Arts group to perform Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ outdoors

Actors Pearl MacLeod and Aamani Thulluru prepare for a dress rehearsal for the BarnArts Center for the Arts production of

Actors Pearl MacLeod and Aamani Thulluru prepare for a dress rehearsal for the BarnArts Center for the Arts production of "Macbeth" on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at Fable Farm in Barnard, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Kyle Huck plays Lady Macbeth during a dress rehearsal for BarnArts Center for the Arts's production of

Kyle Huck plays Lady Macbeth during a dress rehearsal for BarnArts Center for the Arts's production of "Macbeth" on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at Fable Farm in Barnard, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Director Killian White watches the first scene of

Director Killian White watches the first scene of "Macbeth" during a dress rehearsal on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in Barnard. The production is from BarnArts Center for the Arts. White, a Bethel native, is making her first attempt at directing a Shakespeare play. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Props for the BarnArts Center for the Arts production of

Props for the BarnArts Center for the Arts production of "Macbeth" line a table on Tuesday, June 18, 2024 in Barnerd, Vt.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

By MARION UMPLEBY

For the Valley News

Published: 06-19-2024 4:35 PM

At first glance, a setting as idyllic as the lush fields of Fable Farm, in Barnard, seems like the last place to stage a play as harrowing as “Macbeth.”

But it’s this very setting that inspired director Killian White to pitch the tragedy for BarnArts’ annual summer production at Fable Farm, which opens Friday and runs through June 30.

“In ‘Macbeth,’ nature very literally rises up and rebels to restore the natural order that Macbeth disrupted by ... breaking the divine royal lineage and inserting himself into it,” White explained in an interview, referring to the protagonist’s bloody quest for power after receiving a prophecy from three witches that he will inherit the throne to Scotland. Setting the play against the wild, fertile landscape of rural Vermont brings this dynamic to the fore. “When you’re watching people swing real swords at each other on the lawn, it’s striking in a way that you can’t get outside of live theater.”

Through Macbeth’s madness for power, Shakespeare gestures at humanity’s propensity for despotism on a larger scale. There’s a universality to the story that parallels instances of war and injustice across history and into contemporary times. But White hopes that the tragedy will resonate with Vermonters in particular, a population that’s quick to critique the status quo. “A lot of people move to Vermont because they feel disconnected in the unnatural world we’ve created for ourselves,” she said.

Perhaps because of its relevance, other local theaters have staged Macbeth in recent years, starting with a production at Northern Stage in October 2016, set in a modern war zone. Last fall, Hanover High School’s Footlighters put on their own version of “Macbeth,” and the Chelsea Funnery, a youth program that performs a different Shakespeare play each summer, produced “Macbeth” in 2019.

From the beloved tradition of Shakespeare in the Park to the open-air design of London’s Globe Theater, the work of Shakespeare holds a long-standing connection to outdoor staging.

Back in 2021, BarnArts produced “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” also set outside at Fable Farm. “In some ways, Shakespeare is easier outdoors because most people know the story so if for some reason they don’t catch every word, they aren’t lost,” said BarnArts’ Executive Director, Linda Treash, who is also responsible for the production’s minimalist set design.

While the ubiquity of Shakespeare has its benefits, especially when staging a show outside, there’s a risk that audiences’ familiarity with the tale will blind them to its emotional complexities. This is something White is determined to navigate, especially when it comes to the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, whose scheming has at times been interpreted as an act of pure evil.

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White advocates for a more nuanced analysis. “It’s natural to default to reading ‘Macbeth’ as a fairytale from the villain’s point of view, but a fairytale it is not. These characters are human beings fueled by loss and despair,” she explained.

White, a 33-year-old Bethel native, became involved with BarnArts last year when she acted in “The Importance of Being Earnest” as well as “The Good Doctor,” and directed a portion of “The Haunted Village Theater.” She is also the managing director at Bald Mountain Theater in Rochester, Vt., which specializes in folklore narratives. “Macbeth” is White’s first crack at Shakespeare.

“I don’t think I would have attempted it at this stage in my career if it weren’t that I knew that BarnArts is such a rock solid group,” she said, referring to the mix of seasoned BarnArts players and first-timers who make up the production’s cast and crew.

As a community theater, creating a welcoming atmosphere for participants is just as important to BarnArts as producing quality work.

“We really try to foster the community of our actors,” Treash said. During rehearsals for ‘Macbeth,’ the intent was no different.

“My goal with this production was to make it the most wholesome rendition of ‘Macbeth’ behind the scenes possible, and I think we succeeded in that,” White explained in an email correspondence. She described rehearsals filled with laughter, and excursions to New York City and Concord in support of fellow actors involved with other shows. “I think this does not detract from our performance of a serious play, but rather enhances it.”

In fact, White attributes the camaraderie among the Scottish lords on stage to the cast’s closeness. “It makes the betrayal of the Macbeths’ actions feel all the more violating and real,” she said.

Though some actors haven’t performed in a Shakespeare play since high school, one thing is certain: everyone is up for the challenge. “They’re there because they love the material,” White said.

It’s this shared love of the text that promises a rendition of “Macbeth” in which the humanity of its characters, and the very human consequences of their actions, takes center stage. “ ‘Macbeth’ is a tragedy,” White said, “And I want to bring that home for people.”

BarnArts’ production of “Macbeth” runs through June 30 at Fable Farm in Barnard. For tickets ($15-$20) or more information, go to barnarts.org or call 802-234-1645

Marion Umpleby is a freelance writer. She lives in Tunbridge.