Director Raz Golden first collaborated with HVSF in 2019 as assistant director for CYRANO, he returned that fall to direct our 2019 Community Bake-Off Play series. We were thrilled to speak with him about his most recent project with HVSF — our audio adaptable of MACBETH. Hear from Raz about his history with the play, what elements of the story stand out for him, and how he approached casting for this production. And hear the show — available for free online through June 20, 2021.
When I was ten I had a very old-fashioned babysitter. Her priorities for me were one, education, and two, vegetables. End of List. She didn’t let me watch TV or go on the internet (this was the internet in its infancy so in truth there wasn’t much for a ten-year-old to even do), and strictly enforced a routine of homework followed by an invitation to read from her book collection, which spanned an entire wall of her home. To my young self, nothing could be worse than spending 8 hours of the day learning in school and being rewarded with what was essentially more school for the 3 hours after, until my mom picked me up. My favorite books were ones that transported the reader to fantastical realms filled with magic and adventure, such as, Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, so what magical stories could I possibly find on a bookshelf filled with dusty texts bound in varying shades of beige.
Eventually, though, I acquiesced and one of the first books I picked up happened to be William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I read the character name of FIRST WITCH and I was absorbed. What could this William Shakespeare, who I later learned had been dead for almost 400 years possibly have to say about witches and their magic in our mundane world? A few days of frenzied reading later and I found out. A new world opened up to me.
Nowadays students have so many more ways to discover and interact with Shakespeare’s work. And young theatre-makers and scholars are entirely more critical and interrogative of his place in the canon than I ever was at their age. With this radio play I hoped to give them another entry point into this story and help them along their journey into finding where the Bard can fit into their lives.
“It’s about who you’re going to hide the body with” – Elizabeth Hay – Casting Assistant, The Public Theater (during our Public Shakespeare Initiative Workshop December 2020)
We had the opportunity to work the script at the Public before bringing it to HVSF. My goal was to see if I could understand the script primarily through the lens of domestic struggle. To me it was less immediate that these characters were Kings and Queens and more important to render them as husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and cousins and uncles. Violence pervades this play but the violence that is the most transgressive is that which occurs within the domestic realm.The historical Macbeth did kill his predecessor but it was in battle and according to most historians he was a fairly good king. In Shakespeare’s fiction, Macbeth’s murder is transposed to his own home. Macbeth’s sin is not violence in itself but violence against an invited guest. As I was thinking about what part of Macbeth I wanted to explore through the audio play I kept coming back to the kind of violence that we enact on and/or with our loved ones. Who do we hide the body with? Who is the body? This was no doubt influenced by it being the fall of 2020 in which I and I assume many other people were actively deciding whether they would attend Thanksgiving celebrations with their family and potentially harm them through exposure in the process. My hope is that this version of the play gets us closer to an answer. And that it does do the minimum of what I believe Shakespeare and classical theater has the power to do: Let us know that this isn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last time we have to even ask the question.
When Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival approached me about directing Macbeth, it was intended to be a part of their Educational Tour but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, like our entire industry, we had to pivot. I had just finished as assistant director on The Public Theater’s audio production of Richard II and it seemed to me to be a no-brainer that of all Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth would live most naturally in the audio space. There’s also something unique I love about the audio form: radio plays, podcasts, audio books, and musical theatre albums that grants audiences the permission to experience them in any way they see fit. Whereas a visual performance most often restricts an audience member to a single location where they must sit and stare, an audio performance allows them to experience the work on a run, in a classroom, while cleaning their dishes, or beside the metaphorical fire playing from their (Bluetooth) radio. It gives them freedom. I think if Shakespeare is to survive in this world the quality and philosophy of how his words can morph and become resonant with our modern day ears should be applied over to how we present him. Certainly not everyone will be listening to this play in a dark room for two uninterrupted hours and that’s OK. Wherever you end up experiencing this piece I welcome the uniqueness of that experience and I hope it’s an enriching one.