By SHELLEY NASH
When the curtain goes up on ?Macbeth? at the high school auditorium Friday, March 15, the audience will see in less than two hours what it took months to produce.
The position of director for the high school productions is an extra-duty position for a teacher. English teacher Art Dingle is the director for this year?s plays.
Dingle knows what it feels like to be on stage.
?My first experience with drama was in the fall of 1988 when then-director Kathleen Raley asked me to take the role of the coach in ?Small War in Corridor A,? ? Dingle said.
?In the spring of 1995, Victoria Weller asked me to take the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon in ?A Midsummer Night?s Dream? and I was hooked.?
Dingle also played the dual roles of Putnam and Danforth in ?The Crucible.?
Choosing the Play
The play is typically chosen by the director.
?I read a great number of plays. I get suggestions from friends, colleagues and students.
?I make my pick based on what my own interests are, what I think is challenging for the kids and is doable by the talent pool we have,? Dingle said.
He added, ?Traditionally, the kids are always wanting to do Shakespeare.?
He said the biggest turnout at auditions was for ?Romeo and Juliet,? a play that never got produced.
?Macbeth? was also chosen because of cost restrictions and scheduling problems with the auditorium.
?I knew I had to pick something that basically had no set,? Dingle said.
Because of how many people and groups are using the auditorium, the set has to be erected and dismantled frequently. A complicated set would not have worked because of that, Dingle said.
The cost restrictions made the choice of ?Macbeth? a good one. Shakespeare?s plays are in the public domain, which means no royalties are paid for the use of the plays.
The high school plays are funded much like a nonprofit. There are typically two plays a year and the money made from those plays is carried over to pay for the next year?s productions.
The budget for ?Macbeth? is ?virtually non-existent,? Dingle said. Generally, plays cost about $1,000 to produce. Macbeth started with a budget of $350.
After the play is chosen, the next step becomes finding the actors.
Dingle advertises around the school for about two weeks. Interested people get a copy of a sample script in advance. Everyone who auditions must sign a commitment form.
The form says participants will have passing grades in all classes throughout the production and be willing to submit to random drug testing.
The students audition and the director makes the final decision. The director is looking for several things.
?(We?re) looking to see how they look, we want to hear their voice and see if they can fill the theater and articulate words. We want to see how coachable they are,? Dingle said.
The look of an actor can sometimes play into the choice.
?If that physical trait is vital or important for the character, we have to keep that in mind,? he said.
However, going against what is called for with a character can work as well.
?Sometimes going against expectations can be funny, too,? Dingle said.
Occasionally, the auditions produce a surprise with actors.
?There are a lot of kids that are so weak at auditions, but (given) time to work on it, they get good. The opposite is also true,? Dingle said.
He had one actor who was given a part and later, he found that she was the wrong choice.
?A month into it, it became obvious that she couldn?t project (her voice). She could never find her voice,? he said.
Act IV, Scene I
Occasionally, Dingle comes across students that are not auditioning for plays, but should be.
?Being an English teacher, I get to hear them read aloud and I get recommendations from other teachers,? he said.
?I always remember Josh Daniels and Andrew Lynn. Both were big sports guys. As seniors, they came out for a play. Josh said ?If I?d known what this was like, I?d never have played football.? ?
Act IV, Scene II
Seniors Matt McVay and Brenda Hobson are the principle characters in ?Macbeth.? McVay plays the title character and Hobson plays Lady Macbeth.
Both actors have a number of lines to memorize.
?We read ?Macbeth? in AP English so that helped me to prepare during school (time),? McVay said.
?I try to memorize while I drive. I read the lines as much as I can.?
McVay is a veteran of the stage. He has been in six school productions and has also acted in community theater. This is his first lead role since he was in ?Oliver? in second grade.
?I just love acting, pretending you?re somebody else and doing all the cool things you wouldn?t do in real life,? he said.
McVay sees performing in the high school productions as good practice for the acting career he eventually wants to pursue.
Like McVay, Hobson enjoys playing different characters.
?I like acting. It?s fun to work on different characters. I?ve played many diverse characters from ditzy to scary like Lady Macbeth,? she said.
Hobson has acted in several different productions, but needs guidance occasionally with ?Macbeth.?
?Sometimes I feel like I don?t know what I?m doing. I?m not as familiar with Shakespeare as Mr. Dingle is. He?s been helping me a lot,? she said.
No play is ever produced without some problems and the high school productions are no exception.
Attendance at rehearsals is mandatory. Actors are dropped from the play with a second unexcused absence or a third tardy to rehearsal.
Last year, the fall play was canceled because of the number of people who missed rehearsals.
?So many people missed rehearsals that I ran out of understudies,? Dingle said.
?I?m sure that decision disappointed a lot of kids. That was the hardest professional decision I?ve ever made,? he said.
Other worries center around actors? health, their grades and costumes.
?Somebody getting really sick and grades are a concern. At the 9-week report card, if someone has an F, I have to drop them,? Dingle said.
He added, ?I?m always worried about costuming.?
This year, Christina Voight, a junior, is responsible for costumes.
Another concern is competing with the sports teams for students? time and interest.
?Competing with the sports teams is difficult. We?ve had a few kids in both (drama and sports), but the conflicts are just too much.
?There are some kids we recruit and try to steal from sports,? Dingle said.
The small turnout for ?Macbeth? has put some pressure on the actors because there are no understudies.
Rebuilding a program
Much like sports teams, there are typically core groups of students who participate in all plays. When those students graduate, the program has to rebuild itself. This is a rebuilding year for drama.
?About a dozen kids graduated last year that had been four-year starters for drama.
?It would be like a sports team losing 90 percent of its first string,? Dingle said.
The cast rehearses about eight weeks. The rehearsal schedule for ?Macbeth? calls for rehearsals six days a week at different times.
The cast uses scripts for the first few weeks, but are supposed to be completely off-script about five weeks into rehearsals, although that is not always the case. Many of the cast members are still using the script a week before the first performance.
In addition to memorizing the lines, the actors also have to know what the words mean.
?With Shakespeare and the complexity and ambiguity of the poetry, we sometimes need to spend entire periods talking about what words mean.
?At this point at least with the first-half, we?re all on the same page, learning it as we?re trying to put it on its feet,? Dingle said in February.
Successes and Failures
Often, no matter the effort put into the production, it simply fails.
Dingle counts a production of ?Dracula? among the drama program?s failures.
?If we had two more weeks, $2,000 and a title character, it would have been great,? he joked.
?I think it?s OK to set your sights high and fail once in awhile,? he added.
Among the successes in the program are a compilation of plays put on during winter term in 1999.
?Closing night, everything was perfect. The place was packed,? he said.
Dingle said the spring 2000 production of ?The Importance of Being Earnest,? was also a technical success.
?Technically, ?The Importance of Being Earnest,? was a wonderful production. Technically, it?s the best stuff we?ve ever done and ironically, the least attended.?
The curtain rises on ?Macbeth? Friday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. A second performance is Saturday, March 16, at 2 p.m. with the final performance following at 7:30 p.m.
Doors open 30 minutes prior to curtain. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased in advance at the high school office or at the door before the performances.