Rehearsals have become more frequent in the final weeks leading up to the debut of MacBeth's Children, a production put on by the Junior Youth Repertory Company of the New Hampshire Theater Project. During one of the final rehearsals, only days before opening night on April 13, co-director Meghann Beauchamp is adding lighting and sound as co-director Christy Cloutier Holmes instructs the actors onstage.
Beauchamp is seated behind the lighting board in the back corner of the theater, while Holmes sits in the first row of seats. Their voices echo across the theater in syncopated bursts of direction. "Hold please. Can we go from, "Restrain in me the cursed thoughts?'" Beauchamp asks. "Can I talk to the actors first?" Holmes shouts back. "Yes, please," Beauchamp replies. "There needs to be motivation and objective in each word, in each line," Holmes tells the actors.
According to Beauchamp and Holmes, the process of putting on a production is made easier when two directors can work well together. Beauchamp manages the more technical elements of the production, such as lighting and sound, while Holmes handles most of the stage direction. "When Meghann can't reach them, then I jump in," Holmes says. "It helps to have another set of eyes," Beauchamp adds.
Three students from the Senior Repertory Company assisted the two directors during the rehearsal. Colby Senior and Casey Hammon called out lines as the actors stumble over their words. "Line?" one of the actors asks. "I conjure you," replies Hammon. "I conjure you," echoes the actor. "By that which you confess," Hammon says. "By that which you confess," the actor repeats.
The New Hampshire Theater Project, was incorporated by founder Genevieve Aichele in 1988. Her mission was to form a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing high quality productions of classical and contemporary drama to the Seacoast. The various arms of the NHTP include a professional season, artist residency programs in schools across the state, educational programs for all ages and the Youth Repertory Company, which includes both a senior and junior class.
Aichele started the YRC five years ago with the idea that young people should experience classic dramatic literature instead of the watered-down plays typical of school productions. The students from the senior class will produce "The Skin of Our Teeth," by Thornton Wilder, May 18-27. Many of the students in "MacBeth's Children," who are between the ages of 11 and 15, first became involved with the YRC through one of the workshops that the NHTP regularly conducts in schools.
Auditions for the YRC are held in early September, with follow-up interviews to ensure the students' commitment. Once accepted, students are taught acting technique from September through December. In January, Beauchamp and Holmes introduce a script and assign parts. The group only meets once a week to rehearse the play. "It's a very short production schedule," Beauchamp says, and it's subject to snow-day cancellations and actor illnesses. This year, the actor playing MacBeth missed four rehearsals due to sickness.
But unexpected illness isn't the only challenge inherent to working with kids. Another obstacle is that children have limited life experience, Aichele said. "The more experiences a person has, the wider their palate," she says. If a student has never lost a loved one, then it's hard for them to portray the appropriate emotions onstage. But the benefit of working with young people is that they are more naturally in the moment, which makes the performances more authentic. Youth also brings with it a freshness and focus, Aichele says.
After the rehearsal, many of the students rush out to meet their parents in the lobby. Others remain to socialize and help clean up. Jake Pleadwell, 13, and Luke Gajewski, 13, started acting five years ago. They have become close with all of the Junior Repertory students. "We spend so much time together," Pleadwell says. "Yeah, we're all family," Gajewski says. The two don't mind the late nights and interruption to their social lives, "In the end it's all worth it," Pleadwell says.
Michael Bettencourt wrote the script for MacBeth's Children. Based on Shakespeare's "MacBeth," it explores what happens to the children in that play. The story focuses on Fleance (Gajewski), who fled to England after MacBeth murdered his father. He and other victims decide to travel back to Scotland to seek revenge against MacBeth (Cairns Smith). But the decision to use violence weighs heavily on Fleance, and his struggle to justify killing MacBeth raises moral questions about children caught in the middle of adult conflicts.
Many of the actors felt the play's original ending failed to accurately represent a child's perspective. Through several brainstorming sessions, the actors and directors created an alternate ending, blending the original text with words written by Punit Matta, one of the actors in the junior Repertory Company.
The play opens with a volley of "Yes, sir's" that ricochet from all corners of the small theater. Soon the voices join together and form a unified military cadence. The actors march on stage and form two ranks. Looking straight at the audience, they brandish truncheons and bark their lines in unison.
Holmes has tapped into a blend of influences to create the costumes. "Each kid has something on from their closet, because I wanted them to bring a part of themselves into it," Holmes says. Danielle Sanchez, who plays the Messenger, says the costumes looked like they came from "Scottish emo biker war lords." Dark colors, sheer curtains and minimal props created an eerie but modern stage experience.
Despite the play's dark themes, the ending offers a hopeful resolution. After Fleance decapitates MacBeth, the victorious children question the value of their actions. They then give up their weapons and address the audience, not as characters in the play, but as children living in the modern world. They speak as individuals, without the militaristic conformity displayed earlier. The ending demonstrates a rejection of violence, a protest against conformity and a contention that "being young in this world shouldn't cost anything."
After the play on Saturday, April 14, the audience, writers, actors and directors all took part in a discussion about the meaning of the production. "They got everything right," Michael Bettencourt says. "What they presented to you is for you to think about and chew on."