The last play I did in Birmingham was an outdoor production of Macbeth.
The director made it clear that we would be saying “Macbeth” freely throughout the production, defying the moldy old superstition that to do so brings a curse down upon any show that dares utter the dread name in rehearsal. This cheered me, because I knew that if I went through the rehearsal period without saying Macbeth, I’d be unable to say it when the performance day arrived.
The costumer was a young woman who put all the Thanes (aka warriors) in topless outfits. Her concept sketches revealed a fantasy of bare-chested beefcake barbarians. Perhaps she had not noticed the doughy Alabama bodies of the men she was actually dressing. Some of the younger guys were trim, sure, but many of us, including Your Correspondent, were too tubby and wobbly to inspire much fear on the battlefield. Pasty saggy man-nipples melting over fuzzy guts; the evidence of our sedentary lifestyles certainly counteracted any Braveheart/300 fantasy our overseers might have had in mind. And isn’t that comic gap between intent and onstage reality part of the joy of community theatre?
Instead of shirts we got body makeup. Intriguing swirly faux-tats, black and beautiful, sprayed on (no showering till after we close!). Did I mention that we were doing this outside? In the sun?
The day of the performance the costume designer had us Thanes pose for a few pictures. Before each snap she urged us to roar like warriors. We did our level best, and after she took the last of many pix, she sighed, “I love it. So manly.” This left me feeling a bit cheap, but that’s probably a small karmic down payment on any number of things I’ve done that’ve left others feeling the same way.
The show ended with a dope swordfight between Macbeth and MacDuff, and our Macbeth got a nasty hit on the forehead. When I (and many others) detained him after the show to tell him how great he was, we (or at least I) assumed the blood streaming down his forehead was stage blood. Nope. He had to rush off to the emergency room, but was gracious enough to stand there and smile while we twittered at him. He’s a preacher, so maybe that gives him a sense of self-sacrifice, I dunno. Anyway, one cast member who had warned of dread results should we utter the cursed Name in rehearsal felt himself vidicated.
The show has marked me as well; standing in the sun with my bare shoulders covered in crusty black makeup gave me a memorable burn that remains as a peculiar constellation of freckly glyphs. A fitting souvenir of my final Birmingham show.