The Creative Hub, The Storey Meeting House Lane Lancaster, LA1 1TH

Macbeth: R&D Reflections

12th January 2023 by Lauren Randall

An imitating the dog production can take years to go from initial idea to touring show. Here, our very appropriately-named associate artist and company producer Morven Macbeth gives some insight into the early research & development process of this production back in September, and reflects on the process of making an ITD show. 

From left to right: Morgan Bailey, Morven Macbeth and Matt Prendergast. Photo: Ed Waring.

We spend a lot of time playing with camera shots, angles and camera movement during any ITD R&D process, asking questions about how the visual language connects to the story we want to tell. 

Here, Morgan (to the left of the picture) has framed up, from a tripod, an extreme close up on Matt’s face, which you can see projected on the wall behind us. That’s me in the middle, operating a hand-held camera, which gives us the option of movement and different angles on a subject (in this case, the actor reading Macbeth), which we’re projecting onto another wall, simultaneously. How do the visual elements (the projections of the character of Macbeth at this point) relate to the script, to the speech Macbeth is giving? 

The use of cameras in a theatre setting provides us with the opportunity to give the audience a close up of a character visually, and at the same time, on a different screen or projection surface on the stage, a chaotic sequence of shots from the handheld camera. The audience can also, of course, see the actor playing Macbeth live on stage. Three versions of Macbeth. How can we make use of that?

From left to right: Matt Prendergast, Adela Rajnović and Laura Atherton. Photo: Ed Waring.

This photograph captures something of the way we experiment with voicing characters in the stage space. In all of our theatre shows, we have explored a variety of ways of incorporating the vocal layer of the show, aka the script! 

In a more ‘traditional’ theatre production, the actors on stage deliver their lines live, (although increasingly they will be wearing microphones, often hidden somewhere in their costume or just on their hair line). 

In some of our earlier work, the actors have lip-synched to a pre-recorded soundtrack, so to the audience they look as if they are speaking live, when in fact, they are simply taking breaths and moving their mouths to make it appear so. 

In the scene above, we are playing with the idea of a different actor (Laura, who is standing at the microphone), voicing Lady Macbeth. The actor physically playing the character, Adela, stands over the shoulder of Matt, playing her husband. 

The camera shot we are getting here, (which isn’t shown in this picture), is a close up of Macbeth’s face, and out of focus, in the background of the shot, we see Lady Macbeth. In the projected visual image of them as a couple, they appear to be standing close together, she is just behind him. But in the live stage space, they are a few metres apart. And Laura, the actor voicing Lady Macbeth, is further away still, on the far side of the stage. 

Again, we are interested in what this stage picture might mean to an audience: what questions does this pose? How does it make them feel? How might they ‘read’ this scene differently, than if we staged a very ‘traditional’ version of the play?

James Hamilton. Photo: Ed Waring.

Concentrating very hard indeed in this picture 😉 is James Hamilton, a musician and composer who has been working with ITD for the last six years or so. One of our co-artistic directors, Simon Wainwright, when he’s not making theatre or designing video for performance, is in a band called Hope & Social. He met James through the band, and they have forged a close working relationship ever since. 

ITD collaborated with exceptional composer, the late Jeremy Peyton-Jones, on several projects over the years, but Simon would also often take on responsibility for the overall sound design and scoring of our shows and installations. 

Increasingly, as demands on Simon’s creative output grew, it made sense to establish an on-going relationship with a composer and sound designer, in order to bring the soundscape of our work to vivid life. James is now a key part of every R&D process. We’re all improvising in the room, making offers, suggesting ideas, coming up with things we each think might work. 

And when I say ‘all’, I really do mean everyone in the room – the writer/directors, the video designer, the actors, the sound designer, the lighting designer – we’re all there to play together creatively, to be fearless, to not be worried if an idea might seem a bit out there, or weird, or out of place. 

