It would be pretty difficult to find someone who doesn’t have at least a passing knowledge of Shakespeare’s Macbeth given its ubiquity on high school reading lists. Along with Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, Macbeth is one of the most heavily assigned of all the Bard’s classic works, and the creepy, supernatural aspects of the story make it appealing to all generations.
When Shakespearemachine tackles the weighty material in the coming weeks, it becomes the second production for the new theater company that favors some of Shakespeare’s best known works. Having produced his Comedy of Errors almost three years ago and Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus this past spring, Shakespearemachine now returns to something familiar to everybody.
Not familiar with Shakespearemachine? The company began in 2016, formed by two graduates of IPFW’s theater program, Nick Task and Halee Bandt. Although Bandt, who recently performed in the Civic’s Rock of Ages and will take the stage again in the Arena Dinner Theatre’s production of She Loves Me, has bowed out of the daily administration of Shakespearemachine, Tash said the origins were very much in their friendship and their mutual love of Shakespeare.
“She and I had talked about it for awhile,” Tash said. “We knew each other in college, and we saw all of the interesting things going on in the arts scene here. We saw more and more interesting things going on and started to think there was a place for us to do this kind of experimental stuff and classical works. We saw a place for there to be more experimental theater.”
Having now produced four shows in just under three years – and two alone in 2018 – Tash, who is now helming Shakespearemachine on his own as its artistic director, acknowledges they’ve had some help in coming so far in such a short amount of time.
“A lot of what we’ve done would not have been possible without the generous support of both Arts United and Purdue Fort Wayne,” he said. “Arts United has given us a generous use of space and have been incredibly supportive as we learned the ropes. There’s a lot to learn about the business of theater, and they’ve served as an incubator in a lot of ways. And without the black box ArtsLab theater, we wouldn’t be able to exist. It’s just an ideal place for the kind of work we do.
“But Purdue has helped us a lot, too,” Tash added. “They’ve made us a company-in-residence so we have office space to have our administrative headquarters, and they’ve furnished us with rehearsal space. So the two big elements of our being able to grow so quickly is that we’ve had this support. There are no guides about how to start a non-profit, and the arts are very different than other non-profits. Getting support from both of them gave us a safe environment to learn, so we’ve been able to progress.”
Tash also sees the rise of Shakespearemachine as being a symbol of the arts community in Fort Wayne.
“I think our story if very much tied up with the city in general. There have been so many arts organizations that have grown a lot in recent years, and I think we’re intimately tied up in that larger story.”
The choice of Macbeth in some ways represents a shift in focus for the company, but Tash says that it felt like a good fit on many levels.
“When we started Shakespearemachine, we did think our focus might be on more obscure works, but along the way we wanted to tackle some of the well-known ones, too. Last year we did As You Like It which is one of his popular ones, then this spring did Faustus, which is well-known as a myth more than for the play. Macbeth seemed like a good choice to do next because it has some similar themes – the supernatural, a deal with the devil, although not as explicitly as Faustus. They just felt like two good companion pieces and a good fit to do in one season.”
Tash also looks forward to directing his cast of 10, many of whom will juggle double roles in the production.
“Macbeth is a play that I love as a director,” Tash said. “It has two great lead roles, the spectacular elements of ghosts and witches. It also really fits in with how we do things. We have a certain approach to our shows, and this really lends itself to that.”
One thing it did not lend itself to is the Shakepearemachine use of masks, an artistic element they have employed in previous shows.
“We’re not going with the masks this time,” Tash said. “Whenever we start a new show, we’re always interested in using masks if they work for the show, but we tried a few things, and it didn’t quite work this time. So this show will be done without any masks.”
Macbeth will run for two four-performance weekends and will also perform an educational program on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Interested schools should contact Tash for more information. In the meantime, there’s another show already in the pipeline.
“We don’t have dates set yet, but we’re planning on Richard III for our next production,” Tash said. “Not sure yet when that will be, but we can safely say that that will be our next show.”