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Posts Tagged Shakespeare

The Shattered Mirror

Joseph Stanley, the set designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, first became involved in theatre, both onstage and behind the scenes, during junior high. He decided to give it a try because his older sister had so much fun performing in high school plays. Then well-timed mentors kept popping up to broaden and guide his interest, from an enthusiastic fresh-out-of-college ninth grade English & Theatre teacher who would even let him into the shop rooms to “build stuff” on snow days to a high school teacher who let him design to his heart’s content.

By college, Joseph knew that he wanted to pursue set designing. He attended Indiana University in Bloomington where, despite being an undergraduate, his professor allowed him to take graduate-level courses. He also worked in summer stock theatre, steadily making connections for more designing opportunities. Joseph, who grew up in Iowa, ultimately landed in the Twin Cities to get his MFA at the University of Minnesota.

Joseph has worked in the Twin Cities since 1993, designing for 12 to 15 shows per year. About half his projects are for theatres with their own construction crew. For clients without their own staff, he both designs and provides set construction at his own studio. Since his first professional set design in 1984, he has been the designer for at least 250 shows.

Joseph had first worked with Macbeth‘s director, Jef Hall-Flavin, in last season’s Sons of the Prophet at Park Square Theatre, and Jef wished to work with Joseph again in Macbeth. Jef brought to Joseph the concept of using a shattered mirror as the central metaphor in the set design, and Joseph ran with it.

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

Macbeth set construction on the Boss Thrust stage

“Jef spoke about the timeliness of Macbeth,” Joseph said, “and how holding a mirror in front of ourselves would reflect ourselves back, especially given current events.”

Joseph, a self-professed pragmatist, also saw the practicality of using mirrors to give the illusion of having more people on stage.

Macbeth has just a cast of nine people,” he pointed out. “But there are a number of times when an army must be on stage. The mirrors make it seem like more than nine.”

The mirror, too, lends itself to practical use to highlight the mystical, other-worldly moments in the play. For instance, the mirrors at center stage act like two-way mirrors for a nifty visual effect when apparitions appear.

And, of course, the shattered mirror reflects the shattered story itself as, in Joseph’s words, “Macbeth becomes a shattered man who breaks down throughout the play.”

Macbeth set design realized on stage

Macbeth set completed on stage

I asked him, too, if he and Jef were not purposely tempting Fate, given that Macbeth already has the reputation of a cursed play (see my previous blog on theatre superstitions, “‘Macbeth’ and Other Unmentionables”). After all, breaking a mirror guarantees seven years of bad luck.

Turns out that Joseph is not particularly superstitious but thinks that “one of the neat things as a scenic designer is that people see things in my designs that I don’t consciously think about.”

You will see another Joseph Stanley set design this spring on Amy’s View, which runs from May 12 to June 4, on Park Square’s Proscenium Stage. Meanwhile, don’t miss seeing Joseph’s stunning set on the Boss Thrust Stage for our World Premiere Commission of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, adapted and directed by Jef Flavin-Hall, ending on April 9.

Michael Ooms on Playing Macbeth

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At the beginning of Park Square Theatre’s season, Michael Ooms graced our Proscenium Stage in a comedic role in The Liar. Now he takes on a much more somber turn as the title character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth on our intimate Andy Boss Thrust Stage. The play runs from March 17 to April 9, often performed both day and night to accommodate general audiences as well as school groups, setting a grueling schedule for all involved. Michael aptly deems it an “endurance test.”

But challenge is exactly what actors relish, and Michael will certainly have his hands full of that as he grapples with his character’s complexities. How will he bring out Macbeth’s humanity, even as he portrays a power-hungry murderer? How will he prevent the audience from automatically hating him? How will he build empathy for his character?

“He’s more everyman than he’s perceived,” Michael says of Macbeth. “He did one terrible thing. Then he just had to keep going in order to survive.”

We call that “digging yourself in deeper”–making human choices that force a chain reaction of further hard choices. In Macbeth’s case, the choices just happen to escalate in a horrific direction.

What’s fun about playing Macbeth for Michael, though, is the opportunity to go through several personality changes as his character morphs from being an amicable, likable individual to a fearful, raging one as he becomes unhinged by his deeds. This role requires an actor to display a wide range of emotions.

Michael is certainly ready to test his mettle. He has ample experience in lead and supporting classical roles, including stints with the Classical Actors Ensemble, a Twin Cities repertoire company with a focus on keeping the rich plays of the English Renaissance relevant and alive. Not only has he played Macduff in a CAE staging of Macbeth, but he has also already played Macbeth himself in 2011 with Nightpath Theatre. So Michael will come to Park Square’s production “hitting the ground running,” not only in terms of memorizing his lines but also having insights to perhaps make different acting choices than before. In collaboration with Director Jef Hall-Flavin and the cast, Michael is excited to “see what he can bring to the table to ultimately work together to form a unified vision.”

Performing Macbeth for students is also something that Michael relishes because “unlike adults, they tend to come without preconceptions so their reactions are great barometers as to whether what you’re doing work.”

“The post-show discussions are especially eye-opening,” Michael continued. “They will interpret things in their own way, depending on where they are in life, and perhaps shine a light on a different perspective. I learn a lot from the kids, such as how well we’re telling the story. They are great mirrors reflecting back to us what we’re doing.”

Despite the rigor of his role, Michael knows that playing Macbeth is going to be a blast. He is unfazed by what is known as the “Macbeth curse,” which we shall discuss in a future blog post.

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche in a rehearsal for Macbeth (Photo by Connie Shaver)

Michael Ooms with Vanessa Wasche (Lady Macbeth) in a rehearsal for Macbeth
(Photo by Connie Shaver)

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