That Scottish play: UWS's 'Macbeth' kicks superstition to the curb

Shakespeare's shortest tragedy is also one of his most gruesome. "When you choose to do a play like 'Macbeth,' you could choose to do it in a lot of different ways," said Cathy Fank, an assistant professor of theater at the University of Wisconsi...

Shakespeare's shortest tragedy is also one of his most gruesome.

"When you choose to do a play like 'Macbeth,' you could choose to do it in a lot of different ways," said Cathy Fank, an assistant professor of theater at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "It is sort of known as a bloody, gutty, battle-ridden play."

Fank is tackling directing duties for University Theatre's staging of the play, which was written in the early 1600s.

"The emphasis of this production is the human mind and how the thirst for power and worldly gain is corrupted," she continued. "There is a little blood (and) a minimal amount of stagefight, but, to me, that's not what the play is about.

"So we're sort of doing it a little bit differently."


Fank's production is also upfront about the play's curse.

"The first thing I said was, 'If we're going to do this play, we're going to get over this curse thing now,'" she said. "'We are not going to give it energy.'"

It is considered bad luck to mention the play by name while inside the theater -- with the superstitious referring to it as "The Scottish Play" or "The Bard's Play," among other names.

UWS's Macbeth, Eamon Hill, agrees with his director.

"I personally do not buy into it, but I respect the tradition and the fact that other people may put stock in that particular superstition," he said. "Of course, having said that, I'll probably lose an arm now.

"As for anything really weird happening, it is, after all, the theater department we're talking about here ... define 'really weird.'"

Iowa Falls' passionate pilgrim

Fank came to UWS after a seemingly whirlwind tour of various playhouses throughout the nation.


"I'm from Iowa originally, and I escaped fast," she joked.

After jettisoning from the Hawkeye State, where she first got involved with theater in high school, Fank studied directing and stage management at Ohio State University in Columbus.

That led her to Houston's esteemed Alley Theatre. But, like Iowa, she wasn't a fan of Texas and its heat.

She then headed to Boston, where she lasted 12 years as an artistic director at a two-theater facility -- all the while gathering experience so she could one day teach the finer points of theater.

"I had a lot of teachers in my own background who told me about working in the professional theater, but had never done it," Fank said. "I vowed that would not be me as a teacher.

"I vowed that I would go out and experience it."

She found the position at UWS almost six years ago, and said it is a perfect fit.

This year her duties include teaching a mandatory speech class for all students and, more aligned with her specialty, a course on stage management.


On top of all that, she takes the helm for one play each academic year. At UWS, plays are selected by a committee of students and faculty.

Although Fank chairs that committee, "Macbeth" wasn't her first choice.

"It was the students that really wanted this play," she said. "The staff and I were like, 'This is hard. You don't understand, we're the ones that are going to kill ourselves doing this production.'"

Despite nights pushing past the midnight hour during technical rehearsal week, Fank is coming around on the students' selection.

"I've grown to like 'Macbeth' a lot, and I didn't going into this," she said. "It's the shortest play (Shakespeare) wrote, and it's the most clear. ... This play has a mission. It follows what happens to Macbeth, gaining power and corrupting that power, and what that does to him."

On another level, Fank also understands the importance of Shakespeare to UWS's theater students -- having also staged the playwright's pastoral comedy "As You Like It" at UWS.

"It's a major source of employment," she said. "It's hard, and if you don't have experience dealing with that language, the movement and all of those pieces that make Shakespeare special, you're really dead in the water."

News to Use:


"Macbeth" will be performed by University Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Superior at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17-18, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19. All performances are in Manion Theater at the Holden Fine and Applied Arts Center. Cost is $10 for adults, $8 for students and $1 for UWS students. For details, call 394-8380.

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