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IMMERSIVE THEATRE: Dram Tree Shakespeare makes their debut with ‘Macbeth’

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‘Macbeth’ opens in MacEachern’s Warehouse, downtown Wilmington, on Sept. 11—the debut from Wilmington’s newest Shakespeare company, Dram Tree Shakespeare.

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To say Christopher Marino has lived and breathed Shakespeare most of his career would be a vast understatement. His résumé impresses when it comes to the Bard’s work. Marino served as artistic director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, as well as taught master acting classes at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington DC, and other universities in the U.S. and Europe. With two graduate degrees from the Shakespeare Theatre DC/George Washington University and Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, his descent onto UNCW’s theatre department brought along with it outreach in community theatre. He began a Shakespeare reading series featuring local actors at Cameron Art Museum.

THE SCOTTISH PLAY: Gil Johnson and Hannah Elizabeth Smith in ‘Macbeth.’ Courtesy of Dram Tree Shakespeare

THE SCOTTISH PLAY: Gil Johnson and Hannah Elizabeth Smith in ‘Macbeth.’ Courtesy of Dram Tree Shakespeare

“It was always my intention to start a professional Shakespeare company,” Marino tells—“or a company that bases its work in classical repertoire.”

Last year, a group of people began talking about the upstart of a Shakespeare theatre company. “In conversations there coalesced a lot of nostalgia for the energy and artistry of Stan Norman’s Shakespeare work prior to the dissolution of Cape Fear Shakespeare in 2002,” says David Zukerman, who was among the group.

Energy evolved into founding the nonprofit, Dram Tree Shakespeare, last year. The board—Lee Lowrimore, Peter Jurasik, Alisa Harris Tamara Mercer, David Zukerman, Nick Basta, Gina Gambony, Gil Johnson, Donn Lashley, Kara Lashley, Tom Holm, Barbara Holm, and Keith Taylor—elected Marino as artistic director. Though they’ve done a few outreach events—including a massive fundraising party and a reading of “Macbeth” at TheatreNOW for the 275th birthday celebration of Wilmington—this weekend they will launch their first full production of “The Scottish Play” at the downtown warehouse, MacEachern’s (121 S. Front St.).

“By producing in an unconventional space, we satisfy our commitment to innovation,” Marino says of foregoing a traditional theater. “‘Innovation’ is a bit of a charged word, but what I mean by that is a way of producing that keeps the work engaging and organic.”

He further points to how site-specific or immersive theatre is quite popular in England. It functions to captivate and give audiences a fundamentally deeper view into performance art. At MacEachern’s the director admits a section of its seating has inadvertently been coined “the splash zone.” The audience will be drawn into the action of the play up close and personal.

“Shakespeare needs this relationship with the audience, and more conventional spaces, unless they are in the round, don’t really speak to that,” he explains. “As for the warehouse space, it already has an atmosphere which fits with the architecture in the language of the play. I am a big believer that certain plays can only be done in certain spaces. If I had my choice, I would find the space first and then figure out what play could resonate with it. Luckily, we were able to do that with ‘Macbeth.’”

Gil Johnson will play the title role, while Hannah Elizabeth Smith plays Lady Macbeth. Marino paid no mind to the fact that Smith is younger than most who take on the role; he stands by the fact that she was the right person, plain and simple.

“I’ve drawn from all sorts of communities to cast the show—from veterans to recent and not-so-recent UNCW alums. From people that have had a lot of experience to people that are new to Shakespeare.”

Jon Stafford, Ross Helton, Wesley Brown, J.R. Rodriguez, Nick Battiste, Wilson Meredith, and a host of others make up the cast. Marino says he’s utilized his role as director most in emphasizing the text—Shakespeare’s core.

“I trained with companies that took the language very seriously,” he says. “This has been much of the focus in my rehearsal process with ‘Macbeth.’ . . .  My goal is to have human beings on stage, three-dimensional people with wants, needs, flaws, and fears.”

He has taken the goal one step further by staging battle scenes with the help of veteran soldiers. Specifically, two will be in “Macbeth” who have served in the military. “We are in the process of reorganizing an outreach event [for veterans], also attached to this show,” Marino details. He brought in Dale Girard, a professional fight master, to help in the choreography.

“He is top in his field,” Marino says, “and created the violence for another production of ‘Macbeth’ that Teller, of Penn and Teller, was involved with. I really liked his work and was happy to find he was living here in North Carolina. He has done some truly outstanding work for this production.”

But the point of view in which people process the play dictates its success. The play centers on murder, in its aftermath. It follows what happens to the people after an attempted assassination on their king. The show basks in the light and darkness inherent in the circumstances of everyone involved.

“Like a bomb that goes off with the blast zone creeping very slowly outward ‘til it touches everyone,” Marino describes, “it fractures Macbeth and Lady M—how wanting a thing, and then attaining it by the wrong means, can sometimes taint that thing. Historically, we must remember this play is the equivalent of a modern play about 9/11 if 9/11 did not succeed. This play is very much about the gunpowder plot—a very near-miss assassination attempt on King James by Guy Fawkes and other conspirators—and why you shouldn’t kill your king.”

Sept. 11-27; Thurs.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25, Fri-Sat.
$15, Thurs. and Sun.
(800) 838-3006 •
MacEachern’s Warehouse
121 S. Front St.

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