By Elliott Folds, Dramaturg for Mac | Beth
“A deed without a name.”
Erica Schmidt was inspired to adapt Macbeth into this new version, Mac | Beth, after hearing about the violent stabbing that occurred in the Wisconsin woods in early summer 2014. The so-called Slender Man stabbings were perpetrated by two 12-year-old girls who planned to sacrifice their friend to the Internet-based urban legend Slender Man, eventually stabbing her 19 times. The victim mercifully survived, but the incident shocked the nation. Looking deeper at the surrounding details of the case, however, it becomes apparent that instances of young girls committing violence in the woods have happened more frequently than may initially seem.
Just two years before the Slender Man stabbings, a 16-year-old girl was brutally killed by two of her friends who claimed they did it because they “didn’t want to be friends with her anymore.” This case in particular featured a somewhat infamous tweet from one of the perpetrators: “we really did go on three.” Going further back through the centuries and you’ll find similar cases, such as the Parker-Hulme murder in 1954 and the genesis of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. In her program notes from Mac|Beth’s original off-Broadway production, dramaturg Akiva Fox wrote, “By giving audiences the unfamiliar experience of seeing young women act out a very familiar play, this production of Mac|Beth seeks to rekindle something of the original shock in the work. Just as the real-world violence carried out by these modern girls jolted observers, so this production jolts its audience by restoring the primal wildness to Shakespeare’s tragedy.”
“Fire burn, and cauldron bubble…”
Building off of Shakespeare’s original spooky tragedy, Synchronicity Theatre’s production of Erica Schmidt’s Mac|Beth is perfect October viewing. Most people know the name of the Scottish Play is cursed, but there are many dark legends that led to the creation of this specific Mac|Beth. Here are just a few of the many chills and thrills that have encircled this play for the last four centuries.
- 1606: Legend has it that Macbeth was cursed from the beginning. According to folklore, a coven of witches were wary of Shakespeare pulling from real incantations, so they placed a curse on the play. Allegedly, this resulted in Hal Berridge, the first actor to play Lady Macbeth, suddenly dying, prompting Shakespeare to step into the role.
- 1703: On December 7, 1703, a revival of the play opened at Drury Lane, the exact same day that the Great Storm of 1703 struck England, eventually leading to over 8,000 casualties.
- 1849: May 10, 1849 saw over 22 people killed in riots at the Astor Place Opera House in New York. William Charles Macready was set to star in a production of Macbeth at the Opera House, while his well-documented rival, Edwin Forrest, was scheduled to star in a different production of the play a few blocks away. The American Forrest was seen as a hero for the working class, while the British Macready was vocally supported by the upper crust. Between Forrest’s supporters, Macready’s audience members, police, and militia, as many as 10,000 people were crowded around the streets of the theater. As the riot broke out, soldiers fired into the crowd, killing up to 31 people, including many innocent bystanders.
- 1865: Macbeth was reportedly Abraham Lincoln’s favorite play, and the one he chose to bring with him onboard the River Queen on the Potomac River on April 9, 1865. He is reported to have been reading passages from after Duncan’s assassination. Within a week, he himself would be assassinated.
- 1936: After panning Orson Welles’ famous “Voodoo” Macbeth, theatre critic Percy Hammond died less than 48 hours later of pneumonia.
- 1937: A 1937 production at the Old Vic had multiple issues: the theater’s manager Lillian Baylis died of a heart attack two days before the play’s first performance. Laurence Olivier, who had wrestled with losing his voice for much of the rehearsal process, was nearly killed when a heavy weight fell mere inches away from him in the wings.
- 1988: A Broadway revival starring Christopher Plummer and Glenda Jackson supposedly went through a blizzard of replacements. Though the numbers vary depending on who you ask, allegedly, the production went through three directors, five Macduffs, six changes within the ensemble, six stage managers, two set designers, two lighting designers, and 26 cases of flu, torn ligaments, and groin injuries.
- 2012: Skylar Neese, a 16-year-old from West Virginia, was killed after being stabbed more than 50 times by two of her best friends, Rachel Shoaf and Shelia Eddy. Shoaf and Eddy claimed they did it because they “didn’t like her” and “didn’t want to be friends with her anymore,” and planned to stab her on the count of three. On April 1, 2013, Eddy tweeted the infamous “we really did go on three.”
- 2014: Payton Leutner, a 12-year-old from Wisconsin, was stabbed 19 times by two of her friends, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, who claimed they planned to kill her as a sacrifice to the fictional Internet character Slender Man. Leutner successfully recovered after six days in the hospital.
- 2019: Synchronicity’s production of Mac|Beth had some creepy power surges occur right before two of the opening weekend performances. It was probably nothing. Unless…?