I took advantage of arriving earlier than expected by dropping by an evening rehearsal of Macbeth, in which Phil Sneed is playing the title role. They were mostly working fights and murders for the first couple of hours. Stage combat was always a hallmark of the Festival when I worked there; Lew Soens and his disciple Ed Stafford had researched Elizabethan-era dueling manuals and contemporary accounts to develop their own system of techniques in rapier-and-dagger, sword-and-buckler, single rapier, broadsword, quarterstaff and so on. I had served as (uncredited) fill-in fight director in the summer of 1973, when neither Ed nor Ricky Weiser (who was an accomplished fighter in her own right) was available. It's good to see that the tradition is being carried on; Geoff Kent, who is also playing Macduff, is the current holder of the position and it's clear from how he runs his rehearsals that he's very knowledgable and creative. I watched some work on the banquet scene: they're puzzling over whether to have Banquo's ghost stalk the stage invisible to the guests, or have Macbeth "hallucinate" him altogether, with the actor perhaps seen elsewhere, perhaps on an upper platform. It reminded me that Al Nadeau's production in '68 featured an invisible Banquo, and I didn't feel it was a good idea at the time; but perhaps being able to see the actor elsewhere in the space, as they were experimenting with, might make it work.
Monday noon I had my first meeting over lunch with the Henry director, Jim Symons, whom I took to immediately. He is older than I'd expected-- ten years older than I-- and he's just broken Jim Sandoe's record for productions directed at CSF-- ten, I believe. He's been on the staff of the UC drama department since the 80's. A bit of a throwback, in a way that's refreshing to me: someone with academic credentials and a lot of hands-on Shakespeare experience, who knows the canon well and doesn't seem to labor under the compulsion to give the plays contemporary "relevance" or postmodern spin. It was that kind of director that I acquired my Shakespeare chops under in the old days, and though contemporary theatre practice often denigrates the "academic" approach, I've always thought it had a lot to offer: solid storytelling, understanding of the characters and the historical context, and deep respect for the values of the language. I'm hoping these standards will still obtain for the Festival at large. It's a good sign that the theatre now employs a voice-and-text specialist, whom I've yet to meet.