The sentence “This is probably a sh*t idea, but…” is heard in an ITD R&D room a lot! And you know what? Sometimes it is, but surprisingly often, it turns out to be a stroke of quiet genius…

On the stage, from left to right: Morven Macbeth, Adela Rajnović, Morgan Bailey, Matt Prendergast, Laura Atherton.
Seated, from left to right: Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks. Photo: Ed Waring.

As a performer in an ITD show, it’s virtually impossible to tell how the overall stage space looks and sounds to the audience. With microphones, cameras, projections, other actors, props, bits of set, and in-ear devices all potentially in the mix, we often take it in turns to step out of the stage space and sit in the auditorium (or in this case, on a bench with two of the company’s co-artistic directors Andrew and Pete), in order to make sense of the whole. 

It’s so easy to get a bit lost in the making and performing of each scene or sequence in our shows, as the nature of the work demands your complete attention, and is completely absorbing in its own way. Of course, you could argue that all stage performers feel this way, whatever kind of work they are making, and that’s often true I’m sure. 

Sometimes I work with other theatre companies and make ‘straight plays’. I remember getting totally drawn into the world of John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger, playing Alison, in a freezing cold theatre in London, over ten years ago. It’s part of what I love about my job.

But making a show with ITD asks for a distinct kind of commitment and focus I think. You don’t have a second to take your eye off the ball, or to think about what you’re having for dinner later!

This picture gives some idea of the way in which, as performers, we are always ‘on’: whether that is setting up a camera shot, playing a character, voicing a character, setting up a different part of the stage space while another scene is going on, stepping off the stage briefly to get a look at and to listen to the scene being rehearsed. 

Or going to have a peek over the shoulders of David (video designer), Crofty (lighting designer), or James (sound designer) to look at their monitors, which you can glimpse in the bottom right corner of this photograph, to get an idea of what they are coming up with in the moment.

Clockwise: Pete Brook, Laura Atherton, Morgan Bailey, Matt Prendergast, Andrew Crofts, James Hamilton, Morven Macbeth, Adela Rajnović, David Callanan, Andrew Quick. Photo: Ed Waring.

And finally I’ve chosen this picture because it makes me smile. How a big, white, sterile-looking space can be transformed by a group of people, some technology, and an idea of how to tell a story. 

Also, it depicts a very important part of any ITD process: sitting around, talking. We do a lot of sitting around, talking. We talk around the show, go off on tangents, down rabbit-holes, get onto what might feel like a completely different subject, but somehow it all, (well, mostly all), ends up feeding into the show. And we talk specifically about the show, the story, how we want to tell it, why we want to tell it. 

We watch clips of films and TV shows that feel relevant in some way. We look at sections of other plays, books, graphic novels, poems, or news articles that connect to what we’re making. Again, these often might seem a bit odd, or left-field, or irrelevant, but if they come up, let’s chuck it all in the mix and see what sticks.

At its heart, an ITD R&D is a collaborative, creative, explorative process. It’s a chance to get together and play, to try out ideas before we get into the rehearsal room proper (or more often, directly onto the stage), to start making a show over four or five weeks before previews, opening and touring. 

If you look closely, to the left of the tripod in the picture, you’ll spot a mannequin on a stand, a mini-projector shining light into its face. It’s an idea. Will it make it into our re-telling of Macbeth? We’ll see, soon enough!

Morven Macbeth

Associate Practitioner with imitating the dog

Jan 2023

Photographs by Ed Waring

In the R&D room:

Laura Atherton (Associate Practitioner)

Morgan Bailey (Associate Practitioner)

Pete Brooks (Co-Artistic Director)

David Callanan (Associate Practitioner)

Andrew Crofts (Associate Practitioner)

James Hamilton (Associate Practitioner)

Morven Macbeth (Associate Practitioner)

Matt Prendergast (Associate Practitioner)

Andrew Quick (Co-Artistic Director)

Adela Rajnović (Associate Practitioner)

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