Thursday, September 21, 2017

Women on Shakespeare: Megan Bones on Lady Macbeth

Since most Shakespearean casts are male-heavy and even male-only, coverage tends to focus on men who create the work. Let's balance that out! We're wrapping up the second season of my interview series, Women in Shakespeare. I'm talking with the women who produce and perform Shakespeare and related work in New York City.

Megan Bones is one of three actors in Dzieci Theatre's Makbet. This radical staging invites the audience into a shipping container, where gypsies (or more properly, Romani) mount a wild, ritualistic version of Shakespeare's tragedy. Incidentally, the venue is managed by Sure We Can, a recycling center in Bushwick that provides a safe space for plastic & metal collectors to redeem their salvage, and encourage the arts and sustainable urban culture.

Let’s start with your 3-actor Macbeth. What have been the practical challenges in staging this epic drama with such a small cast?

For Dzieci Theatre’s production of Makbet. I really have to be on my toes the whole time. Knowing all of the lines and being able to jump from character to character requires a specific demand, but that is the easy part. The true challenge for all of us is to be present to the moment at all times.

How has the play been reshaped to accommodate three actors?

In order to accommodate three actors, we altered the text quite a bit. For example, some of the minor characters and plot points have been cut from the play, a few minor characters have been blended together into one character, and some significant plot-related lines have been redistributed to a character who doesn’t normally say the line. We also cut huge portions of the dialogue to reveal the “essence” of each scene.

What roles do you play?

The actors in our Makbet have learned the entire text and we switch from character to character throughout the evening. We use specific props to signify each character. It is highly improvisational, so I never know at the top of the show when I will be a certain character. [But] each night I play every major character at least once (Makbet, Lady Makbet, a weird sister, and Macduff). I often play many of the supporting roles as well (King Duncan, Malcom, Lady Macduff, and a handful of messengers).

What challenges stem from this approach to performing?

While it is challenging to shift from character at the drop of a hat (literally), that is what makes it so fresh. The ever-changing nature of this production allows for different aspects of the characters, the play itself, my fellow actors, and myself to be highlighted and to unfold on an ongoing basis. It is transformative and thrilling and the play just gets richer and richer. I love how surprising it is every night. I love it when the cast is so attuned to one another and the whole thing just “clicks”. While it can be a wild ride at times, the simple, quite, honest moments, stand out the most, especially when the choice made by the actors is contrary to how one would stereotypically play that scene. A hushed battle scene can be so remarkable! But these favorite moments stem from an effort by the entire cast to approach each moment with honesty and to not fall into our habitual responses, or to forcefully try to repeat something that worked so well the last time. This work is the most challenging aspect of this production.

You get to play Macbeth! What insights have you gained about the character?

Makbet gets caught up in forces that seem beyond his control. He doesn’t realize until “what’s done is done”, that he had ever had the power of choice. But, haven’t we all been swept away or manipulated by something or someone that led us to take actions contrary to our perceived nature? Given the right circumstance, we are all capable of his deeds. The qualities these characters posses are in our DNA as humans. We are all Makbet. We are all Lady Makbet. I, too, could be swayed by the desire for power for wealth. I, too, could be capable of murder. So could you. So could any of us. That’s super interesting to me.

How has your social identity as a woman affected your approach to the role?

The fact that I am a women cannot be ignored and it is going to color everything that I do in Makbet. However, in approaching the role of Makbet, or in any role, my focus is less on my identity as a women, and more on what makes these characters universal. In this, I am not attempting to play “myself”, but I am using myself as a resource. If I try to “act like a man”, or if I am worried about being a women while playing a man, it feels and reads false. Any stereotypical behavior divides us from a deeper involvement to the mystery of human behavior. Instead, I focus on the actions of the character and his/her relationship with other characters. That’s something I can truthfully perform.

You’ve worked as a core member of the Dzieci ensemble for almost a decade now. What sets this company’s approach apart from more conventional Macbeths?

In every piece we do, we try to create a community. Makbet is no exception. When you arrive on the scene, you are immediately greeted as if you were a family member. We give you vodka, we give you kielbasa, we sing to you as we hang out by the fire.

But there are a few subtle things going on that also aid in creating this community. In each of our pieces have a “character/archetype” that is actually intended to provide a gulf between the audience and the performer. The characters we portray are outsiders. In the pre-show, the cast, already in this character, essentially says, “Here I am!” It is the job of the audience member to meet us, accept us and bridge that gap.

Who are those outsider characters?

In Makbet, we are a clan from the “Old Country” This clan is a performing a ritual. We take on the characters in Makbet and carry out the violence, revenge, betrayal, etc in order to purge these aspects from our community. The way the ritual is performed — three actors, switching roles, led by a chorus inside a shipping container — lends itself to the most unique Makbet you will ever see!

Talking about Shakespeare more generally, what’s your perspective on his roles for women? Where are his strengths in depicting them and where are his weaknesses? Is there anything in his plays that’s beyond salvaging?

With regard to women in Shakespeare, I think all of his plays are worth investigating. Sure, some may say that his women are not portrayed in the most positive light, but he was writing at such a different time. I don’t fault him for that. These characters are still deeply compelling. Shakespeare is such a master at writing to the human experience. If you take away the character name, and just read the lines… we have all experienced and felt what he writes about. It is what makes us the same, rather than what makes us different, that is appealing to me.

Do you have any other Shakespearean roles you’d love to play, or to go back to? Not just the women either—any dream-roles traditionally played by men?


Dzieci Theatre's Makbet plays from Sept 6 to Oct 8 at Sure We Can in Bushwick. Tickets are $20!