A coven of witches prepare for a fateful meeting during a rehearsal of “Mackers.” PHOTO COURTESY OF JONATHAN STRAYER

Morgan Huber

Something wicked this way comes … a Shakespeare classic finally creeps onto Millersville University’s campus! University Theatre kicks off its Bard-inspired show season with a production of “Macbeth,” one of William Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies.

Written around 1606, the play follows the titular character, a Scottish general who receives a prophecy from a coven of witches that he will soon ascend to the throne. He subsequently finds himself deep in the trenches of bloodshed and tyranny as he is overtaken with an unquenchable thirst for power. This production commemorates the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, where a complete script of “Macbeth” was first known to be published.

Much superstition historically surrounds “Macbeth”, often referred to by the theatre community as “The Scottish Play” and affectionately dubbed “Mackers” by the cast and crew of the MU production, as renditions throughout the centuries have been plagued with bad luck and mishaps both on and offstage. Despite well-known rumors of an alleged curse, however, this has not prevented University Theatre from creating as sensational a play as possible.

Since University Theatre’s rendition of “Mackers” is an abridged version, some lines were cut while others were added or altered to reflect the number of actors involved. For instance, instead of having three witches like in most performances of “The Scottish Play,” there is a coven of nine witches. “Double, double, toil, and trouble,” indeed!

“The script that you will see performed is my adaptation of Shakespare’s play,” says Jonathan Strayer, an assistant professor of communications and theatre at Millersville and the director of “Mackers.” “I went through the First Folio publication of this particular play, went through some historical research and scholarly material, and made some adaptations, such as combining characters and abbreviating lines.”

These changes make the play significantly shorter. For context, the titular character has around 1,500 lines in the original play, and even in this abbreviated production, lead actor Nathaniel James Hawley had to memorize at least 1,000 lines for his role. 

Although adapting a Shakespearean play can be daunting, many of the actors look forward to bringing their characters to life, including Francesca Calautti, who portrays Lady Macbeth in her first villainous role. 

“This has been a dream role of mine since I was a kid,” explains Calautti. “She is one of the strongest female leads in Shakespeare and I am really honored to play her. She is really evil but also incredibly passionate … there is lots of dark magic and casting spells, which is new and interesting, along with her complex relationship with Mackers, which I love.”

One aspect of the production that provided both a challenge and a unique experience for the actors was the stage combat. University Theatre brought in Broadway coordinator Jared Kirby to choreograph the fight scenes and train the actors with various weapon styles. Kirby’s expertise was quite beneficial for the cast, especially when opening the play with a 19-person fight scene.

“The combat has been an exceptional part of the experience,” says Hawley. “This has been my first time in any such role and getting this kind of training, which has been an amazing opportunity.”

The play also incorporates a vast array of dark and alluring elements throughout, ranging from not only the characters and dialogue but also the special effects.

Jackie Pento, the lighting designer for this production, says, “I really liked playing with the eeriness of it because there are so many parts where there are ghosts, witches, and apparitions. I like getting to take creative liberties and mix with the colors and atmosphere.”

For student Rachel Jones, this is her first production as stage manager. While leading a play comes with its challenges, she takes pride in the hard work and progress she and the cast and crew have made.

“I really love to watch something being born,” says Jones regarding her experience stage managing for “Mackers.” “Seeing something start off so small in a room to watch this whole art piece really be created is my favorite aspect of being involved. Putting all that effort and passion on for an audience and giving them that experience makes it all worth it.”

As the cast and crew prepare for opening night, they anticipate bringing one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most infamous tales to the stage. How will they do that, you may ask?

“You’ll just have to see for yourself,” says Strayer.

Opening night for “Macbeth” will be on Thursday, Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., in the Clair Performance Hall at the Winter Visual & Performing Arts Center. Subsequent performances will take place on Nov. 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11, all at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office, located across from the Galley in the Student Memorial Center. Tickets cost $5 for MU students if purchased in person and $15 for all other patrons.