What I learned. . .

Sometimes you go for the adventure – and most times the adventure is absolutely worth it. Such was the case with the fifth production of Macbeth I directed – this time at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, Maryland.

Getting the offer to direct the production was a great reminder about the way in which connections in this business work. In addition to whatever my longevity and reputation might have done to provoke interest in being CSC’s first out-of- town guest director, Ron Heneghan, who I’d known since the early ‘90’s when we both worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and then, a few years later, at PCPA Theaterfest, where I hired him as an Artist-in-Residence is an actor and staff member at CSC; but CSC’s Artistic Director, Ian Gallaner, knew of me through his friend, Doug Scholz-Carlson, and Gerrad Taylor, whom I had directed as Mercutio in a production of Romeo and Juliet when he was in the graduate acting program at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then in a couple of productions at the Great River Shakespeare Festival, was originally from the Baltimore/ Washington, DC area and also a company member at CSC. There were several voices advocating in my favor, but I had also taken time to stop by CSC when I was passing through Baltimore to meet Ian and tour their wonderful space.

I think the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company can best be described as a professional theatre company that, for the time being, operates on more of a non-professional rehearsal schedule. CSC hires Equity actors from the area (“the area” being the Baltimore/ DC nexus), several of whom are considered company and/or staff members, including Leslie Malin, Managing Director and an excellent Lady Macbeth in this production -- and has a resident staff and a permanent facility.

But because many of their actors are non-Equity and hold down day jobs, our rehearsal hours were limited – compounded by the commute many Macbeth cast members endured, driving to downtown Baltimore during weekday rush hour. But in spite of the challenge of limited hours and a company in which at least 50% of the actors held down full-time jobs elsewhere, I had a number of things working in my favor.

First and foremost was the cast and the company’s passion and commitment. They loved Shakespeare, loved what they and CSC were doing in Baltimore, and loved working with each other.

Second was the theatre itself. CSC occupies a refurbished, renovated, beautifully restored historic bank building in downtown Baltimore, two blocks from the harbor (and the world-famous Baltimore Aquarium), which has been retrofitted to resemble a contemporary version of the theatres of Shakespeare’s age. Platform stage with no real stage machinery to provide technical “magic” (so the playwright’s words and the human imagination are paramount in all CSC does); limited backstage space; audience on three sides, seating about 250 playgoers stacked into three levels (orchestra plus two tiers); bench seating (very comfortable), which meant you got to sit close to your fellow audience members and experience their response to the production along with your own; open to the back of the house so that sound traveled beautifully and directors and actors could utilize all levels and aisles as playing spaces, which made staging the play that much more vibrant, creative, and thrilling.

Third was the commitment of the entire CSC staff to make my stay as comfortable and well-supported as they could.

Macbeth is also a relatively short play and having worked on it several times previously, my knowledge of the script helped compensate for the limited hours (plus several key actors – those playing Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Ross, Malcolm, and Macduff – were available for afternoon rehearsal hours, so we picked up significant time before larger group evening rehearsals began).

And I was smart enough to bring on board as my assistant Jess Shoemaker, who I met when she was an undergrad at Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts in St. Louis. Jess spent several summer seasons at the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota; first, as a member of our Apprentice Actor Training Program, then as a Text Coach/Dramaturgy Intern, next as an Assistant Director, and most recently, as co-Director of the Apprentice program. Jess has formidable aptitude and skill with heightened language and verse, and was able to work with and note the actors as rehearsals proceeded, saving time and deepening the experience every step of the way. She also has prodigious people skills and the gift of never making an actor feel threatened or condescended to when she helps with the implementation of verse speaking skills and principles. Together we conquered many of the obstacles that the scheduled presented. The resulting clarity of the storytelling was largely due to Jess’s tireless and invaluable contributions.

Being in Baltimore was a complete adventure. Although I’d visited the city briefly on a couple of occasions, I’d never spent extended time there. Walking the neighborhoods between my apartment (with its Murphy bed and view of the parking lot, backside of the adjacent strip mall, double-decker freeway, and just beyond the freeway, the city jail) was revealing and enlightening; and having daytime hours at my disposal was the upside of the limited rehearsal schedule (and one of the pleasures of free-lance work).

Right now Baltimore is a troubled city, but it’s also a beautiful, evocative city awash with our country’s history -- and one that is on the rebound as it confronts all the challenges that poverty and racism present. I felt raw and alive every time I went for my daily walk(s), and grateful to have the time to become better acquainted with the city.

Mostly though I had another opportunity to explore a monumental script by a master playwright. I’ve often felt that Shakespeare devilishly throws down the gauntlet with Macbeth. You’ve got Witches, you’ve got ghosts, you’ve got sleep- walking, you’ve got bloodshed galore, you’ve got a moving forest, you’ve got children to slaughter, you’ve got apparitions, you’ve got Hecate, you’ve got a beheading. And all of this takes place with incredible, swift economy. Just as you’ve figured out how to conquer one challenge, the playwright presents three more, always asking “so what are you going to do about this one??”

