Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Actor and workshop facilitator Michael Muyunda shares his thoughts on our Macbeth project, part of P6P in primary schools across Nottingham.

Michael Muyunda © Jenny Gavin-WearHow did you feel when you were asked to take part in the P6P (Primary 6 Partnership) Macbeth project?

To be honest, I was nervous to start with. I'd performed Macduff in another production of Macbeth but this was a very different take on the play and I was playing other characters. As rehearsals went on and I had training on how to run a 1623 workshop, my nerves turned to excitement and I was ready to take on the challenge of performing and workshopping Macbeth in the primary schools.

What are your thoughts on the way that the play has been adapted for primary schools?

I was intrigued by the idea that we were going to do a version of Macbeth without the Macduff revenge plot. Many of the characters are cut, which means that some of the scenes are cut too. The adaptation is about 50 minutes long (the right kind of length for a lesson in the school timetable) and it follows the story of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth really closely. The play flows well and tells the tale of how the Macbeths do a bad thing and when they try to cover it up they get into more trouble. It's a bold adaptation that shines a light on the central plot and leaves the rest of the play in shadows.

Michael with Jamie (left) and Shane (centre) © 1623What did you do in rehearsals to explore the play and your characters (Weird Sister, Banquo, Lennox, Duncan)?

Playing the Weird Sisters made sense as soon as we put on the costumes. Wearing the baggy gown, hood and veil, we understood straight away how we should move and we worked on the choreography quickly from there as we shuffled around the space. For Banquo, I knew him to be bold and strong, in many ways like Macbeth; but more open and honest than him. Banquo faces up to the Weird Sisters by demanding a prophecy, so I brought a high level of confidence to his voice and posture. Lennox seems to be loyal to Macbeth. I wanted to show a change in his character towards the end of the banquet, his eyes open as to whether he is serving the right man, a king who is haunted by the ghost of someone who he has had killed. Duncan had a walking stick and we explored ways of moving and talking to convey his old age and frailty.

What are your top three moments in the workshops when you visited the schools?

It was great to see and hear the students moving and chanting to the beat of the Weird Sisters. They totally understood the language by saying it and moving to the pulse that underpins it. I also enjoyed the students' reactions to making stage blood. Everyone wanted to get involved; some people could barely look at it, some people wanted to taste it, but it brought everyone together and I loved that. I always looked forward to the questions at the end of the workshops, too. This kept me on my toes as you never know what the questions will be. One of my favourite questions was how much did I think the Weird Sisters and Lady Macbeth were to blame for Macbeth killing the king. It really put me on the spot! I think I said that Macbeth feels pressured by his wife and the predictions of the Weird Sisters, but ultimately he makes his own decision to go ahead with the murder; so he is responsible.

Michael with the cast and workshop team © 1623How have the children and teachers reacted to the show?

We started the play in the Weird Sisters' costumes, wearing white hoods and veils covering our faces while chanting, “Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air”. Some days, there were whispers from the children straight away and on other days there was silence; either way, these visually striking and pretty scary figures grabbed everyone’s attention. Jamie Brown, playing Macbeth, would take out the dagger and I could hear gasps as he stabbed and sliced the air as if he was killing the king of Macbeth's enemy in the battle. You could hear the shock and excitement in the audience when Macbeth and, later, Lady Macbeth - played by Shane Gabriel - had blood on their hands after the murder of Duncan. The teachers and children told us at the end that they loved the performance. Their focus and engagement were fantastic. At Heathfield - the last school we visited - the children applauded after scenes and even cheered at the end.

What have you learned from the project as an artist and workshop facilitator?

It was a brilliant and memorable experience to be part of a performance that was the first time most of the audience had seen a Shakespeare play. It made me think carefully about the collective responsibility of Jamie, Shane and me to put our all into the performances to make sure that the experience was a positive one for the children and their teachers. Shadowing Ben [Spiller, 1623 artistic director] in an early workshop was an essential part of my training to become a workshop facilitator and my confidence grew with each session I ran. Overall, the project has taught me how to be in the here and now and think on my feet when performing and facilitating workshops. Playing Lennox in the banquet scene and sitting among the audience was an exciting moment as it broke down the barrier between the worlds of the play and the audience. I want to do more performances like this and I'm really grateful to 1623 for this amazing opportunity.


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