University Theatre is gearing up for its upcoming production of “Macbeth,” Shakespeare’s haunting tale of ambition and madness, opening April 20 in the Ronald E. Mitchell Theatre.
This vigorous new production, directed by guest artist C. Julian White and featuring a talented cast of UW–Madison students, aims to lay bare the dark soul of this classic tragedy about the Scottish Thane of Cawdor’s murderous rise to power and ultimate fall into chaos and ruin.
“Macbeth” is steeped in superstition, and the production team is taking care to not invoke the infamous curse associated with the play — often referred to as “The Scottish Play” to avoid the bad luck that might result from saying its name.
“I’m not really a superstitious person, but I don’t want to bring any bad luck on me, invite unwanted guests,” says White. “So we call it ‘Mackers’ or ‘The Scottish Play’ … but I forget all the time. And really, you’re not supposed to say it when you’re in a theater; when you’re outside of a theater it’s OK to say it.”
Despite the risk of bad luck, the cast and crew are eager to bring this iconic tale to the stage.
“It’s an epic tragedy,” says Malcolm McCanles, a fourth-year UW–Madison student who plays the titular role. “There is an amazing cast of students. The designs are amazing. Everything in this production is just going to look spectacular.”
“Macbeth” will feature scenic design by Rob Wagner, scenic studio supervisor for the Department of Theatre and Drama; costume design by Aly Amidei, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Drama; and lighting design by UW–Madison alumnus Connor Wiedenbeck, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Theatre and Drama in 2021. UW–Madison graduate student Bridget Anderson is the production’s assistant director and dramaturg.
White, who has been in residence at UW–Madison for the spring 2023 semester with support from the Lorraine Hansberry Fund and the Nellie Y. McKay-Lorraine Hansberry Fund, is a professor of theater at Cal Poly Pomona and an accomplished actor, director, and fight choreographer. He’s been busy during his semester here, teaching two stage combat classes; acting in University Theatre’s recent production of August Wilson’s “Fences,” where he played Jim Bono; and now directing “Macbeth.”
White’s skills in directing stage combat will be on prominent display in this production. In fact, when asked why he chose the play, he responds quickly: “The fights. Yeah, the fights.”
“I had the opportunity to do two things,” he explains. “One is work on the fights and work with weapons and broadswords. The other thing was, I had an opportunity to cast it in a non-traditional way.”
Though there are only a couple of female characters in the play, White has cast many roles originally written for men as women. This includes the role of Malcolm, which is played by Anna Bogan.
Bogan, a junior at UW–Madison, explains that in this production, she is portraying Malcolm as a 15-year-old girl. It’s “interesting,” she says, “because stereotypically, teenage girls are described as angsty or emotional, and that’s how the character is written, that’s how the character is talked about — as very emotional, over emotional even.”
The play’s infamous curse aside, UW–Madison’s production promises to be memorable and entertaining, including thrilling fight sequences, unique staging, stunning design, and superb acting.
In addition to seven performances that are open to the public, the Department of Theatre and Drama has scheduled a student matinee on Friday, April 21, that will bring about 150 students from four area high schools to campus to see the production, followed by a talk-back with the actors.
“A lot of people had to read this play in English class in high school, and I think seeing it is just so much more exciting,” says Hannah Rehfeldt, a UW–Madison senior who is playing Lady Macbeth. “It’s fun to see the sword fighting. We’re going to be in really amazing costumes. Shakespeare wrote these plays to be seen, not read.”
“Macbeth” runs April 20-30 in the Ronald E. Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall (821 University Ave.). Full-price tickets are $26, with discounts available for children, seniors, and UW–Madison faculty, staff, and students. April 20 is “preview night,” and all tickets are $15 for that performance.
Get your tickets now at artsticketing.wisc.edu or by calling 608-265-2787.
This production is made possible by support from the Anonymous Block Grant, the Lorraine Hansberry Fund, and the Nellie Y. McKay-Lorraine Hansberry Fund.
This Nellie Y. McKay-Lorraine Hansberry Fund was established in memory of UW–Madison Professor Nellie Y. McKay, one of the world’s most distinguished scholars of African-American literature and in memory of Lorraine Hansberry, a brilliant young black playwright who attended the University of Wisconsin.
Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was a playwright and writer. She was the first African-American female author to have a play performed on Broadway. Her best-known work, the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” highlights the lives of black Americans in Chicago living under racial segregation.
Content Advisory: This play contains mature content and physical violence.