Fortunately, my game and dedicated cast was entirely up for the challenge, as were my designers, and the theatre’s wonderfully supportive staff. CSC’s resources may not have been as lavish as other companies for which I’ve directed, but they were unmatched in their dedication, their willingness to strive for excellence, and their pride in what they are doing in downtown Baltimore. Macbeth at CSS was an adventure for which I’ll remain ever grateful and which I would gladly undertake again.


Chesapeake Shakespeare Festival

March, 2016


Chesapeake Shakespeare Company

March, 2016

Megan Barbour, Danielle Cochrane

“Arguably one of the Bard’s most popular plays, Macbeth has everything: magic, sword fights, villains, and most appropriately, death. Lots of it. There is no better way to honor this playwright’s death (and life) than CSC’s robust and action-packed production.

Macbeth at CSC is not just a performance. It’s an experience; one that begins before you approach the theatre doors. On Calvert Street, a bagpipe player in traditional Scottish garb entertains patrons as they enter the theatre. This newly built theatre is beautiful, and showcases original features from its days as a 19th-century bank. During the performance, fog billows across the stage, and a haunting drumbeat echoes between scenes, immersing the audience in 11th century Scotland.

“Director Paul Mason Barnes has experimented with every inch of this multi-leveled space. Actors run around balconies and jump off the stage. I was surprised more than once by a Weird Sister hiding in the shadows of the set. Barnes has brought out the animal instincts within these characters, whether those instincts be lust, survival, or raw power.

“Jeff Keogh and Lesley Malin are a powerful duo as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Keogh masters the many transformations of Macbeth, from ambitious man to threatening king, to inhuman tyrant. Malin is captivating as Lady Macbeth. She shows complete command of the character as she slips from scheming wife to guilt-ridden sleepwalker.

“The entire cast is superb, and I wish I could compliment each individually.

“…there is something powerful about seeing these most basic of human desires played out around you. Go see Macbeth at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. It’s an experience that will immerse you.”

     Natasha Joyce

     MD Theatre Guide

“Nearly 400 years after the Bard’s passing, the dark, brooding Macbeth is considered William Shakespeare’s finest work. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s outstanding production is one reason why his haunting and oft-quoted words endure.

“Directed by Paul Mason Barnes, a resident of Ashland, Oregon, and resident director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona, Minnesota, this production is a haunting tribute to Shakespeare. It is a show that should be sold out for every performance.

“The show is designed so the performers’ entrances and egresses are interwoven with the audience. They appear and disappear through third floor stairwells, from behind a row of second story seats, or brush past the audience on the main floor. The audience becomes part of the performance physically and emotionally.

“The plot is a classic one, so there is no need to repeat it here. Yet, it is new all over again in this production. In addition to those mentioned above, kudos to the performances of everyone in this cast, which is beautifully diverse – a blend of ages, races and silhouettes.

“Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth is one for the ages. Don’t miss it!”

     Wendi Winters

     DC Metro Theater Arts

“Chesapeake Shakespeare Company offers a production of Macbeth that cuts to the heart of the gruesome matter in propulsive, atmospheric fashion. Directed by Paul Mason Barnes, the twist-filled plot unfolds at a generally brisk pace on, around and above the main stage area.

“The dark world of 11th-century Scotland is neatly evoked through technical director Daniel O'Brien's lighting and scenic design, Kristina Lambdin's costumes and Rusty Wandall's soundscape. The production plays up the tight bond between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This regicidal duo clearly find power a big turn-on, rolling around on the cold castle floor just at the thought of their next dastardly step. That extra physicality could look silly, but instead adds a significant layer.

“Overall … this Macbeth maintains a taut energy as it drives home the play's grim reminder that "blood will have blood," and provides a worthy salute to the author, 400 years after his death.”

     Tim Smith

     Baltimore Sun

“The worst traffic in history, created by road construction and events, plagued a five-block radius within downtown Baltimore this past Saturday, causing even the cast of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Macbeth to be late and delaying the show by 15 minutes. I was none-too-pleased, covering three blocks in 40 minutes and never making it to a certain parking garage. So, it’s a good thing the bloody Macbeth made my spine tingle and hair stand on end.

Macbeth is a study of humanity at its worst and its best. Macbeth the man has a conscience, recognizing Duncan’s generosity towards him even as he stabs him, yet turns in the second act into a crazed, self-righteous usurper who believes in his own supposed invincibility as told by the Weird Sisters, who declare that “no man of woman born” shall take him down. [Jeff] Keogh is Macbeth—a man too good to have done such bad deeds—confidently capturing his duality in a dynamic performance. He’s wonderful to watch beside [Leslie] Malin’s Lady Macbeth, especially as they roll around on the ground, making love, where they scheme. Aren’t we the most wicked when in bed with another?

“I relished the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s version of Macbeth—a creepy, suspenseful tragedy fit for All Hallow’s Eve—because it illuminated things I’d never noticed hiding deep in the text—like how Macbeth and Banquo are at odds the instant the Weird Sisters disclose their first vision—and I owe that to the performances and to Paul Mason Barnes’ direction.

“Without greatness in both, I would have been lost. And being lost during a Shakespeare production is akin to being stuck in traffic on a Saturday afternoon in Baltimore. Be assured, this production of Macbeth is worth the drive.”

     Kelly McCorkendale

     DC Theatre Scene