is not as important as just being a support to the actors and a support to our director.
MK: Yes, [Taelor] is so supportive. Oh my god. There have been many times where I’m just like, “Ah shit, everything’s going to shit. I don’t know what I’m doing. What is happening? Why am I here?” And then I just have a conversation with Taelor and am like, “All right. It might be shit right now, but you know what, she believes in me. So I’ll just do better next time.”
TSL: Tell me a bit about your rehearsal process. What was it like? How did you prepare for your role?
MK: Preparing started as soon as we got cast for me. I got the script as soon as I got cast. I read it like 20 times over winter break. … I felt like I was already 30 percent memorized before rehearsal started because I just had read it a lot, because I just wanted to know all the ins and outs.
SDV: I think what’s been really valuable in terms of preparation, though, is the work that we’ve done together, and the work we’ve done [individually] with Taelor and Diana as well. There’s been so much giving and love involved in it. It’s just a lot of trust involved. It’s such a vulnerable thing to come up [and put] all my emotions in this play … [and] it’s been really nice to know that there’s been people there who support that.
TH: Rehearsal started out like a four-hour English seminar every night for six days. … So from six to 10 p.m., everyone — every person in the cast — [was] sitting around a big table, reading through the script and analyzing it. And it was possibly the most exhausting part of the process for me, at least. And then after reading the scripts in-depth, and letting people get to know their characters and understand the meaning of everything that they’re saying, Diana and I let them kind of go with their instincts and put it on stage and then we started blocking, polishing, doing more character work. We had a fight choreographer come and an intimacy choreographer come to work on different intimate moments. So that’s kind of how rehearsal started off.
TSL: Obviously, Macbeth is a classic play. What do you think sets this production apart from others?
MK: I feel like gender is a really interesting [aspect]. Everyone, every character approaches [the] gender of their characters meaningfully in their own way. There’s a lot of gender-bent casting. … It was hard for me at first, [because] I was like, “Oh gosh, I have to make a big decision about what [Macbeth’s] gender will be.” The more I kept thinking about gender, it was just getting convoluted. And I felt like I was losing what is the text and what is the character. … It felt the most right [for me to keep Macbeth’s original pronouns].
SDV: We did talk about … [the traits of] masculinity and femininity we have in ourselves, letting those come out whenever they needed to and not trying to direct “Okay, now we’re going to be masculine,” or “Now, we’re going to be feminine.” … It’s interesting to also have two [female actors], when one woman is saying, “Be like a man.” [And she’s] shaming the other person by saying … “You’re not manly enough. You’re not masculine enough.” And that tension was an interesting one to explore as well.
TSL: What do you think has been done to modernize the play?
MK: There’s so many things about what is being said that is modern or timeless. … The root of human behaviour, some of that stuff, is timeless. So it’s current because it’s how people are. Some people make bad choices.
TH: It feels like we’re not reimagining the show, we’re recontextualizing it. We’re not trying to do a new thing more than we are trying to figure out where it fits in our world and in our community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Macbeth is currently being showcased at Pomona College’s Seaver Theatre from March 5-8. General admission tickets ($11) and student, staff, faculty and senior tickets ($6) can be purchased online.